Why drug charges from a traffic stop may lack probable cause

On Behalf of | Jan 12, 2024 | criminal defense |

Traffic violations are relatively common, and understanding your rights during a traffic stop is important. In South Dakota, as in many other states, drug charges from a traffic stop may not hold up under scrutiny if there is a lack of probable cause.

It is necessary to be aware of the limitations on police officers during such stops to protect your rights and privacy.

What officers can do

Police officers are limited to specific actions they can take. These include asking for your identification, vehicle registration and insurance information. The officers may also check for any outstanding arrest warrants against you and investigate the alleged traffic violation that led to the stop. If officers determine a violation has occurred, they can issue you a traffic ticket.

Limitations on vehicle searches

South Dakota had about 6,253 alleged drug offenses in 2022, and some of these stemmed from traffic stops. One aspect to understand is the limitation on vehicle searches. In South Dakota, as elsewhere, a police officer does not have the right to search your vehicle for illegal drugs without your permission unless there is probable cause. Probable cause is essentially the reasonable belief that evidence of a crime is present, or the reasonable belief that a crime may have been committed. In other words, officers cannot conduct a search simply based on the traffic violation itself. To search your vehicle for drugs, the officer must have a good reason to believe that a drug violation may have occurred.

Probable cause

Probable cause is an important element in determining the validity of a search or an arrest. In the context of a traffic stop, probable cause typically involves observing illegal items, such as drugs, in plain view or having a specific reason to believe that a crime may have occurred. If a police officer lacked probable cause to arrest you or conduct a search, any drug charge resulting from the search may be thrown out.

In many cases, charges can be reduced or dismissed due to errors on the part of police when conducting traffic stops and searches. See our South Dakota Criminal Defense FAQ to learn more about your options.