Traffic stops are the most common reason for people to have contact with the police. In some cases, an officer will search your car during a traffic stop. These searches are sometimes justified and sometimes not. If a vehicle search results in the discovery of illegal drugs, it can result in significant legal consequences. For this reason, if you’ve been arrested after the police searched your vehicle, you should talk to an attorney as soon as you can. In some instances, a lawyer may be able to have the case against you completely dismissed.
Vehicle Searches Are Subject to Constitutional Restrictions
There are three preliminary questions an experienced drug crimes defense attorney should ask after a person is arrested as a result of the police searching his or her vehicle.
- How did the police justify stopping your vehicle?
- How did the police justify searching your vehicle?
- Where in the vehicle were the drugs found?
The law surrounding vehicular search and seizures is one of the most complicated areas of constitutional law. The United States Supreme Court is faced with addressing the legality of these seizures almost every term, and a vehicle search that was constitutional last year may not be constitutional today.
Experienced drug possession defense lawyers, such as the top-rated Appleton criminal defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff, actively monitor these changes to ensure your Fourth Amendment rights are protected. If the police violated your constitutional rights during the stop, search, and/or seizure of the alleged controlled substance, you may be entitled to have the evidence against you excluded. Don’t delay. Take advantage of your free, confidential Wisconsin drug crimes defense consultation with one of Hogan Eickhoff’s drug defense attorneys. If the police found drugs in your vehicle, contact our Outagamie County office online or by calling (920) 450-9800 today.
Overview of Drug Crime Prosecutions in Wisconsin
There are short and long-term consequences of drug possession and trafficking convictions in Wisconsin. These consequences typically depend on:
- Whether the drugs you possessed were for personal use or you intended to distribute them
- The type, class, amount, and weight of the controlled substances
- Your criminal history
- Whether your case is brought in state or federal court
- Any aggravating or mitigating factors such as whether firearms were present
You’re innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution must demonstrate that you knew the drugs were present in your vehicle.
The police may impound and inventory the items in your vehicle after a drug arrest. An arrest is not a conviction, but you should take any drug charges seriously. Arrests aren’t always made for small amounts of marijuana. Instead, you may receive a ticket and summons for simple possession. This is generally not punishable with jail time. Arrests are made, however, if the drugs found were schedule I or II controlled substances such as heroin, cocaine, crack, PCP, meth, or unprescribed opioids.
After an arrest, a judge may issue a search warrant for the vehicle once it’s been impounded. When your vehicle is returned depends on the nature of the evidence discovered and whether forensic analysis of the vehicle is necessary. An experienced drug crimes defense attorney can fight to have your vehicle and any personal items returned from impound and challenge the legality of the vehicle seizure.
Recognizing Illegal Search and Seizures
The registered owner of a vehicle has a reasonable expectation of privacy therein. However, operating a vehicle on public roads waives some of that privacy such that police officers may sometimes search your vehicle without a warrant. Police officers may not stop a vehicle for the purpose of searching it unless they have a specific reason to believe it will reveal evidence of a crime. For example, if the police received an anonymous tip regarding criminal activity or observed vehicle occupants using drugs, it’s likely that a court would uphold a search as valid. Stopping a vehicle simply because it’s old, being operated a night, or being driven by an African American is illegal. Police officers may only stop your vehicle if evidence reasonably suggests a crime has been committed, even if that crime isn’t drug-related.
Even after being stopped for a traffic infraction, police officers are not permitted to search your vehicle simply because they feel like doing so. They must have additional justification for conducting a warrantless search of the car. Warrantless searches resulting in drug seizures are presumed illegal unless a legal exception applies. These exceptions include:
- A search incident to a lawful arrest
- Evidence discovered during emergencies, such as drugs found after a serious car accident
- Searches conducted because the police had probable cause to believe drugs were in the vehicle
- Drugs discovered during an inventory search of the vehicle pursuant to a legal seizure
- Drugs discovered after you consented to the search or admitted to their presence
Police officers must have specific facts leading them to believe illegal items, such as drugs or firearms, are present in the vehicle before a search is conducted.
Moving to Exclude Drugs Illegally Seized from Your Vehicle
Evidence discovered illegally, whether directly or indirectly, must be excluded from consideration by the court. This is called the exclusionary rule. In drug possession cases, excluding the drugs from evidence often means that the prosecution is forced to dismiss the charges. It is often difficult to know when a search was illegal without significant training and experience, however, so it’s always in your best interest to have your case reviewed by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer
If law enforcement recently found drugs in your vehicle, connect with one of our experienced drug crimes defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff today by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online. A free, confidential drug defense consultation may reveal that the evidence was obtained illegally, which may result in your case being dropped. Our experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys serve the citizens of Appleton, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Chilton, and Waupaca Counties.