In Wisconsin, if a law enforcement officer pulls you over under suspicion of driving under the influence, you may be arrested on OWI charges if there is evidence that your abilities are impaired by a drug or controlled substance. However, in some cases, this is only the beginning of the criminal charges a person may face after a traffic stop. Depending on the circumstances, an officer could arrest a driver for drug possession or a more serious drug offense. If you have been arrested on drug charges after a traffic stop, it is crucial that you understand your rights.
How Can a Traffic Stop Lead to Drug Charges?
An arrest for drug possession can be the ultimate outcome of a traffic stop even if the officer’s reason for initiating the stop was something completely different. In large part, this depends on what happens during the stop. In Wisconsin, an officer does not necessarily need a warrant to search a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime. In a traffic stop, probable cause can be established in a variety of ways.
For example, an officer may ask the driver questions about what they have been doing, where they are headed, and whether they are aware of the reason for the traffic stop. The driver’s answers to these questions could be sufficient to establish probable cause. Alternatively, the officer may make use of sensory observations, such as the sight of visible drugs or paraphernalia in the vehicle or the scent of an illegal substance, to justify a search based on probable cause. The officer may ask the driver directly for permission to search the vehicle, and if the driver consents, probable cause is no longer necessary.
Evidence obtained through a reasonable search is admissible in court. This means that if the search results in the discovery of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle, the driver may face criminal charges, the severity of which depends on the type and amount of the substance discovered. When large amounts are involved, the driver could face charges for possession with intent to distribute.
Defense Strategies for Drug Possession Charges
Knowing your rights during a traffic stop can significantly help you to avoid a conviction. For example, your right to protection from self-incrimination means that you do not have to answer an officer’s questions, except to provide basic information, including your name, driver’s license, and vehicle registration. If you are arrested, you can request the presence of an attorney for any further questioning.
Additionally, your right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure means that if the officer does not have a warrant, it is generally best to verbally express that you do not consent to a search of your vehicle or person. If the officer proceeds with a search, your attorney can later work to make the case that there was no probable cause for the search and move for the evidence be suppressed and the case dismissed.
Contact a Milwaukee Drug Crime Defense Attorney
At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP, our attorneys will help you protect your rights when you are facing charges for possession of a controlled substance and other drug-related offenses. Contact a Milwaukee County criminal defense lawyer today at 414-271-1440 for assistance with your case.