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Successful Defense of Possession with Intent to Sell Controlled Substances (Cocaine and Marijuana): Car Stop

Facts

The client, an African American male, was stopped on the highway at night traveling from Florida to Georgia in a white Cadillac Escalade. The police claim to have stopped him because he had "several items" hanging from his rearview mirror creating a hazard and obstructing his view. The client had a valid driver's license and registration...along with long Rastafarian dreadlocks. The police asked if they could search the client's automobile; he refused to grant them permission. He was told that a K-9 unit (drug sniffing dog) would be called and the police held the client at the scene for about 40 minutes before the K-9 unit responded. The drug sniffing dog "alerted" and the police searched the car. They found a scale, cocaine, marijuana and a large sum of cash.

Criminal Charges

The police charged the client with possession with intent to sell and manufacture controlled substances, along with other charges. As a convicted felon, he was facing significant jail time.

My Approach

I obtained the police reports before the State Attorney's Office formally filed charges against the client. I then called the State Attorney assigned to the case and pointed out that the stop was illegal and unconstitutional. First, it is improper to stop a car because it has items hanging from it's rearview mirror. Second, the K-9 unit must respond in a timely manner, usually the time it takes for an officer to write a ticket, which is about 15 minutes. In this case, the police officer had a hunch, but it was not supported by probable cause.

Result

The prosecutor was eventually convinced that the police officer did not have a reason to pull over the car in the first place, let alone search it for contraband. Because the prosecutor realized that the actions of the police would not survive a motion to suppress the evidence, the prosecutor had no choice but to dismiss all charges and release the client from jail.

Final Analysis

An excellent result was achieved by having a lawyer get involved early on, before formal charges were even filed. Ethical prosecutors can be convinced that if the police do not follow the rules, the arrest they make will be thrown out.

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