A lot of times, a police investigation starts with nothing more than a simple traffic stop and a few innocent-sounding questions. The next thing a suspect knows, he or she is being hauled away on charges of drug possession or something worse after the officer finds a little marijuana or a few prescription pills in the suspect's car.
Often, people miss out on the opportunity to assert their civil rights and stop an investigation in its tracks. Usually, that's because people either aren't sure of their rights or don't know how to assert them.
Here's what you need to remember in a traffic stop:
1. You have a right against unreasonable searches and seizures
If you've been pulled over by police for a traffic stop, they do not have the right to search your car without either your permission or a warrant.
Do not give your permission. Usually, officers will say something like, "Do you mind if I look around your vehicle?" That's a pretext to search your car for signs of drugs or weapons.
Politely, but firmly, state, "No, I'm sorry but I never consent to have my vehicle searched." At that point, the officer will have to demonstrate a justifiable reason to obtain a warrant to search your car in order to legally proceed.
2. You have the right to film your encounter with the police
Many citizens have made use of this right in recent years to protect themselves from abuses of authority. You can simply turn on your cellphone and record your encounter with police -- or have one of your passengers do it.
It's important not to obstruct the officer's actions while you are recording, as that could result in an obstruction of justice charge. At the very least, it's likely to antagonize the officer unnecessarily. Keep the phone out of the officer's way as you film. If your rights are violated in any way, the evidence you have on film can help you prove what happened.
It's never too early to start to craft a solid defense to drug charges or anything else. Your best defense starts by simply knowing your rights and asserting them. If an officer violates your rights by proceeding with a search without justifiable cause or permission, any drugs that are found may be inadmissible as evidence in court.