Berry Law Firm, located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska practices criminal
defense law throughout the state. One focus of Berry Law Firm's practice
is 4th Amendment violations. One of the most common 4th Amendment violations
that occur in Nebraska are interstate drug stops.
Police do not have the authority to stop a vehicle on the interstate without
legal justification. In order to conduct a legal traffic stop, police
must have probable cause to believe a traffic violation has taken place.
This past Monday, Berry Law Firm had two cases that dealt with traffic
stops on Interstate 80 that resulted in criminal charges. Both cases involved
traffic stops that led to vehicle searches based on police suspicion of
criminal activity. The first case occurred in Omaha, Douglas county and
involved possession with intent to distribute marijuana, the second case
involved a federal marijuana distribution conspiracy based on cash seized
on the interstate.
Possession with intent to distribute Omaha, Nebraska:
In this case, police stopped a rental car with California plates for striking
one of the traffic lines while driving on the interstate. When the car
was later searched police found 30 pounds of high grade marijuana. The
driver was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana
and hired Berry Law Firm to defend him against the criminal charges.
Berry Law Firm attorneys filed a motion to suppress the evidence based
on a 4th amendment violation for the unlawful traffic stop arguing that
all of the evidence seized by police must be suppressed. In support of
the argument Berry Law Firm attorneys held a suppression hearing and cross-examined
the police officer about the reason for the traffic stop captured on the
police cruiser video. Berry Law Firm argued that there was no valid reason
for the traffic stop. The Douglas County District Court judge applied
the ruling in the Nebraska Supreme Court case of
State v. Au, and determined that the traffic stop was illegal and that the marijuana
found during the traffic stop was illegally seized and could not be used
as evidence in the case. On Monday, the Douglas County Attorney's
office dismissed the case.
Federal marijuana conspiracy Lincoln, Nebraska:
The same Monday, a Berry Law Firm criminal defense attorney was finishing
the third day of a hearing on motion to suppress in federal court for
a criminal conspiracy based on evidence seized during an interstate traffic
stop. In this case a Deputy Lancaster County Sheriff stopped a driver
for the alleged traffic violation of following too close. Following to
close is a common reason that law enforcement use in Nebraska to stop
out of state travelers for criminal interdiction purposes. The problem
with using this reason to stop a driver is that the language of the traffic
statute gives law enforcement a large amount of discretion.
The law requires that vehicles maintain a "reasonable and prudent"
following distance. Law enforcement officers often apply a subjective
standard of what is reasonable rather than an objective standard. When
reviewing police car video footage it is often clear that several cars
could have been pulled over for following too close, but that law enforcement
singled out the vehicle with license plates from California, Washington,
or Oregon. The reason for the stop usually has to do more with interstate
drug interdiction than the alleged traffic violation.
If the court finds the traffic stop is valid, the next issue is whether
police detention of the driver was based on reasonable suspicion of criminal
activity or whether the detention was unlawful.
The first place the criminal defense attorney focuses his effort is on
whether the stop was illegal. If the stop was illegal, any other evidence
obtained during the traffic stop is excluded. The federal hearing on Monday
has not yet resulted in a court ruling. Interestingly, when Berry Law
Firm was researching the stop, it found that the Deputy who conducted
the traffic stop had stopped several other out of state drivers for following
too close and subsequently searched their cars for marijuana or large
sums of cash.