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Traffic stops may lead to shaky arrests for drug offenses

In Colorado and all other jurisdictions, special issues arise when a drug arrest emanates from what started out as a traffic stop. Most recently, this happened in Colorado Springs when an officer observed a "suspicious" vehicle, which prompted him to run the plates and determine that the registered owner of the car had a revoked license. In the aftermath of the traffic stop, the driver, a 44-year-old female, was arrested on traffic and drug offenses.

During the traffic stop, police say that two men approached the car and acted as though they knew the driver. One of the men took a backpack out of the vehicle, according to police. When police confronted the men, they say that they found 7.7 grams of heroin, 8.6 grams of cocaine and three syringes allegedly containing suspected narcotics.

Police then arrested the driver on charges of possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs. The man who took the backpack was also arrested for the same charges. There are various questions that the reported facts raise under this scenario.

First, criminal defense counsel may question the right of the police to stop a vehicle that looks "suspicious." The general description is arguably insufficient to sustain a traffic stop. It begs the question of what it was that looked suspicious. Was it actually the driver who looked suspicious? Was the officer engaging in some kind of racial or ethnic profiling? How does a car come to look suspicious?

Also, it appears that the knapsack belonged to the man who removed it from the car. Arguably, based on the reported facts, the Colorado Springs police had no probable cause to open the knapsack and look for drugs. Furthermore, it appears that all drugs were found in the knapsack and not on the driver's person or under her control. If the man had left his knapsack in the car, there may arguably be no probable cause to arrest the driver. This may be a critical issue for further investigation by criminal defense counsel -- if the reported facts hold up, the driver may have a defense to the charged drug offenses.  

Source: fox21news.com, "Heroin, cocaine found during Colorado Springs traffic stop", Travis Ruiz, Oct. 13, 2014

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