Connecting San Francisco with New York, Interstate 80 runs through Nebraska.
With varying marijuana laws in place across the country, law enforcement
agencies have labeled the Interstate a drug corridor.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana in
2013. California and Oregon have allowed medical marijuana for many years.
New Hampshire just passed legislation allowing medical marijuana joining
five other New England states and New Jersey with similar laws.
However, it is against the law to possess marijuana in Nebraska. In the
month of July 2013, several traffic stops along I-80 have resulted in
marijuana arrests. At the beginning of the July 2013, a trooper stopped
a South Dakota man near I-80 for an improper turn and failure to signal.
After a drug-detection dog indicated the presence of drugs, a search of
the vehicle turned up 40 pounds of marijuana in his trunk.
In a fairly recent arrest, a Nebraska State Patrol trooper found 127 pounds
of marijuana after stopping a sport utility vehicle and smelling marijuana.
The Pennsylvania driver and passenger were arrested. In a different case
near Omaha, Douglas County deputies stopped a vehicle travelling between
Colorado and Wisconsin. In a search, they found half a pound of marijuana
and foods laced with marijuana. The men purchased the marijuana legally
from a medical dispensary in Colorado.
License plates and probable cause
Cars traveling through Nebraska with license plates from Colorado, California,
Oregon, Arizona and Washington often come under more suspicion because
people frequently transport illegal drugs from those states through Nebraska.
Driving a rental vehicle from Colorado, California, Oregon, Arizona and
Washington through Nebraska increases the level of suspicion because people
transporting illegal drugs from those states often rent vehicles for travel.
Minor traffic violations that might not prompt a stop of someone with Nebraska
plates could be used to justify an Interstate 80 drug stop of an apparent
out-of-state vehicle. This is especially true for those from states that
have legalized marijuana: California, Colorado, Oregon, or Washington.
To support a stop, an officer must have probable cause. Generally, even
a minor traffic violation provides probable cause to stop a vehicle.
The facts of a recent Nebraska Supreme Court case illustrate the point.
A vehicle with out-of-state plates was stopped on I-80 after its wheels
briefly crossed the line between two eastbound lanes. While the officer
was writing a warning, a drug detection dog indicated the presence of
a controlled substance. A search of the vehicle found cocaine.
Nebraska traffic laws require a vehicle to stay in its lane “as nearly
as practicable” and the officer admitted that minor touching of
the line happens all the time by unimpaired drivers. Thus the court found
that there was no probable cause to support the stop.
Furthermore, making things more difficult is the rule in most states that
the odor of marijuana gives an officer probable cause to search a vehicle
for marijuana. Officers in Nebraska frequently use the odor of marijuana
as an excuse to search a vehicle and it is nearly impossible to prove
that the officer didn’t actually smell marijuana.
When to consult an experience criminal defense attorney
If you are charged with drug possession or drug trafficking charges along
I-80, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can ensure
your rights are protected. If the grounds for the traffic stop were questionable,
it is possible obtain a reduction in the charges or have them dismissed
The Berry Law Firm has extensive experience defending people charged with
drug crimes throughout the Midwest. One of the attorneys in the office,
Chad J. Wythers, is a member of the California Attorneys for Criminal
Justice, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and the Colorado
Criminal Defense Bar.