Too Scared to Stop

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

Picture this. You’re out and about at night, driving along the many highways, byways and roadways of our great state. You’re stressed at work or at home and need some time to feel the wind through your hair and to crank up some tunes on the radio. Lost in your relaxation/reverie, you fail to see the police cruiser hidden behind some trees in the median (and you also fail to notice that your speedometer is about ten miles above the posted limit). Soon, your car is lit up by the familiar flashing red and blues of the cop lights. You have that moment where you think the heat has another target in mind; but when you change lanes and he does likewise, you know you’re busted.
You get out your license and registration and wait for the inevitable conversation with the law. “Do you know why I pulled you over,” “Have you been drinking tonight,” “Where’s the fire,” etc. In a routine stop, you answer the questions, provide the documents, the cop goes back to his car for what seems like a really long time, the cop comes back and explains the ticket, and you’re free to go.
As stated, that’s a routine stop. Others aren’t so routine.
Per the law in this state (and many others), a policeperson can ask if they can search your car. They usually want to make the search as a result of probable cause that, by conducting a search, the official may discover evidence of other crimes. The definition of “probable cause” can be a bit subjective at times. Basically it means that, in the officer’s judgment, experience and training, the officer notices something that leads them to believe that there is illegal activity or objects in the vehicle.
Until now, if the police want to search your car, you could always tell them “No. Get a warrant.” At that point, the officer can do one of two things: they could let you go on your merry way (giving you the satisfaction of sticking it to the “Man”); or they could inform you that you’re being taken to the local police station where your car will be impounded and you will be held until the officer can obtain a warrant.
Because most people assume that the second option ill automatically happen, they opt for allowing the police to inspect the vehicle. I see this from time to time when I’m on the road – someone standing on the shoulder, looking worriedly at the police tearing up their car. I’m sure things don’t feel too good from that vantage point (if you need further confirmation of this, just watch a few episodes of “Cops”. It seems as though every time a person allows the car to be searched, something is found. Of course, the other thousand or so searches that never amount to anything never make it to television).
In some states, however (like Pennsylvania – a neighboring commonwealth) the police need only the slightest of provocation – a mere scintilla, if you will – of interest in your vehicle to require a search. And if they request a search and you refuse, the aforementioned option one will not be available. The case that expanded police powers (and kina guts some of the protections afforded us under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) concerned a car that police were concerned had windows that were tinted too darkly. Using that, the cops searched the car and found two pounds of marijuana under the seat.
Think about that – the windows were too dark. That potentially opens all of us up to a highly subjective rubric of why a search can be conducted. Green things seen in the car; someone smells like smoke (hiding booze and/or marijuana smell); or the officer just doesn’t like the cut of your jib – all can be used for an immediate search of your car.
This strand, along with the NSA issues, the proposed medical database and even the searches at airports, train stations and the like are very disturbing. One of the most important protection we have as Americans are what is provided to us through the aforementioned Fourth Amendment. In other countries can the government barge in, rifle through our effects and take what they want. Other countries don’t allow for due process – they take whomever they want and that person then effectively disappears.
As the old saying goes, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”


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