Drug Paraphernalia Possession: What You Need To Know

Drug Paraphernalia Possession While Driving: What You Need To Know
It is common knowledge that possession of drug paraphernalia and controlled substances without a prescription is illegal in most jurisdictions. If law enforcement officers discover that the owner is in possession of illegal intoxicating substances and paraphernalia, the owner faces an array of statutory penalties that hinge upon the nature and amount of the substance. However, there are hidden consequences to being in possession of drug paraphernalia and most people don’t know what they are. 

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Driving While Impaired 
Motorists who are driving while impaired by some substance are easy to detect. Their poor driving habits often lead to traffic stops where officers will detect odors, sluggish responses, poor attentiveness, and other common signs of impairment. When a motorist is operating under the influence of alcohol, officers will be greeted by a powerful odor that is difficult to mask. Detecting a motorist’s present blood alcohol content is simple with portable breathalyzer units and a bit of training.

Intoxication via a controlled substance is more difficult to detect. Some types of drugs will leave distinctive odors in the vehicle or on the motorist, alerting the officer to the possibility that a motorist may be in possession or under the influence of that type of narcotic. Others will leave little in the way of detectable odors. Some motorists are poor drivers, which may help to explain erratic or sluggish driving. An officer who suspects that the motorist is intoxicated may have an odor and erratic behavior from the driver, but articulating these factors in court is challenging. Officers need more in order for the charges to hold up in court.

Searching a Vehicle for Drug Paraphernalia
If the officer can determine that the motorist is in possession of drug paraphernalia, he or she will have an arrest for the substance and possibly more evidence with which to prove that the motorist was operating the vehicle while impaired. There are several different types of vehicle searches, each with their own requirements. At one end, as a Los Angeles or Charlotte DWI lawyer can tell you, is the plain view doctrine; if an officer is in a location in which he or she is legally entitled to be — such as standing at motorist’s window –the officer needs no warrant to look around at items in plain view.

A slightly higher burden applies to a Terry frisk. Officers do not need any level of suspicion to order a suspect out of the vehicle during a traffic stop, but officers do need a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed to conduct a cursory pat down for weapons and a brief search of the area within the driver’s lunging distance of areas in which a weapon may be. This is not a comprehensive search; it is limited to weapons only. However, officers who find contraband during the search are not required to ignore it.

To conduct a full search of the driver, the officer needs either consent or probable cause that contraband will be found inside the vehicle. The most common scenario that occurs if the motorist does not consent to a search and if the officer wants to search the vehicle is that the officer will call for a police dog trained in the detection of drugs or weapons to sniff the outside of the vehicle. Officers may detain motorists for a reasonable period of time to do this, although the amount of time that is reasonable depends upon the circumstances and is heavily litigated. If the dog alerts on the vehicle, officers have probable cause to search.

Post Arrest Searches
If the officer decides to arrest the motorist for driving while impaired, the officer may search the vehicle incident to arrest. Inventory searches are comprehensive and require no level of scrutiny. If the officer has probable cause to arrest the subject for any offense, the officer may inventory the vehicle’s contents.

In practice, proving that a motorist was operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs is very challenging. There is no way to detect the exact amount of a drug in a patient’s system while on the roadside. Possession of drug paraphernalia does not mean that the subject was under the influence at the time and many symptoms of impairment have other reasonable causes. However, if the subject is clearly intoxicated, if the officer wants to build a case for operating a vehicle while impaired, and if the officer can articulate that the subject demonstrates factors that are consistent with intoxication of that particular substance, they will be able to use it as evidence of intoxication.

The penalties for driving while intoxicated vary significantly depending upon the jurisdiction and the number of prior offenses. In some cases, the penalties for possessing drug paraphernalia may be much less severe than penalties for driving while intoxicated. Even first-time offenders face high fines, insurance increases, and possible jail time. To make matters worse, pleading out to a lesser charge on a charge for driving while impaired is not always possible. When faced with a charge for operating a vehicle while impaired, retaining counsel to fight the charge or arrange an agreement with the prosecutor to avoid jail time is usually the best option.

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Saam Banai is a freelance writer and editor, and he believes in fighting for lawful searches based on just probable cause. The attorneys at Powers McCartan, PLLC have the experience and knowledge necessary to defend you in the event that you are charged with driving under the influence or possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. At their firm, you will be able to find a Charlotte DWI lawyer determined to ensure that your legal rights are protected when facing criminal charges involving DWI.