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Can the police to pull me over and search my car for no reason?

Answer:

No, they cannot search your car for no reason. It is against the law for the police to use a 'pretext' (a made up reason) to pull you over and then use that pretext (whether it be a broken taillight, a cracked windshield, a failure to signal a lane change or speeding) to search your car for contraband like drugs and guns. But of course, this happens every day on our Florida highways. As a Jacksonville criminal attorney, I have seen cops come up with some very original reasons for why they pulled over certain motorists. The cops know that drugs and guns are routinely transported on the Florida interstates. But that doesn't mean they're allowed to pull you over based on a hunch. They have to have a reason - probable cause of criminal activity - to initiate a full blown search. I recently represented a young man who was pulled over near the Georgia border in Nassau County because he had several chains hanging from his rearview mirror, supposedly "obstructing his view' out the front windshield. He was even given a traffic ticket for this by the Nassau County Sheriff's Office. That was the 'pretext' the cop was going to use to conduct a search of my client's car. The real reason he was pulled over was that he was a young black man with long Rasta dreads driving a white Cadillac Escalade...in other words, Driving While Black. But the police aren't allowed to profile this way, so instead, they came up with the nonsense reason that my client's view out his front windshield was obstructed. They did this to justify the stop of my client's car in the first place.

However, the Florida case of Gordon v. State says that it is unlawful for the police to justify a stop based on objects hanging from rearview mirrors (Gordon had air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror of his Cadillac). Next, the police asked my client if they could search his car. This is where most people get into real trouble. The cop is standing over you, almost demanding that he be allowed to search your car. Most people say yes because they feel intimidated by the presence of one or more police officers and police cars behind them with flashing lights. The cops know this and exploit this fear. And they do this because, many times, the police can get around legal requirements by claiming that you 'voluntarily consented' to a search. Many people (foolishly) do voluntarily consent to having their cars searched, even when they know that drugs or guns might be recovered. Here, my client wisely did not consent to a search of his car. So what did the cops do? They told him that if he refused to give his consent, they would call a K-9 unit and have a drug sniffing dog come to the scene. And that's exactly what they did.

The drug dog 'alerted' and the police searched my client's car, recovering cocaine, marijuana, a large amount of cash and a scale. However, Florida law says that if a person has a valid driver's license and registration, the police can only detain you for as long as it takes to write you a ticket for the violation they pulled you over for (broken taillight, cracked windshield, speeding, etc.), which is usually no longer than 15 minutes. If it takes a half hour or more for the K-9 unit to respond, then the stop is held to be illegal and nothing recovered from your car can be used against you in court. In my client's case, it took about 40 minutes for the K-9 unit to respond, well past the time it took for the police to issue my client a traffic summons. Nonetheless, the police arrested my client and charged him with the possession and manufacture of controlled substances, which are very serious crimes. Here, I was able to point out to the prosecutor that the initial stop of my client's car was improper and that the K-9 unit's response time was too long. The case would never survive a motion to suppress the evidence. As a result, the prosecutor dismissed all the charges against my client and set him free.

Lesson Learned:

How a car is pulled over and then searched by the police must be scrutinized and analyzed very closely by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Here, it made the difference between years in prison and freedom. Never voluntarily consent to a search of your car, your home, your person or your mobile device, no matter how much pressure the police put on you. Remember, Just Say No. The Law Office of Richard Landes has defended hundreds of people involved in car stops and charged with drug crimes in the Jacksonville, St. Johns, Clay and Nassau County areas. Drug crimes lawyer Richard Landes, 904 343-4556 always offers a free, no obligation phone consultation.

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