Are Drug Searches on Public Transportation Legal?

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If you get pulled over in your car, the officer may ask your permission to search the car, but you have the right to say no – which is typically the most advisable course of action. Officers of the law can search you or your property only when they have probable cause that you have committed a crime. Their ability to search you and your property is subject to certain limitations, however, and one such limitation is that there are only circumstances under which you can be searched when traveling on public transportation. If you have been accused of a crime after a police search while you were riding public transit, you should speak to a Killeen criminal defense attorney as soon as you can.

Texas Public Transportation and Fourth Amendment Rights

In general, the police cannot search your private property without first having a reason to do so. Even on public transportation, you have an expectation of reasonable privacy that extends to the property you bring with you. The U.S. Supreme Court – in Bond v. United States – found that a bus search that extended to an occupant’s bag and that resulted in a drug charge was unconstitutional.

Bond v. United States

Bond v. United States is a landmark case that secures our right to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy even when traveling on public transportation. This expectation extends to the property that you carry with you – whether it be a bag, parcel, box, or anything else (as long as it cannot be seen through). As such – without probable cause or your permission – your belongings are protected from unauthorized search and seizure. Again, an officer can ask for your permission to search your property, but you have the right to refuse this request.

Lawful Searches on Public Transit

There are situations on public transportation in which an officer may have probable cause to search your property, including:

  • If the officer can see drugs or drug paraphernalia in plain view
  • If the officer can detect a strong odor of drugs (marijuana smoke for example)
  • If you engage in disruptive behavior that is indicative of impairment

Drug Dogs

Drug dogs can be used to sniff out drugs in public transportation terminals even when there is no probable cause to suspect a specific person of drug possession. Once the bus or train is in motion, however, it cannot be delayed to be searched by a drug-sniffing dog. Such delays are typically considered unconstitutional by courts.

If You Are Facing Drug Charges, Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Attorney Today

Drug charges are extremely serious charges, but you have rights, and attorney Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is committed to protecting those rights. Mr. Pritchard is well prepared to skillfully advocate on behalf of your best interests and for the best possible resolution of your case. We are here to help, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 220-4225 for more information today.
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