Several years ago a Nebraska State Trooper explained to me that illegal drug transportation on Interstate-80 travel was highly predictable. Drugs travel east and money travels west.
The Nebraska State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have intercepted enormous amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana traveling east, and millions of dollars traveling west along Interstate 80. Cops claim that most illegal drugs come from “drug source” cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and just about any other major city on the west coast or in the southwest.
During the past 40 years this law firm has seen the tactics of law enforcement evolve.
Today, we see the same tactics used stop and search vehicles out in the western panhandle used in the cities of Lincoln and Omaha. Generally, the law enforcement officer will stop a vehicle with out-of-state plates for a minor traffic infraction. After the driver produces his license and registration (or rental agreement), the officer will ask the driver about his destination, the purpose of the trip, how long the driver has been on the road and where the driver has stopped during the journey. During this questioning, law enforcement will run a search on the driver’s license and registration to check for outstanding warrants, as well as criminal history.
At what appears to be the conclusion of the traffic stop the officer returns the driver’s license and registration and issues a ticket or a warning. As soon as the driver attempts to exit the cruiser, the officer asks the driver if he is willing to answer a “few” questions. The driver usually complies and answers questions about whether there are any drugs or weapons in the vehicle. Eventually, the officer asks permission to search the vehicle. If the driver grants permission, the officer will search the vehicle. If the driver denies permission, the officer may not search the vehicle unless he has probable cause. If the officer believes he has probable cause, he will search the vehicle. If the officer believes he has reasonable suspicion there are illegal drugs in the vehicle, he will likely call a drug dog to sniff the outside of the car. If the drug dog indicates that there are drugs in the vehicle, the officer will use the indication as probable cause to search the vehicle.
When drugs or other contraband are found, the driver and any passengers are arrested. The officer will write a police report and draft a probable cause affidavit explaining why he believes the person(s) he arrested is guilty of transporting drugs.
Fortunately, State Patrol vehicles are equipped with video cameras. The video tapes are a great asset to defense attorneys. The audio/ video recordings capture important facts that are not always recorded in police reports. Your attorney will review these tapes or DVDs to determine whether the stop or search of the vehicle were executed illegally in violation of your 4th Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.