What constitutes a valid reason to stop a car and search it?

I was a passenger in a vehicle driving through another state. We got pulled over because they said the driver was driving too close to the white line. They then proceeded to say that they smelt marijuana coming from the car and they were going to search it. They searched the inside of the vehicle and found nothing so they then went into the trunk and went through everyone’s luggage and found a small amount of marijuana in both mine and the driver’s bag. At that point, they arrested us both but not the other passenger. Did they have the right to pull us over for driving too close to the white line? Is this a legitimate reason? It is my first offense, how should I plea? They also never told me I was arrested or read me my rights.

Asked on July 28, 2014 under Criminal Law, Florida


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

This question is not easy to answer.  It encompasses your 4th Amendment rights under the US Constitution. There are many red flags that I see here in your question.  First, understand that the rules for search and subsequent arrest are different for a car that a home, where a warrant would be needed. Driving too close to the line could infer they thought that maybe the driver was impaired and/or it is a traffic infraction.  Just a supposition.  So is it valid that they stopped you?  Maybe. Once stopped, an officer has the ability to use "smell" as a valid reason to search, so his claim he smelled pot could also be valid.  Did you give him permission to search the trunk?  Was it locked?  And then the suitcases were closed? If the search is incident to a valid suspicion the search here could also be valid. But if you were arrested then you had to be read your rights.  I think you should speak with a lawyer on this and go over each point carefully. 

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