What To Do If You Have Been Charged with a Drug Crime in Chicago?Published: Feb 17, 2016, by in Drug Crimes, DUI, Legal Blog
If you’ve been pulled over and charged with a drug crime, you should hire a skilled Chicago criminal defense attorney immediately. Do not talk to the police before consulting with your lawyer and do not accept a guilty plea, no matter how attractive it may seem. If the police pulled you over, conducted a search, and then arrested you, there is a good chance your lawyer can fight the charges if you act quickly.
Every person on American soil benefits from the protection of the US Constitution—regardless of his or her citizenship. These rights apply from the moment police initiate contact to the final stages of the criminal trial. This article will describe the rights of a drug crime suspect at various stages of a traffic stop, and explain how a skilled lawyer can defend your drug crime case.
Challenging the Basis for the Traffic Stop
The police cannot arbitrarily stop drivers. They must act on “reasonable suspicion” that the driver has committed a crime. This means that the police cannot pull you over on the mere hunch that you’ve done something illegal. Instead, they must have reason to believe you’ve committed a crime or a traffic violation such as driving with an expired tag or broken taillight.
It is actually quite difficult for the police to justify pulling you over on the suspicion that you are committing a drug crime, unless they had a tip from an informant or saw you doing drugs before or while you were driving. If the officer suspected you of being intoxicated based on your driving, your lawyer can make the case that your erratic or abnormal driving had an innocent explanation such as drowsiness or a mechanical issue with your vehicle.
If there was no reasonable suspicion justifying the initial traffic stop that led to your arrest, your lawyer may be able to have your drug charges dismissed—even if the police searched your vehicle and found drugs. This is because the prosecutor’s office cannot use evidence obtained from an illegal traffic stop in its case against you.
Claiming that the Search of your Vehicle or Person Was Unreasonable
Assuming the officer who pulled you over had a reasonable suspicion to do so, you may still be able to avoid a conviction for your drug crime charges. When the police are conducting a traffic search based on reasonable suspicion, they can only detain a suspect for the amount of time necessary to confirm or deny their suspicions that a crime is being committed.
For example, if you were speeding, the officer should have let you go after giving you a ticket or a warning—unless the officer gained probable cause that you were committing an additional crime. Probable cause is a slightly higher standard than the reasonable suspicion standard the officer needed to justify pulling you over. This means that the prosecutor will have a tougher time convincing the jury that the police had good reason to suspect you of criminal behavior at this stage of the encounter, after the initial traffic stop.
If you say or do things that give the officer probable cause to believe that you’re high or in possession of drugs, the officer may detain you longer and investigate his or her suspicions by searching you or your vehicle. This is why you should always (calmly and politely) exercise your 5th amendment right to remain silent during a police encounter. Anything you say—or even the way in which you say it—could give the officer reason to believe you are high or in possession of drugs.
The police will also be justified in searching your vehicle if they see illegal items in plain sight, such as a weed pipe or a bag of drugs on your car seat. The odor of marijuana has also been ruled to be a sufficient source of probable cause to search a vehicle during an Illinois traffic stop. Finally, the police can search your vehicle if a drug dog marks your vehicle. The police do not need probable cause to use a drug dog on your car, but they cannot make you wait an unreasonable amount of time for the drug dog to arrive.
Obtaining the Dismissal of your Drug Crime Charges
To summarize, a traffic stop can result in legitimate drug crime charges when the following conditions are met:
- The initial traffic stop was based on the reasonable suspicion that you were committing a crime (whether related to drugs or not)
- The officer gained reasonable cause to believe you were committing a drug crime over the course of the traffic stop because: you said something incriminating; the officer smelled drugs; the officer saw drugs in plain sight; OR a drug dog marked your car
- The officer searched you or your vehicle and obtained incriminating evidence based on a source of probable cause enumerated above, or because you consented to the search
- The officer who arrested you explained that you have a right to an attorney and to remain silent, and that any statement you make can be used against you
As you can see, the circumstances under which a police officer can legally pull a suspect over, search for drugs, and gain the basis for making an arrest are fairly narrow. This means that if your charges resulted from a similar scenario, you should consult with an experienced attorney who may be able to have the charges dismissed even before your trial starts.
Your lawyer may be able to have the evidence against you removed from the prosecution’s case by filing a motion to suppress. The motion to suppress will likely be successful when the prosecutor’s evidence was obtained in violation of your constitutional right to be free form unreasonable searches and seizures. Sometimes, a successful motion to suppress will leave the prosecutor with so little admissible evidence against you that your lawyer can then file for a motion to dismiss the charges.
How a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help Beat Your Drug Charge
Chicago criminal defense attorney Michael O’Meara of O’Meara Law LLC started his legal career prosecuting cases, so he knows what is needed for a conviction to stick. This enables him to successfully defend the interests of his clients facing drug charges in Illinois. If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, there is hope. Call today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.