Common Misconceptions Regarding Drug Charges
Interviewer: What are some of the more common misconceptions that people have about drug charges?
James Abate: That they’re not going to get caught. To some extent, that brings us to the area of search and seizure law. Many of these cases occur within the context of a motor vehicle stop. You’re going to be dealing with a case where someone’s been pulled over, where the officer needs that probable cause to pull them over, where the officer needs to have probable cause to search the vehicle, and it brings in whether they’ve consented to the search or not, whether the dogs have been brought out to sniff the vehicle.
The biggest misconception is when people think, “I’m just going out for a drive.” No, you’re not going out for a drive. You’re going out with drugs in your vehicle and you are now bringing into account huge Fourth Amendment constitutional issues that can arise out of your drive because you have drugs in the car.
I don’t even know if this is a misconception but it’s almost magic. It seems that police have an awfully good idea of whom to pull over to search for drugs. I would have to say that from my experience, handling cases involving motor vehicles and drugs, it’s amazing to me how often police just know there are drugs in a vehicle. I don’t know if it’s that they know that most young people use drugs and if they pull over mostly young people they’re going to find drugs in a vehicle or what. When an officer comes to a vehicle and he asks if you have drugs in your vehicle, it indicates he has a suspicion that the person does have drugs in the vehicle. When he asks to do a search of the vehicle, most of the time they do find drugs. Maybe I’m the one with the misconception thinking that drug use is less prevalent than it is.
Advice to Clients
Interviewer: What are some things that you would recommend for someone that would help their case?
James Abate: The first thing is, don’t ever consent to searches of your vehicle. Don’t answer questions for police officers that are looking to get you in trouble. If the officer starts asking you questions outside of your motor vehicle stop, politely say, “I’m sorry, Officer. I don’t answer questions to police officers and I don’t consent to searches of my vehicle.” It’s a hard thing to do. The courts realize that you’re given these significant, additional protections.
When you say to an officer, “I’m not going to answer your questions” or that you don’t consent to searches of your vehicle, then you’re giving them a tipoff that maybe you have something to hide. You shouldn’t have to. It’s your constitutional right not to be searched without consent. It’s your constitutional right not to have to create evidence against yourself. It’s hard to just say no to an officer. The number one rule that I would give – it’s normally something I would tell people who have already been charged – is to just shut up.
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