It is always important for defense counsel in New York to investigate closely the procedures used by police in making drug and contraband arrests in the aftermath of routine traffic stops. State and federal constitutional principles regarding search and seizure are important in that context. There may actually be little chance of finding and proving police irregularities in many traffic stop cases involving drug charges. However, the inquiry should nonetheless be made because there are always at least a small percentage of cases that are dismissed due to poor or improper police procedures.
In Long Island, the Suffolk County police recently arrested a man for impersonation and hiding drugs in his body after they stopped the man for what they called erratic driving. The patrol officer reported that he saw a man driving a minivan erratically on Sunrise Highway at about 2 p.m. on March 1. The officer asserts that the driver gave a false name.
He checked the name, and alleges that the person actually driving the car had his driver’s license suspended 41 times over 11 different dates. There is no indication of the reason for those suspensions. The officer also alleges that he saw marijuana in plain view within the van. Under the law of search and seizure, the observation of contraband in plain view establishes further grounds to conduct a search of the person and the vehicle.
However, at the police station the officer reported finding quantities of heroin and cocaine on the man’s person. Defense counsel will likely want to investigate in detail the sequence of events from beginning to end to determine whether the officer followed proper protocol, and whether his version of events will hold up under scrutiny. It seems that the observation of marijuana in plain view may have been an all too convenient license, which gave the officer the power to search the man and the vehicle. That may have been a perfectly legitimate observation by the officer, but the story contains enough inconsistencies that it should be at least rigorously tested pursuant to New York law prior to determining whether a viable defense to the drug charges exists.
Source: longisland.com, “Man Arrested for Criminal Impersonation and Hiding Drugs within Body“, Mar. 1, 2015