Search and Seizure Laws

A police officer conducting a traffic stop may search your vehicle and seize evidence without  a warrant under certain conditions. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, but interpretations of “reasonableness” have changed throughout history. Under the exclusionary rule, the prosecution cannot use any evidence or information obtained from an illegal vehicle search.

The line between lawful and unlawful vehicle searches can seem a bit blurry, and is frequently redefined by courts, so understanding the law is in every motorist’s best interests. This article provides the basics of vehicle search and seizure laws after a traffic stop.

Generally, an officer may conduct a search of your vehicle under one of the following conditions: 1) You consent to a search; 2) The officer has probable cause to suspect the existence of incriminating evidence in your vehicle; 3) The officer reasonably believes that a vehicle search is necessary for his or her own protection such as an officer having suspicion that a suspect may be armed and dangerous; and/or 4) You have been arrested.

An officer may ask to search your vehicle without a warrant even if he or she is not authorized to do so. But motorists always have the right to say no, and illegal searches can be challenged later in court. If you consent to a search, however, any evidence obtained may be used against you.

In most states, search and seizure rules pertaining to automobiles are not as strict as those relating to one’s home. For example, an officer may conduct a warrantless search of those areas immediately within the driver’s reach, which includes the glove compartment and the vicinity of the front seat, if the officer suspects weapons or other potential immediate threats.

An officer who stops a motorist for a minor infraction, such as a speeding violation, generally may not conduct a search.

Under the plain view doctrine, officers may lawfully seize evidence of a crime without a search warrant if it’s in plain view. For example, if an officer sees a glass pipe with what appears to be drug residue in the backseat after stopping a motorist for running a red light, the officer may seize the pipe. The officer may also lawfully conduct a warrantless search for other drug-related items in the automobile after finding the glass pipe, since it provides probable cause that other incriminating evidence may be present.

The officer may not, however, search the vehicle indiscriminately. For example, an officer who sees an illegal weapon in plain view and subsequently finds a small packet of drugs in the motorist’s wallet likely has overstepped his or her boundaries. The search following the discovery of the illegal weapon must be weapon-related, so it’s unreasonable to search someone’s wallet because it could not reasonably contain a weapon.

The plain view doctrine also extends to evidence that an officer or drug-sniffing dog smells or hears after a traffic stop.

An officer is permitted to conduct a frisk, in which an individual’s clothing is patted down, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver or passengers are armed or otherwise pose a threat. The purpose of the frisk is to ensure the officer’s safety; it is not considered a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

However, an officer conducting a frisk for weapons may not manipulate objects in pockets or otherwise investigate further. To do so would be considered a search.

For example, if an officer conducting a frisk comes across an object that feels suspiciously like a hypodermic needle, he or she may pull it out of the suspect’s pocket and seize it. But if the officer conducting a frisk were to poke a finger into an otherwise unassuming bulge, thus discovering a powdery residue resembling heroin, that evidence would be inadmissible.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Manufacturing and Cultivating Drugs

Cultivating or manufacturing illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine or marijuana, is illegal under federal and state laws (with limited exceptions for marijuana in states such as Washington, Colorado and several other states which are beginning to legalize marijuana). Drug “manufacturing,” in a criminal law setting, occurs when an individual is involved in any step of the illicit drug production process. Those who sell certain precursor chemicals, specialized equipment, or simply offer to help produce drugs also may be charged with the crime.

The production of drugs typically is charged as a felony, with sentences including prison time, steep fines, and probation. Prison sentences and fines may be doubled for those convicted of manufacturing illegal drugs near schools and playgrounds.

Broader RICO charges could be applied when the manufacture of drugs is part of a larger operation under a federal statute.

In order to be convicted of manufacturing (or intending to manufacture) illicit drugs, prosecutors must typically prove the elements of both possession and an intent to manufacture. In many cases, the tools and materials used to create illegal drugs aren’t considered contraband in and of themselves.

For example, pseudoephedrine was once a popular cold medication. But it’s also used to make methamphetamine. If police were to find a box of the now-banned substance in an individual’s car that may not be enough standing alone to prosecute for a manufacturing offense. If the officer also found laboratory equipment commonly used to cook meth in the backseat, it could establish the probable cause needed for an arrest.

Similarly, the possession of marijuana seeds alone is not necessarily an indication of an intent to cultivate but if officers also found indoor grow lamps and hydroponic equipment, it may trigger an arrest in states that don’t allow the cultivation of cannabis.

A permit or authorization to possess certain items otherwise used to make illegal drugs may be a defense, however. For example, pharmacists have access to a wide array of substances that may be used to manufacture illicit drugs. Also, certain chemicals and industrial supplies commonly used to make illegal drugs may also have legitimate uses that would require a permit.

While there is generally little difference among state and federal drug manufacturing laws, marijuana has carved out a special exception. The federal government treats marijuana cultivation similar to the manufacture of other Schedule I drugs with respect to charges and sentencing, but generally has had a “hands-off” policy toward state legalization efforts.

Under federal law, cultivation of less than 50 marijuana plants can result in up to five years in prison, or up to a possible life sentence for 1,000 or more plants. Individuals in states that have allowed for the medical use of marijuana or legalized its recreational use aren’t exempt from federal enforcement, but it’s not clear how enforcement of federal laws will be carried out.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but of the two only Colorado allows non-medical users to cultivate the plant (six or fewer). States that allow the use of medical marijuana differ on whether (and how much) marijuana may be cultivated by approved patients. Patients in Hawaii may grow up to seven plants, but Connecticut doesn’t allow cultivation by patients.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

The Juvenile Process

The procedure of the juvenile court system is different from the adult system. For example, after committing an offense, juveniles are “detained” rather than arrested. Next, a petition is drawn up which is the official charging document or otherwise known as the criminal complaint. This petition outlines the jurisdiction authority of the juvenile court over the offense and detained individuals, gives notice for the reason for the court appearance, and serves as notice to the minor’s family.

Once in court, the juvenile case is adjudicated and a disposition is handed down. Records from juvenile courts are sealed documents, unlike adult records which are accessible by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. Like diversion, this measure is designed to protect the juvenile so that one mistake doesn’t follow them for life. Juvenile records may also be expunged upon the juvenile’s eighteenth birthday provided they’ve met certain conditions, such as good behavior. Juvenile court procedure is also far less formal than adult court procedure.

The court’s ability to interfere in both criminal and other matters relating to juveniles is the product of a very old legal concept called parens patriae. This legal concept regards the government as the legal protector of citizens unable to protect themselves. Even today, the disposition of a juvenile case is based on the least detrimental alternative, so the legacy of parens patriae is still evident.

One major controversy in juvenile dispositions is the use of indeterminate sentencing, which allows a judge to set a maximum sentence. In such cases, juveniles are monitored during their sentences and are released only when the judge is satisfied that they have been rehabilitated or when the maximum time has been served. Critics argue that this arrangement allows the judge too much discretion and is, therefore, not the least detrimental punishment.

The juvenile court procedure will usually vary depending on the type of case. There are three basic types of juvenile cases:

Juvenile Delinquency Cases: These are cases involving minors whose actions, if they were adults, would be considered crimes and would result in a case in criminal court. Juvenile punishment, and the procedures used in juvenile delinquency courtrooms, differs significantly from adult criminal courts. The focus in juvenile proceedings is generally focused on rehabilitation and avoiding long-term negative repercussions.

Juvenile Dependency Cases: These cases involve minors that have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or guardians. Cases of this sort focus on protecting the child’s safety. They have some similarity to family court cases.

Status Offense Cases: These cases involve status offenses that apply specifically to juveniles. This may include underage drinking or driving, curfew violations, runaways, or truancy.

 

The organization model varies state by state, and some states, for example, Alabama, allow each county and city jurisdiction to decide which is the best method of organization. Where the juvenile court sits has profound implications for the juvenile process.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.