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The Legalities of Search and Seizure on a Traffic Stop

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Posted on February 29, 2020 4:00 PM EST

A Miami Man was charged by Indictment in the Southern District of Florida with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He is represented by the Miami Criminal lawyers at DMT.

Vehicle Search was in Contravention of the Laws Regarding Searches and Seizures
On September 9, 2019, the defendant was driving his car in Miami-Beach, Florida when he was stopped by Miami-Beach Police Department detectives, who searched his vehicle. The stop was conducted unconstitutionally and in direct contravention of the laws regarding searches and seizures, as law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.

On August 20, 2019, detectives and agents from the Miami Beach Police Department and the D.E.A. were conducting an undercover narcotics investigation related to the co-defendants in this case. After an initial narcotics purchase was completed by law enforcement, they observed a white Mercedes-Benz park in front of the target location. The target location was a two-story, multi-unit apartment building in Miami Beach.

Detectives observed a white Hispanic male exit the vehicle and walk into the apartment building. He was not observed to be carrying any packages or any other items.

Shortly thereafter, the same Hispanic male was observed leaving the apartment building and driving away in the white Mercedes-Benz. A records check indicated that the vehicle was owned by the defendant.

The Fourth Amendment
Nearly three weeks later, on September 9, 2019, law enforcement stopped the defendant on Miami Beach while he was driving the same vehicle as he is alleged to have been driving on August 20, 2019. He committed no traffic infraction prior to his being stopped by the Miami Beach PD detectives. Law enforcement stated that this detention was an "investigatory stop." The defendant was removed from the car and it was subsequently searched without Mr. Tejada-Guzman's consent. The detectives found cocaine in the trunk of the vehicle, inside a closed tool box. The detectives seized the cocaine and released him from the scene. He was later arrested on a separate date.

The government should be precluded from introducing any evidence obtained from the illegal search conducted on September 9, 2019. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides one of the strongest protections for a democracy:

"The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." U.S. Const. Amend. IV.

Legalities of Search and Seizures
A traffic stop is a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. However, because a routine traffic stop is only a limited form of seizure, it is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest. The primary law enforcement purposes for making a traffic stop of a moving vehicle on a public highway are: (1) to verify that a violation of the traffic laws has occurred or is occurring and, (2) to provide for the issuance of an appropriate ticket or citation charging such traffic violation or make an arrest of the driver based upon such violation. In furtherance of these purposes, the police officer is authorized to require the driver of the vehicle to produce a valid driver's license and documentation establishing the ownership of the vehicle and that required public liability insurance coverages are in effect on such vehicle. During the process of such a traffic stop, the police officer making the stop may and should use his senses of sight, smell, and hearing to observe any other conduct or activity which might constitute a violation of any other criminal statute, but the officer must be able to articulate the specific facts and circumstances which prompt him to be suspicious of other criminal conduct before he initiates any actions to investigate such other conduct.

The legality of traffic stops is analyzed under the stop standard announced in Terry v. Ohio. In Terry, the Supreme Court made clear that law enforcement officers may seize a suspect for a brief investigatory stop only "where (1) the officers have a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was involved in ... criminal activity, and (2) the stop was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place." The duration of the traffic stop must be limited to the time necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. "Reasonable suspicion" is a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that the particular person stopped is breaking the law. "Reasonable suspicion" is determined from the collective knowledge of the officers involved in the stop, but cannot be based on a hunch.

When the totality of circumstances indicates that an encounter has become too intrusive to be classified as a brief seizure, the encounter is an arrest and probable cause is required. Although the text of the Fourth Amendment does not specify when a search warrant must be obtained, the Supreme Court has held that searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by a judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, subject only to a few specifically delineated exceptions.

Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant from an independent judicial officer prior to conducting a search. However, if a vehicle is readily mobile and there is probable cause to believe that it contains contraband, law enforcement officers may search the vehicle without a warrant.

Vehicle Searches and Seizures Require Facts and Circumstaces
Probable cause only exists when law enforcement officers have facts and circumstances within their knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed or was committing a crime. Probable cause is more than a "mere suspicion." Probable cause is decided on an objective basis by courts without regard to the subjective beliefs of law enforcement officers, whatever those beliefs may have been.

Another exception to the warrant requirement is consent to search. There are two requirements for a consent to search to be valid. First, the consent must be voluntarily given. Second, the consent must be given by an individual with authority to do so. One of the well-established exceptions to the probable cause and warrant requirements is a search which is conducted pursuant to voluntary consent. The government bears the burden of proving that the consent was not a function of the acquiescence to a claim of lawful authority, but rather was given freely and voluntarily.

The exclusionary rule allows redress of such constitutionally infirm searches by denying the government the fruits of such searches: Any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is to be excluded from the criminal trial of an accused.

Suppressed Evidence
Moreover, any evidence derived from any such constitutional infirmity is also to be excluded from the trial. The Miami Beach PD detectives who stopped the defendant did not have reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. He did not commit a traffic infraction or a violation of any law that would have justified the stop. He should never have been ordered out of his car. If the Detectives did have reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, they did not have a warrant.

Two exceptions could be applied in a stop such as this one: The automobile exception and the consent to search exception. As to the automobile exception, the detectives had no probable cause to stop the defendant; there were no furtive movements by him; nothing that would permit the detectives to have probable cause that a crime had been committed. As to the consent to search exception, there is no evidence that the defendant gave consent to the search.

Based on the foregoing analysis, our attorneys believe that the vehicle search conducted by Miami-Beach Police Department detectives was unconstitutional and all evidence seized as a result and any evidence that was derived from the search should be suppressed.

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Categories: Criminal Defense
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