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Drug case thrown out after officers manufacture traffic offense

Last October, a Florida Sheriff’s sergeant and deputy were investigating a house, so they were running the plates of the cars that stopped there. When one car drove away from the house, the sergeant wanted to question the driver. He ordered the deputy to stop the car based on some sort of probable cause.

The deputy pulled Jorge Sanchez over for failing to stop at an intersection stop bar. The problem? There was no such stop bar at the intersection. In any case, they stopped and investigated Sanchez and found evidence of methamphetamine in the car.

According to a judge hearing the case against Sanchez, the sergeant “makes no bones about the fact that the stop was a pretext.” The government conceded there was no stop bar at the intersection.

Ordinarily, when the police pull over a car they need probable cause to believe the driver is involved in criminal activity, such as a traffic violation. When they don’t have probable cause but pull the car over anyway, they are violating the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Generally, the remedy for a constitutional violation is that any evidence gathered as a result cannot be admitted into evidence.

Here, however, the prosecutor insisted that the officers had simply made a mistake about the stop bar. They claimed he made a mistake about the law that was objectively reasonable.

“If these facts qualify as ‘objectively reasonable,’ then the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure is simply not applicable to a pretextual traffic stop,” wrote the judge.

Know your rights

In Georgia, police officers do not have unlimited authority to stop anyone they please at any time. Before they can stop your car, they need probable cause to believe you’re involved in something illegal — and they have to act reasonably.

The judge in the case against Sanchez ruled that the evidence of methamphetamine possession could not be used as evidence. The case would have to be dismissed.

Have you been stopped, pulled over or searched by the police? If they violated your constitutional rights, any evidence they discovered could be suppressed — and that could mean the charges against you have to be dismissed, too.

Before you make any decisions, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice.