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Gone fishing: freeway drug arrests

Casting out the line hundreds of times eventually pays off.
Many law enforcement officers dream of making a big drug bust. Selfies next to a mound of drugs and guns and cash. TV interviews, maybe a promotion. All chalked up to patient and diligent police work.

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In reality, a lot of drug busts stem from freeway traffic stops that are more like fishing expeditions than investigations. Profiling drivers and playing the percentages. Catch-and-release until you land a big one.

Trolling

As they camp on the roadside or cruise the interstate, officers are trained to look for supposed red flags of drug traffickers, such as out-of-state plates, rental cars, driving at or below the speed limit, tinted windows or "paranoid" behavior such as clutching the wheel and staring straight ahead.

None of these things are illegal or constitute reasonable suspicion. Neither is "driving while black or brown," yet African-American and Hispanic drivers are far more likely to be subjected to traffic stops and searches. To avoid allegations of racial or ethnic profiling, interstate drug stops are commonly initiated on some other pretext such as a minor traffic infraction.

Setting the hook

Upon making a stop, the officer needs probable cause to detain the driver or conduct a search of the vehicle. Police reports often cite subjective observations such as "an odor of marijuana" or "nervous behavior." That leads to grilling questions and requests that sound like commands. Where are you headed? Would you please step out of the car? Do you mind if I look in the trunk? Asserting your rights or refusing to comply reinforces the officer's suspicions. And one thing leads to another.

In August, just across the border in Cleveland County, a couple was stopped on I-85 because of a bad brake light and failure to signal a lane change. The sheriff's deputy said he smelled marijuana, and summoned the K-9 unit. The drug-sniffing dogs "hit" on the car, which led to the discovery of a trophy bust for marijuana and meth. All based on a turn signal?

We're not fish. People have rights.

From the deputy's perspective, persistence and intuition paid off. To a good criminal defense lawyer, it seems more like the dumb luck of fishing -- a few "keepers" out of a 100 traffic stops.

If you are facing drug charges (or other criminal charges) after a traffic stop on I-85 in South Carolina, did law enforcement overstep its bounds? Greenville attorney Ryan L. Beasley has successfully challenged interstate drug arrests on the basis of probable cause and unlawful searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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Over my career, I have earned a number of honors reflecting my
professionalism and commitment to my clients. These awards include:

    • 10 best 2016 client satisfaction American institute of personal injury attorneys
    • 10 best 2016 client satisfaction American institute of criminal law attorneys
    • Martindale-Hubbell | Distinguished | Peer Rated for High Professional Achievement | 2019
    • National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys
    • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers
    • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 40 Under 40
    • Top Young Attorneys | 2014 | Rising Stars selected by Peer Recognition and Professional Achievement
    • Rated By Super Lawyers | Rising Stars | Ryan L. Beasley | SuperLawyers.com
    • Nationally Ranked Superior DUI Attorney By the nafdd | 2013
    • America's Most Honored Professionals | Ryan L. Beasley
    • Martindale-Hubbell | Client Champion | Gold / 2019
    • Expertise | Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Greenville
    • 2015 Legal Elite of the Upstate | Greenville's Top Attorneys
    • Legal Elite of the Upstate
    • Legal Elite of the Upstate 2013-2018
    • Client Distinction Award | Ryan L. Beasley, Esq.
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