When it comes to enforcing state and federal drug laws, law enforcement has a lot of power. Law enforcement officers have the power to determine who looks suspicious, when a search is appropriate and when there is enough evidence to arrest a suspect. This power can be easily abused, and those who have been charged with a drug crime on the basis of an abuse of police power should work with an experienced attorney to protect their rights.
One of the fundamental rights of any criminal suspect is the right to privacy, and an important way this right is protected is that law enforcement officers are generally required to obtain a search warrant before conducting searches, whether of a suspect’s home, vehicle, person or electronic devices. In drug investigations, the warrant requirement can be an important aspect of building a strong defense case.
There are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement. These include:
- Situations where there are “exigent circumstances” which make it dangerous or very difficult to delay a search to obtain a warrant
- Situations where a suspect gives consent to a search
- Searches which are incident to a lawful arrest
- Situations where incriminating evidence is seen in plain view or in open parts of a suspect’s property for all to see
When it comes to searches of automobiles, the law can be tricky. Though officers do not need a warrant to search a vehicle when the driver is lawfully arrested, officers must still have a good reason to search the vehicle. One acceptable reason to forego a warrant is to check for any weapons that may be within reach of the suspect, which is for the safety of the officers. Another reason is when officers suspect that the vehicle contains evidence relevant to the arrest for which the individual is being arrested. In the latter case, though, officers do not have the ability to freely search any part of the car, but only areas where it is reasonable to suspect evidence may be found. Navigating this point of law can be delicate.
Anybody who is facing drug charges should work with an experienced attorney to protect their rights, hold the government to its full burden of proof and to build the strongest possible case. When a defendant’s privacy rights have been infringed, a skilled attorney can help ensure that the defendant is able to take advantage of protections built into the criminal process.