My boyfriend and I were driving and we were pulled over for swerving. The town was extremely small and was in a dry county, meaning that no alcohol could be brought through the city limits. We weren’t drinking but had a small glass pipe hidden in the truck.
The officer hassled us about having anything in the car for a good 10 minutes before he issued my boyfriend a warning for swerving. At the time he issued the warning he asked if he could search the car. My boyfriend said no and the cop proceeded to hassle us some more.
The cop was a canine unit and informed us that if we didn’t let him search the car he would at that time go get the dog and anything he found would be grounds to send us to jail. We handed over the pipe and the cop proceeded to search the car. Finding nothing else 15 minutes later he let us go but issued us an $800 ticket for paraphernalia.
Is what this cop did illegal? How should we have pleaded our case at our court appearance?
When the officer handed your boyfriend the warning ticket for swerving, your legal encounter was over. Your boyfriend had the right to ask the officer at that point “Am I free to go?” The answer should have been yes.
The officer had no probable cause to bring a canine to search your car. You were stopped for a traffic violation and the officer had no reasonable grounds for being suspicious. The problem is that cops are allowed to lie while conducting an investigation. He lied that he had the right to bring the dog to your car.
When your boyfriend provided the evidence, the pipe, he in effect, confessed and waived his rights. For that reason he wouldn’t have a defense in court. Had he refused to cooperate, the cop would have eventually given up or brought in a dog. If he had brought the dog without reasonable suspicion, any evidence found would have been thrown out because of illegal search. There is a caveat here. Cops lie all the time in court, so the cop might tailor the story to fit the judge’s expectations.
Here are some model scripts for any further encounters with law enforcement:
Cop: You don’t mind if I search your car, do you?
You: Yes I do, officer.
Cop: Why? Are you hiding something?
You: I feel strongly that I should protect the Constitution and want to protect my rights.
You: Am I free to go now, officer?
Cop: Where are you going?
You: Why do you ask?
Cop: Are you on anything, any drugs?
You: Officer, was I violating a traffic law?
Cop: Can I look in your trunk?
You: Officer, are you going to ticket me for a violation or may I leave now?
If the officer refuses to answer whether you are free to go, say to him, “Officer, am I being detained?” If he doesn’t tell you yes, slowly walk away, get in the car and drive away.
If he says yes, ask for what reason (it may be important later in court). Refuse to speak with him about anything except your name and address and the fact that you don’t wish to speak without a lawyer present. Never give consent to a search because you waive all your rights.
(Thanks to California attorney William Logan for his help with this question.)
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