When a drug arrest in New York starts out as a traffic stop, defense counsel will always want to know about the details of the stop, the police interrogation, the search and the seizure. That is because a law enforcement officer may not stop a car on the highway unless there is a valid reason to make the stop, such as for a speeding violation. If the initial stop is invalid, drug charges may be subject to a motion to dismiss or for suppression of evidence.
Furthermore, even if the initial stop is justified, that does not mean that the authorities can search the driver’s person or the vehicle. There must be additional reasonable suspicion to make a cursory search of the person of the driver or a passenger and there must be full probable cause to make a complete search of the person and/or the vehicle. Thus, if a car is stopped for speeding, the officer cannot escalate the inquiry unless there is a reasonable suspicion that some other crime is being committed.
Some of these questions may become relevant in the recent arrest of a woman from Hornell by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office. The police indicate that they stopped her for a “traffic violation,” but the nature of that violation is not described. Defense counsel must verify whether there was indeed a traffic violation to justify the initial stop. It is further reported that after finding that she was driving with a suspended license, they arrested her for possession of eight rocks of crack cocaine.
The officer who stopped her reported that after finding that she had a suspended license, “further investigation” revealed the crack cocaine. With sparse reporting of the events, it is difficult to say whether there is a criminal defense to the drug charges under New York law. Defense counsel will probe the facts in detail and will present a vigorous defense if there was no legal justification for the escalation of the traffic stop into a full search for drugs.
Source: geneseesun.com, “Cops Catch Unlicensed Hornell Driver with Crack Rocks“, Conrad Baker, July 8, 2016