The most common situation in which people are arrested for possession of marijuana occurs during a traffic stop. More so, police will comment that they smell an odor of marijuana, or cannabis, which gives them the right to search your entire car.
However, it is important to know that the manner in which the police stop you is critical in determining whether the stop was lawful. Oftentimes, the stop may be for a traffic infraction, such as speeding, or an equipment violation, such as unlawful tints or a tail light that's out.
Whatever the case may be, once your car is lawfully stopped, that simple traffic stop could escalate into the issuance of a promise to appear (PTA) or even a physical arrest if the officer smells marijuana (or at least claims that they smell marijuana).
So what if there is no infraction? Can a cop still stop you?
Cops like to play a game they refer to as "license plate bingo." They will randomly find cars on the road and run their plates. The cops will run the plates to see if the car's registration is current, whether the car has been reported stolen, or whether the registered owner of the car has a suspended driver's license.
If the registered owner of the vehicle has a suspended driver's license, the car can lawfully be pulled over. Even if the driver of the car is not the one with the suspended license. Smith v. State, 574 So. 2d 300 (5th DCA 1991).
Many times we borrow cars. You may borrow your friend's car, or a family member's. Maybe you are driving your friend or family member's car because they have a suspended driver's license and are riding as a passenger.
It doesn't matter. Reasonable suspicion of driving while license suspended (DWLS) gives an officer a legal reason to stop you. Even if they just selected your license plate at random and ran it.
So be mindful that if you are in a car that is registered to a person with a suspended license, you can lawfully be pulled over regardless of the state of your own driver's license.
Miami criminal attorney and Broward criminal attorney Eric Matheny represents clients charged with possession of marijuana.