The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is something Morristown residents likely learned about early in their educational careers. It protects against unreasonable search and seizure by authorities. Yet as fundamental as this right is, one would be mistaken to think this means that one can simply decline an officer’s request to search one’s vehicle without repercussions.
In one recent example, police pulled over a car in a nearby town for a minor traffic violation. Believing that the driver and another occupant were not sober, an officer requested to search the vehicle. The driver refused. At that point, the officer explained that he was going to have the car impounded until police could obtain a search warrant. The driver asked if she could take two bags with her, and allowed them to be searched.
The officer allegedly found illicit prescription drugs and other supposed paraphernalia in the bag, thousands of dollars in cash, and a ledger of some sort which police claim tracked drug sales and amounts owed. The driver was arrested on drug charges, but the case was just beginning. When they eventually were able to search the car, police allegedly found significant quantities of heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs and other paraphernalia.
The driver now faces charges of possession with intent to distribute, among other drug charges, with bail set at $75,000. A Morris County prosecutor sought an even higher bail of $90,000 due in part to the defendant’s prior criminal record, which the judge rejected.
We don’t need to reiterate the serious consequences of these types of charges for our regular readers, who will recognize that drug distribution is a crime distinct from possession with much more severe penalties. But the episode does raise an interesting question about a defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. We’ll take a look at this in more detail in our next post.