Pretextual Stop Gives Police Probable Cause to Search a Vehicle

Anytime a Utah resident is pulled over for a minor traffic violation, that incident has the potential to become a pretextual stop, or an opportunity for police to find probable cause to search a vehicle.

Suspicious vehicle

Pretextual Stop

Photo by: Tony

There are times when law enforcement sees a vehicle that they would like to search but they have no probable cause to allow them access to it. The vehicle may be “suspicious” by fitting a certain profile that would allude to possible criminal behavior by the vehicle’s occupants or officers may want to search a car to help an unrelated investigation. Instead of waiting for a crime to be committed by the driver or getting a warrant to search the car, the vehicle may be followed until it makes a minor traffic violation instead.

Broken taillight = probable cause for a search

Speeding, switching lanes without signaling, no seatbelt, and even a broken taillight are all reasons that police can use to pull a car over and issue a citation. These simple traffic stops can also give law enforcement the opportunity to find probable cause to search a vehicle. A planned traffic stop with a hidden agenda is referred to as a pretextual stop, or an opportunity for law enforcement to search a vehicle for a reason that is actually unrelated to the traffic violation.

Whren v. United States

Photo by: Blogtrepreneur

In 1995, Whren- a driver of Mexican descent- was traveling along a stretch of road known as being a major drug trafficking corridor. Officers spotted Whren and proceeded to follow him for over 20 miles. Eventually a couple minor traffic violations such as failure to use a turn signal at a stop sign and speeding were made. This gave officers the opportunity to pull the vehicle over where they noticed narcotics in Whren’s hand. In court Whren attempted to have the evidence surpressed due to the pretextual stop violating his Fourth Amendment rights, however that motion was denied and he was ultimately convicted.

Pretextual stop not unconstitutional

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures that are conducted without probable cause. Unfortunately, the United States Court of Appeals stated in Whren’s case that a pretextual stop did not violate Whren’s Fourth Amendment Rights. They explained: “the temporary detention of a motorist upon probable cause to believe that he has violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent some additional law enforcement objective.” They went on the further clarify that “Detention of a motorist is reasonable where probable cause exists to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.”

Limits to a pretextual stop

Photo by Drew Stevens

Although the U.S. Court of Appeals determined a pretextual stop to be constitutional, there are limits to what officers are allowed to do once a vehicle is stopped. A pretextual stop allows an officer to pull over a vehicle for a traffic violation but not necessarily to search the vehicle. In order to conduct a search, officers would have to have a warrant or probable cause to do a search. Probable cause might include:

• Seeing contraband in plain view;
• Smelling of illegal drugs by an officer or K9; or
• Observing activity that gives officers reasonable suspicion of a crime such as reckless driving that could indicate alcohol consumption or drug abuse.

If an officer cannot find probable cause to search a vehicle during their pretextual stop, they may ask the driver for permission to search. In an effort to cooperate with law enforcement, many individuals wouldn’t dare saying “no” when asked if officers can look in their vehicle. This is often a major loophole that police use to search a car without probable cause. While being respectful, it is perfectly acceptable to refuse officers to do a vehicle search. If they search a vehicle without probable cause, a warrant, or permission and find evidence of a crime, drivers are encouraged to wait politely but silently and have legal counsel discuss the unreasonable search during court. The evidence collected would likely be dismissed along with related charges. With all cases regarding a pretextual stop or illegal searches and seizures, it is recommended to obtain the aid of a criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney will help ensure that no constitutional rights have been violated and that all searches were made lawfully.

Utah Mother Arrested Days After Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

A young Utah mother was arrested five days after reaching out to friends and family online along with a treatment center, seeking help for her drug addiction.

Arrested for drugs

Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

On April 9th, 2017 Provo police arrested 24 year old Arali Cabezas and an older male after they were found in a stolen car with several lifted identification documents as well as methamphetamine and several needles. Cabezas was booked into Utah County Jail on theft charges as well as two second degree felonies for receiving a stolen vehicle and possession of a schedule I controlled substance. Her bail is set at $12,500 and 11 days later she has yet to be released on bond.

Good person, bad choices

According to her Facebook page, Cabezas is a single parent and the mother of a little boy – 15 month old Kaison. Upon news of her arrest, friends and family commented shock and sadness, one of which said “part of recovery is having support, and she doesn’t have much of that. She really is an amazing girl inside and out and she is so dang smart, she just made some really dumb choices.” Another individual commented stating “when you are raised by two addicts and exposed to a life of drug use and abuse, and even taught how to use drugs by your parents, you don’t have much chance of doing any better in life.”

Seeking help for a drug addiction

Photo by: Max Baars

Photo by: Max Baars

According to her own Facebook page five days before her arrest, Cabezas was trying to do better. She swallowed her price and reached out for help with her drug addiction. She is quoted as saying “So I have a [question]. Do any of my friends have any information about The House of Hope? I will be looking it up and what not [too]. If you can let me know as soon as possible.” After receiving a handful of helpful comments, Cabezas stated that same day that she “called and left a message with admissions.” Five days later however she was arrested.

Drug treatment center

The House of Hope is drug treatment center located in Salt Lake City and Provo that focuses its care on women who may or may not be pregnant as well as mothers who have young children. As with other wonderful treatment centers for drug addiction, House of Hope is a non profit organization and offers many services such as outpatient care residential and day treatment. Had Cabezas found herself in the care of the House of Hope, it is likely she would have received substantial treatment for her drug addiction. There is no added information on whether or not Cabezas got cold feet and decided not to get help for her drug addiction or if she somehow slipped between the cracks, perhaps not receiving a call back from the  for help with her drug addiction. Either way, she was arrested five days later and now she sits in jail awaiting a court date. Cabezas faces a possibility of up to 15 years in prison for her drug and theft crimes; double that amount if she is convicted of both felonies and ordered to serve them consecutively, one right after the other.

Treatment for substance abuse

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

Utah residents who are struggling with drug addiction are encouraged to seek help just as Cabezas but be relentless and not give up. There are multiple programs throughout Utah aimed at helping residents recover from substance and alcohol abuse, and many of these programs are funded through the state. Those individuals who need help with addiction, but who are also facing criminal charges should contact a defense attorney who can help them work on defending or reducing charges while also ensuring that treatment is made available, whether voluntarily or mandatory. For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Paranoid Man Transporting Methamphetamine Calls Police, Gets Busted for Intent to Distribute

A man transporting methamphetamine along I-15 in Utah became paranoid he had a tail and proceeded to call police, only to get busted for intent to distribute.

Attempt to locate not needed

Photo by: Hunter McGinnis

Photo by: Hunter McGinnis

The 27 year old man, who has yet to be identified due to a falsified passport, was transporting more than 36 pounds of methamphetamine in sealed food containers when he called police to report he was being followed. Police arrived to a location off of Interstate 15 where the man was patiently waiting for the officers to arrive. Upon further discussion with the man, police were unable to find evidence the man was being followed, yet he was notably under the influence of drugs. It was then they discovered he was transporting nearly half a million dollars’ worth of methamphetamine.

Don’t sample the merchandise

This isn’t the first time a person transporting drugs through Utah has voluntarily notified police to their whereabouts. Just last January, two men transporting over 20 pounds of marijuana from Nevada to Idaho along I-15 in Utah called police right after crossing the Utah-Idaho border. The incredibly stoned duo were convinced various cars on the road were actually undercover police officers preparing to arrest them. Instead of dealing with the anxiety of waiting to get busted, the 22 year old and 23 year old called the unsuspecting police to get things over with quickly.

Felony methamphetamine distribution

methamphetamine

Photo by: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Drug possession charges in Utah can be severe, and distribution or intent to distribute charges are far worse. According to Utah Code 58-37-8, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally:

(i) produce, manufacture, or dispense, or to possess with intent to produce, manufacture, or dispense, a controlled or counterfeit substance;

(ii) distribute a controlled or counterfeit substance, or to agree, consent, offer, or arrange to distribute a controlled or counterfeit substance;

(iii) possess a controlled or counterfeit substance with intent to distribute; ( . . . )”

A person convicted of intent to distribute methamphetamine or other Schedule I or II substance is guilty of a second degree felony, or a first degree felony upon subsequent convictions. Those possessing enough marijuana to be considered intent to distribute can face a third degree felony or second degree felony upon a subsequent conviction.

Let someone else represent in court

For those who are facing possession or distribution charges in Utah, even if those charges came about due to self-incriminating phone calls to police, it is always recommended to speak to a reputable criminal defense attorney to speak in your behalf.