Walton County Sheriff’s Office recently found a large amount of illegal drugs in a vehicle on highway 78. “The deputy stated the tint was so dark there no way to determine if the driver was wearing a seat belt, leading to the belief visibility was less than 32 percent. The deputy turned around and initiated a traffic stop west of Cheek Road. “ Walton Tribune 6/19/2011. After the traffic stop, the Sheriff’s deputy reported a strong odor and that the driver was breathing heavily and shaking. The driver consented to a search of both his body and his vehicle, during which time the Sheriff’s deputy “reported a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the back of the vehicle. A search of the back of the vehicle revealed two suitcases secured by padlocks.” Walton Tribune 6/19/2011. The driver then refused consent for the deputy to search the suitcases. However, the deputy obtained legal authority to search the suitcases when the vehicle was later towed to the Sheriff’s office. When the suitcases were searched, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office found “three large ‘bricks’ of suspected marijuana . . . 1-gallon Ziploc bag with suspected marijuana as well as another ‘brick’ of suspected marijuana.” Walton Tribune 6/19/2011.
This is a good time to revisit your Constitutional Fourth Amendment Right. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, " The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. National Archives Const Amnd.
When a police officer asks if they can look around remember that our Constitution allows us to say NO. Refusing permission to search does not mean that you are guilty, that you are hiding something, or even that the search will not happen. If the police still want to search your things and you refuse, they are then required to obtain legal authority to conduct the search.
In this case, the deputy eventually obtained legal authority to search the suitcases through a search warrant. The details of the search warrant were not listed in the article; however, the search warrant may have been allowed because the vehicle was towed to the Sheriff’s office, therefore it would have been subject to a full search under one of the exceptions to the rule, or a search warrant may have been granted because the deputy presented enough reasonable suspicion to a judge. If neither of these issues were present, the driver’s attorney will likely move to have the evidence dismissed in any charges against him. This type of balance ensures that our Constitutional right “against unreasonable searches and seizures” is protected.
See Blog Posting Can you say no to the police? Your Constitutional Fourth Amendment Right from February 23, 2011 for more information on your Constitutional Fourth Amendment Right.