Drugs And The Fourth Amendment

Drug charges run rampant here in Texas. They have a high occurrence rate in Denton, too. Just recently, a Denton police officer was patrolling the parking lot of a hotel within the 4000 block of interstate 35E as he witnessed a male sitting in a parked vehicle on the north side of the building. The officer, through training and experience, knew that the location is a known high-crime area in which drugs are widespread. The police officer approached the parked vehicle and politely asked the male occupant if he was staying at the hotel. After a brief conversation, the officer asked the male if he had anything illegal on him. The man then emptied his pockets. The officer noticed a clear plastic bag in the male’s hand. Said plastic bag contained a white crystalline residue that the officer reasonably believed to be methamphetamine. The officer then waited for backup to arrive. Upon the backup’s arrival, but before the vehicle-search occurred, the male suspect admitted there was an additional plastic bag in the center console containing a substance. The male was then placed under arrest on a charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

Types and Classifications of Drug Crimes

There are numerous types and classifications of drug crimes. The types of drug-related charges include possession of a drug substance, intent to distribute, sale/delivery of a controlled substance, drug manufacture, intent to manufacture, drug trafficking, cultivation of marijuana, etc. Normally, when someone is charged with a drug crime, he or she faces several charges such as such as possession, intent to deliver, facilitation of a drug sale, and other charges.

Fourth Amendment as Applied

In most drug cases, a government search is involved. When a government agent performs a “search”, the Fourth Amendment applies. In short, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment, protects people from the unlawful search and seizure of the government. In essence, for the government to search a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, the government actor, such as a police officer, normally must have a search warrant. There are several exceptions to this general warrant requirement. First, the police officer can ask for the suspect’s consent to search the interior of his or her vehicle. The person does not have to consent here. If the suspect does not consent, this does not give the officer probable cause for a search.

Second, if the officer spots drugs, in “plain view”, they may reach into the vehicle and seize the drugs. An officer may lawfully do this when:

  • The officer has lawfully pulled the vehicle over;
  • The officer sees evidence;
  • The evidence is in the officer’s plain view; and
  • The officer had probable cause on the initial sighting that it was evidence.

Third, if the officer has probable cause that drugs are in the vehicle, he or she may search in areas where the drugs could reasonably be placed. This includes passengers’ personal belongings. Probable cause may arise in several ways, such as by smelling drugs from inside the vehicle, or by witnessing someone placing drugs inside the vehicle. Without a warrant, or in the absence of a warrant exception, a search of the vehicle is unlawful and all evidence found inside shall not be admitted in court per the doctrine of fruits of the poisonous tree.

Take Action and Hire an Attorney for Your Case

Here in Denton County, Texas, if you are convicted of a drug crime, you will most likely face serious penalties. You will normally spend time in jail. Being accused of a drug crime is nothing to take lightly. It is imperative that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney for your case. The criminal defense lawyers at the Wheeler Law Office are here to help. Our lawyers provide the strong legal defense you need in the face of serious drug charges. Contact our office today for a FREE consultation.