A traffic stop in Mount Pleasant, Texas led to the seizure of 745 pounds of marijuana. The town sits along Interstate 30 in Titus County in northeast Texas, not far from the Arkansas state line. Officers with the local police department and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) have seized large amounts of drugs in traffic stops in recent years. News reports on several recent "drug busts" offer a useful guide to the various methods law enforcement may use to justify searching a vehicle without a warrant, including probable cause and driver consent.
Mount Pleasant police officers stopped a U-Haul van traveling east on I-30 on the night of November 12, 2012, reportedly due to "defective equipment." This often refers to a non-functioning tail light, but local news reporting does not provide specifics. During the stop, a drug detection dog allegedly alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. This most likely led the officer to conclude that probable cause existed for a search of the vehicle. The search revealed 745 pounds of marijuana hidden in the back of the van. While the use of drug-sniffing dogs has been a source of controversy in many cases, dogs remain a major source of probable cause for warrantless searches leading to drug busts.
A similar seizure took place in May 2011, when a DPS trooper pulled a Ford Expedition over on I-30 for an alleged traffic violation. The trooper claimed that the driver, during the stop, showed "signs and indicators of criminal activity." Police have developed a list of behaviors that they commonly associate with criminal activity, such as nervousness or evasiveness. None of these behaviors, by themselves, serve as evidence of wrongdoing, but law enforcement officers may use them either to establish probable cause for a search or to request a driver's consent. The Expedition driver consented to a search, and the trooper found 102 pounds of marijuana hidden in the roof. Many people do not know that, if asked for consent to a search, they are not required to give it, even though the officer may conduct the search anyway based on probable cause.
The largest drug seizure in Titus County history took place in April 2011, when a DPS trooper stopped a tractor trailer traveling on I-30. The report in a local newspaper does not state the reason for the stop, but notes that DPS officers stated that the driver was acting nervously and showing other "indicators of criminal activity." When the trooper asked the driver for consent to search the vehicle, the driver gave it,(!) and that eliminated most of the objections the driver could raise to what might have been a questionable search. The search of the tractor trailer yielded more than 4,600 pounds of marijuana. (Yes, people really do consent to searches like this!).
Law enforcement cannot search a vehicle without a warrant unless they have probable cause to suspect criminal activity. Objects in an officer's plain sight, such as on the dashboard or a seat of the vehicle, may not be subject to the same protections as items that are not in view. Law enforcement is also limited in its authority to stop vehicles or people, which requires reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense or other crime has occurred.
Michael J. Brown, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, fights for the rights of Texas defendants, making certain that law enforcement and the courts abide by all the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. To learn more about how we can assist you in your legal matter, contact us online or at (432) 687-5157.
More Blog Posts:
Federal Judge Approves Warrantless Hidden Video Surveillance in Drug Case, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 26, 2012
Texas Appellate Court Rules that Police Officer Did Not Violate Defendant's Fourth Amendment Rights by Shining a Flashlight into His Car, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 16, 2012
Texas Appellate Court Affirms Drug Conviction, Holds that Waiver of Objection to Admissibility of Evidence Also Waives Issue on Appeal: Hopkins v. Texas, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 22, 2012