If a police officer searched your belongings for drugs on public transportation, you might wonder, “Can the police lawfully search someone on public transportation without a warrant?”
In order to answer that question, it is important to understand when the police can search a person without a warrant and when doing so is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. If the police found drugs in your possession during a search on public transportation, contact a Georgetown criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options.
When Do the Police Need a Warrant to Search You for Drugs?
When the police pull you over during a traffic stop, the officer may ask your permission to search your car. However, you have a right to refuse to have the officer search your vehicle. However, the officer can lawfully search your car without your consent if:
There is probable cause that you have been involved in criminal activity; or
The officer has a warrant to search you.
If a police officer searches your car without your consent, a warrant, or probable cause, they are violating your Fourth Amendment rights. But what about searches on public transportation? Whether or not a police officer can search you for drugs on public transportation depends on the circumstances of your case.
It is vital to discuss your particular situation with a knowledgeable attorney to determine whether or not the police violated your constitutional rights when searching you on public transportation.
Can the Police Search You on Public Transportation?
In general, police cannot search your private property, including your vehicle, without probable cause or a warrant. The Fourth Amendment protection from unlawful searches and seizures extends to public transportation.
You have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy when riding a bus or using any other mode of public transportation. It means that the police cannot search your private property, including your bag, on public transportation unless they have your consent, probable cause, or a warrant.
In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2020, a bus search that led to a drug possession charge was deemed unconstitutional, and the charges were dropped. Bond v. the United States, 529 U.S. 334 (2000). The officers searched the passenger’s bag before he was able to consent to the search. Since the officers did not have a warrant or probable cause and also did not get the passenger’s consent to search the bag, the search was deemed unconstitutional.
The 2020 ruling shows that public transportation passengers have a reasonable expectation of privacy when riding buses and other modes of public transit. When asked by a police officer if they can search your bag, you have a right to refuse.
When Can the Police Lawfully Search You on Public Transportation?
As mentioned earlier, the police can lawfully search you for drugs on public transportation as long as they can establish probable cause. In public transportation searches, probable cause can be established if:
A drug is in plain sight;
The officer detects the odor of marijuana; or
You behave in a way that suggests that you are impaired by drugs.
If you were arrested for possession of drugs after being searched on public transportation, discuss your case with an attorney to determine if the officer had probable cause to search you for drugs.
Can the Police Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs on Public Transportation?
Drug-sniffing dogs are routinely used by law enforcement on bus stations and in airports. These dogs assist police officers in detecting the smell of illegal drugs and controlled substances. Typically, policers use drug-sniffing drugs when passengers are waiting in lines to purchase tickets.
Can the Police Stop and Frisk You on the Street?
It is not uncommon for police officers to search pedestrians for drugs on the street. Law enforcement officers use the so-called “stop and frisk” technique, in which the officer temporarily detains a suspect and pats down the outside of their clothing.
Typically, stops and frisks require reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause. If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are in the process of committing a criminal offense, you might be temporarily detained. The officer may pat down the outside of your clothing to ensure that you are not carrying a weapon.
You can refuse to have your bag searched. Be polite with the officer and calmly let the officer know that you do not consent to the search. If the officer searched your belongings when they did not have your consent, consult with an attorney to determine if your constitutional rights were violated or not.
If your criminal defense lawyer can successfully argue that you were a victim of an unlawful search or seizure, any incriminating evidence found on your person, including drugs, cannot be used against you to secure a conviction.
What Happens if the Police Find Drugs on Your Person?
If a police officer found drugs in your possession on public transportation or on the street, do not hesitate to contact a criminal defense lawyer. You may still be able to avoid a conviction for drug possession if your lawyer can choose the appropriate defense strategy.
One of the common defenses to drug possession charges in Texas is that the officer violated your rights and you were a victim of an unauthorized search and seizure. Other defenses include:
Not your drugs. You may argue that the drugs were planted by someone else. The prosecutor has the burden to prove that the drugs belonged to you to convict you.
Entrapment. If you can demonstrate evidence that you were coerced into purchasing or holdings drugs that were found in your possession, you might be able to assert the entrapment defense.
Medical marijuana. Since medical marijuana was legalized in Texas, you may argue that the marijuana found in your possession was medicinal marijuana. However, you will need to prove that you were approved under the Texas Compassionate Use Act to use medical marijuana.