Can You Challenge the Legality of a Traffic Stop or Drug Arrest in Georgia?
Drug crime prosecutions often begin with a traffic stop. A police officer pulls a driver over for committing a routine traffic infraction. But the officer then suspects there may be other criminal activity afoot. For example, the officer may smell marijuana smoke or alcohol and suspect the driver is intoxicated or in possession of illegal narcotics. This leads to the driver’s arrest on criminal charges.
If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to remain calm and say nothing. You are not going to “talk your way out of” a DUI or drug arrest. But you may be in a position to challenge the legality of the arrest later. And if the arrest was illegal, then any evidence obtained subsequent to that arrest may be inadmissible against you in court.
Did a Municipal Police Officer Exceed Her Authority in a Drug Case?
An ongoing Georgia criminal case, State v. Middleton, illustrates just one potential defect in a drug arrest. In this case, an officer with the Kingsland, Georgia, police department was patrolling I-95 just outside the city limits of Kingsland. The officer observed a vehicle failing to maintain its lane. The officer therefore decided to initiate a traffic stop.
During the stop, the officer said she “noticed a small smell of marijuana odor” coming from the vehicle. She asked the driver–the defendant in this case–to exit the vehicle. The officer then conducted a pat-down search of the defendant. She then searched the vehicle and found several pills and a “small grinder containing marijuana residue.” A second Kingsland officer then arrived at the scene and conducted a second search of the defendant, which uncovered a “small digital scale.”
The officers arrested the defendant on charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. In court, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the traffic stop. The defense pointed out that since the officer was outside the city of Kingsland when she arrested the defendant, she lacked jurisdiction to initiate the traffic stop or arrest him. The state replied that the officer had also been deputized by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, and since Kingsland was within Camden County, the arrest was lawful.
The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted his motion to suppress. The judge cited Georgia law, which provided that “officers of an incorporated municipality shall have no power to make arrests beyond the corporate limits of such municipality unless such jurisdiction is given by local or other law.” The judge was also “not persuaded” that the officer’s deputization by the sheriff–which occurred seven years before the defendant’s arrest–was sufficient to give her the authority to arrest the defendant outside of Kingsland.
In 2022, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, holding the officer’s statement regarding her deputization was sufficient proof of her authority. But in July 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. It held the trial court needed to “clarify its basis” for holding the officer’s arrest was unlawful. Specifically, the trial judge needed to determine the scope of the officer’s ability to act as a deputy within the county.
Contact the Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers at Hawkins Spizman Today
There are many reasons why a criminal arrest may be held unlawful in Georgia. A qualified Georgia drug crime lawyer can review your case and advise you of your options. Contact Hawkins Spizman 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.