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South Carolina traffic stop leads to drug charges

The U.S. Constitution prohibits the police from "unreasonable" search and seizure, but what's reasonable and what is not can vary widely under different circumstances. For example, court decisions over the years have established that police have a lot of leeway when it comes to searching people's cars at routine traffic stops.

Recently in South Carolina, two men were arrested at a routine traffic stop and now face drug charges and a charge of resisting arrest. Police said they spotted the two men in a car at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 14 and followed them as they ran a stop sign. The car they were driving also had an expired license tag, police said.

What happened next is not yet clear, but during the course of the traffic stop, police say they found in the car 17 small bags of what they believed to be heroin. Police say the driver claimed the bag to be his own, and was charged with possession of heroin. His passenger was charged with trafficking heroin and resisting arrest.

Courts have ruled that the question of whether a search and seizure is reasonable boils down to whether the suspect had an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy. People almost always have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own homes, and so police generally need a warrant before they can search a suspect's residence. However, courts have found that people's expectation of privacy is much lower in their cars.

Once police have a valid reason to pull over a car - for instance, when they see the driver run a stop sign -- they generally have a good amount of freedom in searching the car. This doesn't necessarily mean they have a right to open and search the trunk, but the police are skilled at testing the limits of their rights in the investigation of crime.

However when the police overstep their authority, their case may fall apart. When a court rules that a search or seizure was unreasonable, any evidence obtained during that search or seizure cannot be used in court. There are stiff penalties for drug convictions in the state of South Carolina and these types of charges should be taken very seriously. However, skilled criminal defense attorneys have many strategies that can be employed to obtain the best possible result for someone facing drug charges

Source: Georgetown Times, "Two arrested on drug charges," Feb. 14, 2013

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