Marijuana And Traffic Warnings. When Is Enough Enough?
Marijuana isn’t legal in Georgia. Yet. So these two dudes, one from GA and one from SC, are driving down the road, when the driver changes lanes apparently without using his blinker. As they pass the stationary deputy, the driver is wagging his finger in the face of the passenger.
So let’s talk about those deputies who are parked in the middle of the road. Are they there for deterrence? Nope. There to stop those crazy logging trucks that are a hazard? Nope. There to ticket the slowpokes blocking the left lane? Nope. They are there to intercept illicit drugs, or better yet money, going up and down the road. It is a skill that not every deputy has. Some are better than others. Having done ride-alongs with Interstate Interdiction officers, I have been impressed at their ability to spot so many drug carrying dudes going down the road. So far it’s been held to be constitutional because invariably the suspects commit a traffic violation, which then becomes the basis for the stop.
Back to our story, the deputy decides to pursue to make sure that the driver is not distracted. As he falls in behind the miscreants, he sees that finger wagging still going on, so he turns on the blue lights.
After getting identification and becoming convinced that the driver was not intoxicated, and that no fight was taking place, the deputy indicated he was issuing a warning citation and would let them go. He actually wrote up the warning but did not give it to the driver. Instead he began the further investigation into drugs, because after all, gotta be some drugs in the car, right?
The deputy continues to claim that the driver is “nervous” Really? Is that maybe because the officer has blue lights flashing, a gun on the hip and a dog in his car? So due to the nervousness, the deputy prolongs the stop to run his drug dog around the car. The dog hits on something and the subsequent search revealed more than an ounce of Mary Jane, the whacky weed, was in the car. Both subjects are arrested.
At a hearing, the trial judge ruled that the stop exceeded the reasonable time for a warning stop and suppressed the drugs. The State appealed. The Court of Appeals spent a lot of time talking about procedure, but in the end they upheld the suppression of the search. Once the warning citation was issued, that was essentially the end of that stop absent something initiated by the accused. Here it was the officer that prolonged the stop and thus the resulting search was illegal.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He focuses on personal injury cases and corporate litigation. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles about the law that you’d like to see.