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Police pop 3 on drug charges after questionable vehicle stop

The war against drugs continues briskly in New Hampshire. The state drug task force reportedly received information that a 32-year-old man would be transporting a "quantity" of heroin to Lebanon. On Aug. 31, Lebanon police pulled over the car for a reported "motor vehicle stop." They allege that they found 10 "bags" of heroin and a "small quantity" of marijuana on the driver's person, which led to his arrest on drug charges.

They charged him with a felony drug possession charge for the heroin and a misdemeanor charge for the marijuana. Two passengers were also each allegedly found in possession of drugs. Police charged a female passenger with a felony count of possessing heroin. The male passenger was charged with possession of marijuana.

The procedures used by the Lebanon police may fall short of constitutional propriety, depending on further investigation of the facts. The initial tip by the state drug task force did not necessarily give the Lebanon police the legal authority to make a motor vehicle stop, search the car and the passengers, and arrest them for the contraband found. There are strict procedures to follow in meeting constitutional mandates.

The police must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity prior to pulling them over. Here, the reporting of a "motor vehicle" stop, if accurate, indicates instead the likelihood of a pretextual stop, with no actual traffic violation to justify it. Critically, the police have already in essence admitted that they stopped the car not for a traffic citation but to look for drugs.

Current information points to the New Hampshire task force passing on nothing more than a tip, perhaps even an anonymous one. That kind of information does not give probable cause to stop and search the car and the occupants. There being no authority to stop the car in the first place, the ensuing search, seizure and arrest on drug charges was likely constitutionally infirm. Of course, the potential for such a defense can only be determined after counsel for each defendant makes a thorough investigation of the facts.

Source: unionleader.com, "Lebanon police arrest 3 on drug possession charges", Meghan Pierce, Sept. 20, 2016

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