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Drug charges for marijuana made after stop for traffic violation

One of the most generous sources of drug arrests seems to be where police initially stop a car for a traffic violation and then find drugs. This happened again recently in North Carolina when Henderson County Sheriff's deputies stopped a 2002 Honda Accord and found six pounds of what they described as high grade marijuana. They arrested the occupants, a 26-year old female and a 32-year old male, on drug charges of felony possession of marijuana, felony possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana and felony maintaining a vehicle.

The news report of the arrest on drug charges does not state the specific traffic violation that the deputies suspected. The reports say that the deputies became suspicious that the occupants were involved in criminal activity. They then used their narcotics detection canine for an exterior sniff of the vehicle.

The canine reportedly alerted authorities to the presence of narcotics in the car. The deputies then conducted a search of the car based upon their claim that they had probable cause due to the canine's alert. They found the marijuana concealed in a box that supposedly contained picture frames.

Despite the felony drug charges brought by the police, there are some unanswered questions regarding the validity of the stop and the search. First, the specific traffic offense justifying the stop was not reported. If there was no traffic violation, then the validity of the stop itself is questionable. Secondly, it's reported that the deputies became suspicious of criminal activity after they stopped the car, but no details of those suspicions are described.

It's questionable under North Carolina law that a mere allegation of being suspicious of criminal activity is sufficient cause for a canine search. Drug charges would be unsupportable but under the reported facts, but the authorities may have a more detailed record than appears in the news report. Additionally, when the parties searched the car, it's also at least questionable whether they had a right to open the box containing the marijuana. The main issues, however, are probably with respect to the initial stop and the use of the dog. If the initial stop or the exterior search were without sufficient cause, then the drugs found would be an inadmissible 'fruit of the poisonous tree.'

Source: wlos.com, "Marijuana Arrests," April 1, 2013

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