Drug charges and traffic stops in New York are always a situation that criminal defense counsel must investigate thoroughly. Despite a great amount of experience, some police departments persist in violating constitutional protections of individuals when they make so-called traffic violation stops that result in drug charges. There must be ample due cause, for example, for the police to search the person of a passenger in a vehicle stopped on a traffic violation.
The persistence in searching drivers and passengers without reasonable cause is sometimes attributed to racial profiling. Statistics show a far greater percentage of African Americans and Hispanics being stopped, searched and arrested for drug violations. Of course, it must be kept in perspective that the alleged practice of racial profiling is likely performed by a small minority of the local police.
A traffic stop on I-87 recently resulted in the New York State Police at Albany arresting a passenger in the vehicle who they said possessed marijuana and MDMA, which is also known as Ecstasy or Molly. When a vehicle is stopped for a traffic violation, the police must have a reasonable suspicion to roust the driver and passengers and pat them down for contraband. They can have such cause only by observing something indicating illegal activity.
Sometimes, cause is based on smelling marijuana smoke. Due to the legalization of medical marijuana, and the general decriminalization of marijuana possession, however, that reason for searching car passengers is coming into question. The press reports on the stop did not explain why the police felt that they had the authority to search a passenger for drugs after what is reported to be a traffic stop. That basic issue will be critical to defense counsel’s investigation in determining whether a constitutional violation has occurred in the institution of these drug charges.
Source: hudsonvalleynewsnetwork.com, “Kingston Man Arrested on Drug Charges“, Kathy Welsh, Aug. 9, 2016