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Probable Cause in Traffic Stops in Virginia

Posted by Sheridan England | May 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

In Virginia, your vehicle has fewer privacy protections than your home or yourself. In some instances, law enforcement has probable cause to search your vehicle on a routine traffic stop, but it is important to remember that you still have rights under the Fourth Amendment, and law enforcement must have more than probable cause to search you individually. If you have been charged with a crime, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney from S.L England, PLLC.

Illinois v. Caballes

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States considered in Illinois v. Caballes, “Whether the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify using a drug-detection dog to sniff a vehicle during a legitimate traffic stop .” The Court assumed that the officer did not have any information about Roy Caballes except that he had been speeding, which initiated the stop. The officer radioed for a narcotics detection dog, which alerted to the vehicle's trunk The officer found marijuana there, and Caballes was charged with cannabis trafficking.

Caballes argued that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Although the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that using a narcotics detection dog in a routine traffic stop constitutes "unjustifiably enlarging the scope of a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation," the Supreme Court of the United States reversed this decision, ruling 7-2 that using the narcotic detection dog during a routine traffic stop does not violate a person's Fourth Amendment rights because the dog will only alert to illegal items and "does not expose noncontraband items that otherwise would remain hidden from public view."

Whitehead v. Commonwealth

The Virginia Supreme Court considered the same topic of probable cause in Whitehead v. Commonwealth. In this case, a law enforcement officer stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation, and a narcotics detection dog alerted on the vehicle. The four occupants exited the vehicle, and the law enforcement officer was not able to locate any illegal substances during his search of the vehicle.

He then started searching the four individuals and found nothing on the first three. He searched Whitehead last and found heroin residue on a beer bottle cap in Whitehead's pocket. Whitehead was criminally charged.

The Supreme Court ruled that the law enforcement officer had probable cause to search the vehicle but needed probable cause plus some sort of individualized probable cause to search each individual in the vehicle, which he did not have in this case.

Do You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney in Virginia or Washington, D.C.?

If law enforcement stopped your vehicle for a traffic violation, you were searched individually and found with an illegal substance, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney from S.L. England, PLLC, to protect your Fourth Amendment rights. A felony criminal conviction can seriously affect your future, including your ability to pursue higher education or find safe housing. If you have been charged with a crime in Washington, D.C. or Virginia, call us today at (202) 572-1020 or contact us online.

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