Interstate (I-80) runs border to border through the state of Nebraska. Because law enforcement considers I-80 a common route for distributing drugs to other states, So, Nebraska police focus on stopping and searching vehicles they believe are involved in drug trafficking.
The Fourth Amendment protects a person from unreasonable searches and seizures. And, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that traffic stops do constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Traffic stops are allowed when law enforcement observe a traffic violation, no matter how minor. Law enforcement can also stop a vehicle when they have enough evidence to believe a crime is being committed. Generally, this means a normal person would agree that the driver’s behavior was suspicious and be able to explain why.
Law enforcement often use these minor traffic violations as a “pretext” to investigate an offense they don’t have enough evidence for. In other words, law enforcement rely on drivers committing minor traffic offenses in order to investigate some other crime they only believe is occurring, such as drug trafficking.
An officer’s real reason for conducting the traffic stop is irrelevant. The United States Supreme Court has said that an officer’s personal reasons for conducting a traffic stop, “play no role” in whether the traffic stop is legal. Put another way, if an officer has only a “hunch” that a vehicle is trafficking illegal drugs, the officer cannot conduct a traffic stop to investigate the driver for drugs. But once the officer observes a traffic violation, the officer can justifiably pull over the vehicle. During the traffic stop, the officer can then ask questions to either confirm or deny his hunch that the driver is involved in drug trafficking.
Many common excuses law enforcement use to make pretextual traffic stops include:
- Crossing the center (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60–6,139),
- Following too closely line (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60–6,140), and
- Failure to use a turn signal (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60–6,161)
Once the officer has stopped a vehicle for a valid traffic violation, they can investigate that violation, but they cannot unreasonably prolong the stop while they look for other reasons to keep you detained. Generally, once they have issued the ticket or warning, the must let you go, unless:
- You consent to a search of your vehicle or keep talking to them
- The officer sees evidence of a crime in “plain view,”
- The officer develops a “reasonable suspicion” that you have violated the law, or
- The officer identifies “probable cause” to believe another crime is being committed.
If the officer believes they have a legitimate reason to search your vehicle, they will. You can’t stop them at the time, but you can protect yourself by not giving them a reason to violate your rights. You can also protect yourself by consulting an experienced I-80 drug stop attorney to help you challenge the stop and protect your Fourth Amendment rights. It is important to know your rights, to not consent to an unlawful search of yourself, your phone, or your vehicle. And, it is important that you not agree to an interview after you are “under arrest” or not “free to leave”.
If you’ve been pulled over along Interstate 80 and want to protect your rights, the I-80 Drug Stop lawyers at Berry Law can help you by:
- Analyzing whether the traffic stop was legal,
- Filing and arguing a motion to suppress the evidence, and
- Protecting your constitutional rights at trial.
Berry Law has been defending the constitutional rights of our clients since 1965. We represent clients across Nebraska in both State and Federal Court. Our attorneys are ready to relentlessly fight for you. Call us today.