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As a general rule, police need probable cause to conduct a search or to make an arrest for drug offenses. Generally speaking, a search or an arrest that is not accompanied by probable cause is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and could result in the evidence that was seized in the search or the arrest being thrown out of court.

In situations involving search and seizure, probable cause exists if the officer is aware of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a search of a particular location will result in the discovery of evidence of a crime. But what happens if the police do not have probable cause to stop a vehicle to investigate the driver and passengers for drug possession? Can the police use a routine traffic stop for a traffic violation as a pretext to pull a vehicle over based on suspicion of other illegal activity? According to the United States Supreme Court, the answer is, "Yes."

Police officers in Rockland County and throughout New York engage in what has become known as pretext stops, in which a motorist is asked to pull over for a minor violation of traffic laws. In many cases involving pretext stops, the motorist might actually end up being given tickets for speeding, or failing to stop at a stop sign, or failing to signal a turn or a lane change, or some other traffic infraction, but the true reason for stopping the vehicle is for the officers to investigate for more serious legal infractions such as drug distribution, possession of drug paraphernalia or other drug offenses.

The area of law regarding search and seizure, probable cause and traffic stops is a complex one that cannot be adequately covered in a single blog post.

This post is an over of the topic, but it is not offered as legal advice. The information contained in this post should not be relied upon as legal advice that should only be obtained from an attorney knowledgeable about criminal law who can help to protect your rights.

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