NOLA’s Birdman Busted: When Can the Cops Search Your Car?

Posted on Nov 28, 2007 in Celebrity Justice, NOPD, Traffic

birdman-fastmoney.jpgNOLA native Birdman, aka Bryan Williams, was busted yesterday in Tennessee — along with 16 other people in his RV as it rode along Interstate 81 — for possession of marijuana.

According to press reports, a police officer saw the RV change lanes, forcing a tractor trailer rig into the emergency lane.  The cop pulled the Birdman-mobile over, and smelled marijuana smoke coming from inside the RV.  He asked for permission to search the RV, was given consent, and found a pound of marijuana in a trash can, in the RV’s kitchenette.

He also found a handgun, a magazine for a .45, and an assault rifle.  (This has brought ATF into the case, but there haven’t been any charges on the guns yet.)

So, when can the police pull you over?  When can they search your car? 

1.  The police have a right to stop a person for committing a traffic violation.  They can also stop a person who they suspect is committing a crime (a “Terry Stop”), and they can stop a person to arrest him/her.

The law has a lot of limits on a cop being able to stop someone based upon the police officer’s suspicions.  These “Terry Stops” can include asking the person for identification, and frisking them for weapons.  They can remove weapons, or what they think are weapons, from a person’s pockets — but nothing else, even if it’s drugs or something else illegal. The cop can ask questions, too.  However, these questions must be limited to the suspicious activity.

Since the cop saw Birdman’s RV illegally change lanes, he had a legal right to pull the RV over.

2.  The police don’t have the right to search your car automatically.  If they ask permission to search the car, then they are assuming that they’ll find illegal stuff in the car.  You can say no.  However, if the police officer has a legal basis to search anyway, he’ll do it.  This is called “probable cause.”  Your best bet is to say no — it’s a better protection of your rights.

Since the cop smelled smoke when he approached the RV, then he had probable cause to search for marijuana.  However, giving the consent probably wasn’t smart for Birdman to do, anyway.  It’s not a crime to not give your consent to the search.

Watch:  there’s going to be charges on those guns coming from the feds ….

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