Hayes, Williams, Turner & Daughtry, P.A.

Why shouldn't you let the police look around your car?

A lot of traffic stops evolve into drug busts with one simple question. The officer starts by asking, casually enough, "Do you mind if I look around your car?"

If you know that you don't have any illegal drugs in your possession, you might be tempted to shrug and tell the officer to go ahead. After all, it's vaguely uncomfortable to tell a police officer that you won't allow his or her request, so it often seems easier just to go along with things.

That's a big problem.

First of all, the police know that they hold the upper hand when it comes to getting what they want. Many people are flat-out intimidated by them. Often, people are afraid of what will happen if an officer makes a request -- friendly-sounding or not -- and they refuse. Others aren't even aware that they have the right to decline and insist that the officer get a warrant if he or she wants to look around.

Second, being innocent doesn't mean you won't end up sitting behind bars on drug charges. These days, just about every police car is stocked with roadside drug kits that can be used to test various substances for narcotics -- and they're being used to test everything under the sun that the police even think might be a drug.

The problem is that the test results are often wrong.

Take, for example, the case of a Georgia woman that's now garnering international attention. Some cotton candy which the police -- and their drugs kit -- identified as meth led to her three-month imprisonment while she waited on definitive results from an actual state lab. The same test that failed in her case has also identified Jolly Rancher candies as meth, breath mints as crack cocaine and sage as marijuana in other cases. In a different incident, a Texas man was even charged as a "drug lord" for transporting a few pounds of cat litter that a police officer decided might be meth.

If you're stopped by the police for any type of traffic violation, put as much as possible out of sight -- including things that you think are obviously "not drugs." If the officer asks to look around your car, politely decline.

If you are charged with a drug crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for help as quickly as possible.

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