The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits law enforcement from conducting unreasonable searches. Although enacted long before motor vehicles came into use, the Fourth Amendment applies to traffic stops. A judge may dismiss a charge if the evidence obtained resulted from an unreasonable or unwarranted vehicle search.

As reported by WGIL 93.7 FM, an appellate court’s determination of evidence obtained through the use of impermissible force at a traffic stop resulted in a vacated charge. The Knox County man facing charges of possession of a controlled substance and intent to deliver saw the trial court’s conviction overturned. The appellate court decision found that the arresting officers violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Conditions required for a traffic stop and a search

When a law enforcement official observes a motorist violating a traffic law or driving erratically, he or she may conduct a traffic stop. A search of the vehicle is not permissible, however, unless noticeable drug paraphernalia, behavior or odors provide the officer with probable cause. A vehicle search conducted without probable cause may result in a Fourth Amendment violation. Under these circumstances, the prosecutor may not introduce the evidence obtained.

An illegal and intrusive search

In the case of the Illinois man, the appellate court’s decision to overturn the lower court’s conviction centered on how officers forcibly searched the defendant’s mouth. According to the appellate court documents, officers used a chokehold to assist in the extraction of a plastic baggie.

When possession becomes a felony

If an officer has the authority or probable cause to conduct a vehicle search and discovers an illegal drug or a legal substance in an amount greater than permitted, an arrest may take place. Depending on the amount and type of substance found, a conviction may result in either a misdemeanor or a felony charge.

A second, third or subsequent offense typically becomes a felony charge, which is punishable by incarceration. More serious felony offenses, such as possession with intent to deliver or distribute, may result in several years of imprisonment. In some cases, a judge may order probation instead of jail time.