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Any New Yorker who has been pulled over by police for a traffic violation knows the sinking feeling that sets in when he or she first sees the flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror. Worrisome thoughts that may immediately come to mind include concerns about how much a traffic ticket might cost, or if one’s insurance rates may increase.

These thoughts may pale in comparison, however, to the ones that may start crowding in if police begin a vehicle search, and if they claim to find things that escalate what began as a possible traffic matter into accusations of more serious criminal activity.

For example, consider a recent instance in which police pulled over a vehicle near the George Washington Bridge, initially based on a supposed traffic violation. Things quickly went beyond that when one of the officers claimed to smell marijuana, which led to a vehicle search, which in turn led to the alleged discovery of more than 200 allegedly stolen prescription slips. The final tally of charges allocated among the four men included forgery, conspiracy, and possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Between arrest and trial, and during trial, many factors may come to light that could lead to either acquittal of a criminal defendant, or at least to the emergence of mitigating circumstances that can aid in the defense.

Law enforcement personnel are not perfect, and they can make mistakes that many times an experienced criminal defense attorney will know to look out for. Prosecutors can also leave openings in their legal arguments that a skilled defense attorney can identify for the benefit of his or her clients.

In short, the standards of innocent until proven guilty and proof beyond a reasonable doubt can offer many opportunities for a successful defense. The criminal justice system must take these rights into account, which is why anyone accused of a crime has the right to representation by legal counsel, and must be informed of that right at the time of arrest.

Source:, "Fort Lee police pinch NY quartet with 236 stolen prescriptions," Jerry DeMarco, July 21, 2014

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