If a peace officer pulls you over for an alleged traffic violation, they may ask to search your vehicle. You have the right to say no.
Law enforcement officers have the right to search a person or their property only if they have reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime, and if they only suspect you to have committed a traffic offense, they cannot search you for other crimes. This is a part of your Fourth Amendment rights.
But while the Fourth Amendment is a right extended to all citizens, it has limitations.
Take public transportation, for example. Cars are not the only way Coloradans get around, and public transportation exposes you to even more opportunities for legal search and seizure.
Even if you are on a bus or train that is funded by public taxes, however, you may still be able to use the Fourth Amendment as a defense strategy against drug charges if you are searched while riding.
When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply on Colorado Buses?
Simply put, law enforcement cannot search you or your private property without a reason, and each person has the right to a “legitimate expectation to privacy.” This extends to the property that you bring onto a bus with you.
This expectation was secured in Bond vs. United States. In 2000, the Supreme Court voted on a search that resulted in the arrest for possession of methamphetamine.
As law enforcement officers were checking a bus in Texas for immigration purposes, they squeezed an opaque bag that was held in the compartment over a passenger’s head. The officer noticed there was a “brick-like” object in the bag. After the passenger consented to a search, the officers found the methamphetamine.
The charges were dropped later on due to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Before the passenger was able to consent to a search, the officers squeezed the bag. This is where the search became illegal.
The officers were on the bus for immigration, rather than drug crime, purposes. They did not have the right to feel the passenger’s bag. If they had left the bag alone, they may not have had reasonable suspicion that it contained drugs.
An opaque bag is considered your “effects,” and these effects are protected by Fourth Amendment rights. This does not extend to drugs that are exposed in the open.
If peace officers are on a bus and see drugs in plain sight, they can legally claim to have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime. A strong odor may also count as reasonable suspicion (although a quick whiff that they claim to catch from a longer distance away may not count).
If police enter a bus and ask to search your person and belongings, you have the right to say no. While police entering a bus or any form of transportation can be intimidating, it is important that you and your passengers know your rights and understand that you have the right to the privacy of the belongings that you have packed away, especially those on your person.
“Drug Dogs” and Public Transportation in Colorado
You may have noticed drug-sniffing dogs in airports or bus stations. These dogs may be brought out routinely, even if law enforcement doesn’t suspect a specific person of having drugs.
Once a bus or train is in motion, however, it cannot be stopped by drug-sniffing dogs. Delaying a train, bus, or plane for an unreasonable suspicion is against the Fourth Amendment. (That’s why you typically see these searches happen while people are waiting in line to go through security or get a ticket.)
If law enforcement brings a drug-sniffing dog to your home or land without a warrant, they are in violation of the Fourth Amendment. A Supreme Court vote in 2013 ruled that the expectation of privacy extends throughout a person’s home and its surroundings (the drug-sniffing dog in question was on the suspect’s front porch).
What Happens If You Are Caught with Drugs on a Colorado Bus?
If you are caught possessing drugs on a bus or any other form of transportation, do not panic. Even a consensual search of your person does not have to end with a criminal conviction.
There are many defenses available for drug possession charges besides illegal search and seizure, including:
- Drugs discovered in search are not yours
- Evidence was planted
- Coercion or duress
- Fighting addiction and seeking rehabilitation
Reach out to a Colorado drug crimes lawyer for more information about defense strategies that can help you beat your criminal charges.
About the Author:
Since 2005, Jeffrey L. Weeden has been practicing criminal defense law in Colorado and has helped countless clients protect their rights and freedoms as a respected, caring, hard-nosed criminal defense attorney. Over the course of his career, Mr. Weeden’s work has been recognized in numerous ways, including being named to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers list by The National Trial Lawyers, earning a 10.0 “Suberb” Avvo rating, receiving Martindale-Hubbard’s highest peer review rating — AV Preeminent, and being asked to speak on several issues of interest to the legal community. Additionally, he is someone who cares deeply about his community and those in need, and is an active member of a number of professional legal organizations, including the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and Law Firm Pro Bono Coordinators.