July 31, 2023
The Connection Between Traffic Stops & Portage County Drug Arrests
Written by Erb Legal LLC
The news is full of stories about drug arrests resulting from traffic stops. Portage County, Ohio, is no exception. In February 2023, the Portage County Sheriff’s office seized nearly $1.35 million of ecstasy pills in a traffic stop on the Ohio Turnpike. In May 2023, a traffic stop led to the arrest of two people for trafficking marijuana.
Why Do Traffic Stops Result In So Many Drug Charges?
There are many reasons why traffic stops result in so many drug arrests. One reason is that traffic stops give police the opportunity to interact with drivers and observe them. But traffic stops must be justified.
The police can only stop you when they reasonably suspect that a crime has been or is being committed. For example, if an officer suspects you are under the influence of drugs or possess illegal drugs, they can search the vehicle. So, an officer may pull you over for a traffic violation and use that pretense to notice evidence of unlawful activity.
The other reason traffic stops yield so many drug arrests is that they are relatively low risk. Suppose an officer does not find any drugs or anything illegal, like a firearm. In that case, they can simply issue a ticket for the established motor vehicle violation and let the driver go.
4 Reasons Traffic Stops Lead to Drug Arrests
Most traffic stops do not result in criminal charges. However, a traffic stop could give the officer probable cause to search you or the vehicle. If any of the following apply, you could be arrested if illegal drugs are found:
- The Officer Smells Drugs- If an officer smells marijuana or other illegal drugs from a vehicle, they may have probable cause to search the car.
- Your Behavior is Suspicious – If the officer sees you try to hide something under a seat or notices you fidgeting or panicked, they may have cause to believe you are engaged in a crime.
- You Consent to a Search – Police offers routinely ask people if they consent to a search of their vehicle to clear things up quickly. This is usually unwise.
- A K-9 Dog Detects Drugs – Many police departments employ drug-sniffing dogs, and if they detect the presence of narcotics, it could establish cause for a search.
The Problem with Traffic Stops
At first glance, making traffic stops seems like an effective anti-drug strategy. But this practice lends itself to abuse and bias. There are also practical issues that often end with extreme criminal charges based on amounts and chain of evidence issues.
Racial Bias & Probable Cause Deficiency
According to a report by ACLU, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately targeted in traffic stops, leading to a higher likelihood of drug-related arrests. Besides this obvious racial disparity, vehicle searches often raise broad questions about civil rights violations.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means police are only authorized to conduct a vehicle search if they have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime, including drug-related offenses.
Unfortunately, law enforcement is known to be subjective when interpreting probable cause. Some officers may exploit this ambiguity to justify illegal searches, potentially violating the accused’s rights. Unjustified searches can yield evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible in court but still results in damaging criminal charges and wrongful convictions.
Inaccurate Testing & Possession Standards
Facing drug charges after you were pulled over for what you thought was a routine traffic infraction is scary. But these cases are not as open and shut as police would have you believe. Drug charges heavily depend on the drugs involved and the amounts in question, but conducting precise evaluations roadside is less than ideal.
In most field tests, an officer deposits some of the substance into a vial of liquid. If the liquid turns blue, it is deemed an illegal drug. While these tests are not admissible in court, police use them to support arrests. These tests are very unreliable. Aside from the regularity of false positives, many officers lack formal training in administering them. Field testing is a lot different than in a lab.
If a false positive identifies something as illegal, you can be forced to deal with drug charges, even if a more precise test exonerates you later. Drug charges are usually based on the quantities. An inaccurate weight or an officer’s overestimation can result in felony charges when a misdemeanor is more appropriate.
Another complication related to drug charges stemming from traffic stops is that even when illegal drugs are discovered in a vehicle, it does not necessarily prove ownership or knowledge of its presence. Innocent passengers, individuals who borrowed a car, or unsuspecting vehicle owners may find themselves implicated due to the actions of another.
Take Drug Charges Seriously
Even with the inherent problems with drug arrests from traffic stops, the practice is likely to continue, especially in Portage County, because the demand for illegal drugs is not slowing down. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that these cases are far from ironclad.
If you are accused of drug-related offenses following a traffic stop, it is crucial to seek legal representation. There is a lot an experienced defense attorney can do, including challenging faulty evidence, casting doubt on the traffic stop, and negotiating to reduce the negative impact of a drug arrest.
If you are stopped by the police for a traffic stop, stay calm and do the following:
- Avoid displaying nervousness or suspicious behavior, as it may raise suspicions unnecessarily.
- Familiarize yourself with your rights, precisely the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. You have the right to remain silent and refuse consent to a search.
- While it is your right to remain silent, always stay polite and respectful when interacting with the police. Cooperate with lawful orders and provide necessary identification and documents when requested.
- Don’t volunteer information that may incriminate you or give the police reasonable suspicion to search. Only provide basic information such as your identification, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, if required.
- Unless the police have a warrant or probable cause to search, you have the right to refuse a search. If the police ask to search your vehicle, they likely don’t have sufficient evidence to conduct one indecently. Clearly and politely state that you do not consent.
- Contact a lawyer ASAP if you are arrested.
In Portage County, Call Erb Legal
Whether you’ve been accused of drug possession in Aurora, trafficking in Ravenna, permitting drug abuse in Streetsboro, or any drug offense in Portage County, Ohio, it is essential to act fast. A drug conviction is not something you want on your record. With effective legal representation from our experienced and dedicated drug crimes lawyers, you can prepare a compelling defense and work towards a favorable result, such as a dismissal, reduction, or acquittal.
Call Erb Legal at (330) 869-9007for a Consultation today.