Drug charges arising from traffic stops always warrant some degree of extra scrutiny by criminal defense counsel. The stop must be for a legitimate traffic violation, and must not be a manufactured, pretextual event. The stop must be conducted for the limited purpose of ticketing the driver for the traffic violation. Turning a limited traffic stop into drug charges in New York or any other state can constitute a violation of Fourth Amendment rights.
A recent arrest on heroin possession and intent to sell charges occurred after Rochester police stopped a pickup truck for no license plate lamps and not signaling when turning. Police allege that the driver told them that he had just snorted heroin. Police searched the vehicle and allegedly found 198 bags of heroin, roughly the equivalent of 45 grams.
Both the driver and his passenger were arrested on similar drug charges. The driver was also charged with driving under the influence of drugs. The facts surrounding this stop are at least worth questioning: the alleged violations are rarely enforced by police, which may possibly indicate some improper, unauthorized motive or practice actually looming behind this stop.
Additionally, the reports of the accident do not reveal why the police felt that they had the authority to search the pickup. It is also unclear at what point the driver allegedly told them that he had snorted heroin. If the police cajoled the statement out of the driver by intimidation without giving him the opportunity to call a lawyer, that would be a constitutional violation.
Furthermore, if the police forced a search of the vehicle without probable cause to do so, then the defendant may defend these drug charges under New York law by filing a motion to suppress the evidence. Any potential defenses and procedural rights issues that the defense may use will depend on the facts surrounding the stop and the procedures used by the police. The defense will often file a motion to suppress the evidence based on unconstitutional procedures, with the police procedures being the key evidence in question during the suppression hearing.
Source: rochester.twcnews.com, “State Police Arrest Former Wrestling Coach in Rochester Heroin Bust“, Nov. 14, 2014