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Officer's right to search not a given in a traffic stop

It is not at all unusual to see the following lead in news stories these days. "A traffic stop led to the arrest of a suspect on drug charges." Whether you live in Missouri or some other state, it is not uncommon for authorities to stop a driver and then leverage the stop into an investigation that results in formal charges.

Even though it may seem to be standard practice, it's important for individuals to know that police do not automatically have the right to conduct a search of your vehicle during a stop. If one is conducted and it does lead to you facing serious charges, the legality of the search deserves to be challenged. If police violated the rules of evidence in some way it can be argued that the fruits of the search aren't admissible in court.

This is a view that many courts support. For example, consider this case out of New Hampshire. In 2013, a state trooper pulled over a man and woman in a van. The reason for the stop was that a computer check indicated that the license plate belonged on another vehicle.

In the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to conduct a search. The male driver consented. A police dog called to the scene discovered suspected drugs. Arrests followed and the man and woman were eventually convicted.

At trial, the defendants argued that the evidence had been obtained by illegal search, but the trial judge denied motions to dismiss the evidence. However, the state Supreme Court reversed that decision recently. It said the license plate issue, which prompted the stop, didn't amount to a reasonable suspicion of any other violation. So justices returned the case to the lower court for further consideration.

Your freedom depends on the protection of your rights. Knowing what your rights are requires depth of legal knowledge that only comes with experience.

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