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Can the cops pull me over and search me just because I was at a house where drug selling is suspected?

Answer: Yes they can.

Edward Strieff was pulled over by the cops in a parking lot, detained and asked for his identification. He had done nothing wrong. The cops had seen his car at a house that was under surveillance because they thought drugs were being sold there. When the cops ran his ID, they discovered he had a warrant for his arrest for an unpaid parking ticket. They searched him and discovered drugs. He was arrested and charged with drug possession. But the state court threw out his charge because the stop was clearly an unconstitutional investigatory stop.

The U.S. Supreme Court got involved

So far, so good. Except the U.S. Supreme Court, in Utah v. Strieff, said that what the cop did was OK. They held that the arrest warrant for the unpaid parking ticket "attenuated the connection" between the illegal stop and the drugs found. In other words, an intervening circumstance (the arrest warrant) somehow made the illegal stop OK.

Still don't understand? Neither did Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, who disagreed and wrote, "The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion's technical language:

This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants - even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. ...the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit such misconduct..."

Police get Supreme Court backing

Over the past few years, state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have made similar rulings.

In a related case, the Supreme Court sided with police after they used a weak premise to pull over a suspected drug dealer they had been investigating. At the traffic stop, they searched the car and seized illegal narcotics. When the driver's attorney argued the evidence should be thrown out based on illegal search and seizure, the police simply stated that they believed they were within the law when searching the vehicle. The judges ruled that the cops' "belief" they were conducting themselves properly trumped their ignorance of the law.

Lesson Learned: These are terrible decisions that allow the cops to violate your rights and get away with it. Be careful out there - and pay your parking tickets.

Call A Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer with the right experience. 

Don't assume the police always have the upper hand. You have rights and finding the right criminal defense attorney is the most important step you can take to protect them. An experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer will find strategies to attack the prosecutor's case and put up the strongest defense possible.

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