Police officers often refer to minor traffic violations, such as an unlit license plate or the failure to use a turn signal, as reasons for pulling over drivers. However, a minor traffic infraction does not automatically give police the right to search a motorist’s vehicle or person. A driver or passenger may consent to a search, but police are not allowed to search a person’s vehicle without probable cause. Individuals have the right to decline a search, in which case it is left up to police to obtain a warrant.

A 30-year-old Wildwood resident was recently stopped after a police officer purportedly noticed that the man’s vehicle didn’t have a front license plate. A news article doesn’t indicate if the driver gave consent or if a search warrant was issued, but a search of the vehicle ensued.

Police claim to have seized pills and marijuana in the man’s possession, and now he is charged with a range of criminal offenses, including drug possession and possession with intent to distribute drugs near a school.

He was taken to Cape May County Correctional Center with a cash bail set at $20,000.

Illegal search and seizure is one of the most common reasons for having drug-related charges dropped. However, many people don’t explore the full range of defense options, and in some cases, criminal courts are allowed to consider evidence that would otherwise be deemed illegitimate.

Even if police searched a vehicle because drugs or drug paraphernalia were in plain view, it may still be possible to achieve a favorable outcome for a defendant charged with a drug crime. Often the key to protecting one’s freedom is to know one’s rights before, during and after a police search.

Source: NBC40.net, “Wildwood man arrested and charged for multiple drug related crimes,” Jan. 27, 2014