Even if a police officer pulls you over for speeding, the officer does not automatically have a right to search you or your vehicle. You may be given a ticket for exceeding the speed limit, but police must have probable cause to conduct a search and seizure. In the absence of probable cause, you also have the right to refuse a search, at which point the burden of obtaining a search warrant is placed on police.

A recent traffic stop in Atlantic City illustrates three distinct outcomes for three occupants of a vehicle. Two people went to jail — one for gun and drug charges, the other for an outstanding warrant — and another came away with a traffic ticket. All three individuals have a right to their day in court.

According to police, a patrolling officer stopped a vehicle that was speeding on South Carolina Ave., and inside the vehicle were the driver and two passengers.

Typically, when a driver is pulled over for speeding, the officer conducting the traffic stop will ask for the driver’s license and registration. Asking for identification from passengers is less common. Incidentally, there is no law requiring that passengers carry identification, though it is not illegal for a police officer to ask a passenger for ID.

In this case, the two passengers were identified, and one of them reportedly had an outstanding arrest warrant. She was arrested and taken to a holding facility.

The other passenger was apparently searched by police, who say the 23-year-old was in possession of a loaded weapon, marijuana and cocaine. The young man was found to have a prior felony conviction, which bars him from possessing a weapon. He was arrested on drug and gun charges.

The driver was released after being cited for careless driving.

Though the driver was let go with a ticket, this particular traffic stop reminds us that people sometimes find themselves charged with a crime simply by associating with another accused individual. The legal outcome of such a case can depend on the validity (or invalidity) of the available evidence, and a criminal defense attorney can scrutinize such evidence with a view toward protecting the defendant’s rights.

Source: Press of Atlantic City, “Motor vehicle stop leads to arrest on gun, drug charges,” Braden Campbell, Feb. 19, 2014