Can a Broken Taillight Lead to a Felony Drug Arrest in Georgia?
For many of us, getting pulled over for a traffic ticket is an inconvenience that leads to a misdemeanor charge at worst. Unfortunately, once the police initiate a lawful traffic stop–even on something as benign as driving with a broken taillight–that can lead to further investigation and potential arrest on a more serious felony charge, such as DUI or possession of controlled substances.
Defendant Receives 35-Year Sentence After Admitting to Meth Possession During Traffic Stop
If you think a broken taillight leading to a felony arrest is an exaggeration, consider this recent case from the Georgia Court of Appeals. In Rush v. State, a Lumpkin County sheriff’s investigator received a tip from a “confidential informant” about a particular vehicle involved in “drug activity.” The investigator located the vehicle and followed it to a gas station. The investigator then radioed another officer to initiate a traffic stop based on the investigator’s observation the driver of the vehicle–the defendant–has a broken taillight.
The officer who initiated the traffic stop was actually part of a K-9 unit. The K-9 officer independently confirmed the defendant was driving with a broken taillight and pulled the defendant over. The officer instructed the defendant to exit his vehicle and submit to a pat-down search for weapons. While the officer did not find any weapons, he did detect a “bulge” in the defendant’s pants, which the officer believed to be methamphetamine shards. The officer then used his K-9 dog to sniff the defendant’s car. The dog gave a positive signal. The defendant then admitted to the officer there was “a pipe and some methamphetamine in the center console of the car.”
A grand jury subsequently indicted the defendant on felony drug trafficking charges. He elected for a bench trial without a jury. Before the judge, the defense filed a motion to suppress the evidence gathered during the traffic stop, alleging there was no probable cause to pull him over in the first place. The judge denied the motion and proceeded to find the defendant guilty on multiple counts. The court imposed a sentence of 20 years in prison followed by 15 years probation.
Before the Court of Appeals, the defendant renewed his objection to the traffic stop. The Court of Appeals, however, sided with the trial judge. The Court pointed to a specific provision of Georgia traffic law that states when a vehicle is on the highway between sunset and sunrise in low-visibility conditions–it was raining on the night in question–the driver must have their taillights active. So the fact the defendant had a busted tail light provided sufficient cause for the officer to initiate the traffic stop.
Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today
Even when an officer has an apparently valid reason to pull you over and cite you for a traffic violation, that does not mean you have to answer any questions about other suspected criminal activity. To the contrary, you always have the right to remain silent. And if you are charged with a traffic offense or any other crime, you have the right to speak with a qualified Atlanta criminal defense attorney. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.