Traffic stops in Pennsylvania are a major source of drug arrests. Criminal defense attorneys, however, are always careful to examine closely the facts of a traffic stop that ends in a drug arrest. The police must have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in the first place and then they must have reasonable cause to conduct an intrusive search of the occupants and the vehicle.
Consequently, when the police make a traffic stop, it does not open the way for them to perform a search looking for drugs. Recently, the Pennsylvania State Police stopped a 22-year-old Philadelphia man for alleged traffic violations. The police allege that the trooper pulled him over for a brake light violation and following too close. They say that the man then gave permission to search his SUV.
The police proceeded to find a high-tech hidden compartment in the rear of vehicle where they allegedly uncovered 500 bricks of heroin. That amount of the drug is worth $500,000, according to the state police. The question arises, however, why a routine traffic stop would lead the police to request permission from the driver to search the vehicle.
The circumstances as reported in the press allow for the reasonable questioning of police tactics and motives in this seemingly routine traffic stop. If the police had suspicions in advance or an anonymous tip of drug running, that would not be sufficient information to justify a stop and search of a vehicle. It also would not be sufficient to obtain a search warrant.
Criminal defense counsel in Pennsylvania and elsewhere must always be vigilant in examining these kinds of so-called traffic stops. There is always at least the possibility that the police have used the guise of a traffic stop to search a vehicle for which they cannot obtain a search warrant. In that light, operators of vehicles on public highways would be better protected by not giving voluntary consent to the police to search their persons or their property.
Source: triblive.com, “Police: $500,000 in heroin was hidden in hydraulic-powered Jeep compartment“, Jacob Tierney, Feb. 2, 2018