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The War on Drugs Sometimes Causes Police Officers to Forget About the Constitution

Police officers like marijuana arrests because they are easy- they don’t require much work, they don’t require much thought, and they don’t require much, if any, investigation.  This is one of many reasons why dealing with the war on drugs that primarily serves to waste money and increase the size of government is so difficult  Despite the government’s desire to continue the war on drugs, it is not an excuse to disregard the Constitution and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In a recent possession of marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, the suspect was riding his bicycle at night without proper lighting.  There was no evidence of any criminal activity, but riding a bike without proper lighting is a traffic violation.  Based on this lighting malfeasance, two police officers saw fit to stop their vehicle and detain the suspect.  The officers asked the suspect for his ID, and he opened his bookbag to retrieve it.  The suspect tried to shield the officers from seeing into the bookbag when he obtained his ID but did not act suspiciously.  Based on this, the officers handcuffed the suspect and seized the bookbag.  The officer then claimed to smell marijuana, searched the bookbag and found small bags of marijuana inside.  The suspect was arrested for possession of marijuana.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the marijuana evidence.  The police do have a right to stop someone for committing a traffic violation, even one as minor as this one.  However, they can only stop the person for the purpose of writing a ticket for the violation.  They cannot detain the person for any longer period of time or seize the person by handcuffing him unless there is specific evidence of criminal activity.  In this case, there was none.  The suspect complied with the officer and obtained his identification from his bag.  If the suspect did so in a way the officer did not like, that is not a specific indicator of criminal activity.  If the police officer claimed he searched the bag because it could have had a weapon or drugs without specific evidence, then any police officer could search anyone with a bag, a car, pockets, etc and claim a suspect could have something illegal in a place the officer cannot see.   That is not how the Constitution works.

Because the suspect was detained and the police officers did not have any specific evidence of criminal activity when they detained him, the evidence of the marijuana was thrown out.  Perhaps, the police officers could have just let the guy who was not harming anyone go rather than wasting government time and resources and taxpayer money with an arrest, a criminal trial and an appeal that the state lost.