If a police officer pulls you over in a traffic stop, they may ask to search your vehicle, but you have the right to say no – which you should exercise, whether or not you feel a search could yield incriminating evidence.
This is because law enforcement officers have a right to search you or your property only if there is reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, known as probable cause, or if they have obtained a warrant from a judge. This is part of your Fourth Amendment rights.
However, although the Fourth Amendment is a right for all US citizens, it does have its limitations.
For example, under certain circumstances you can be searched on modes of transportation that are funded by public tax dollars. However, the circumstances of the search are very important here, and in certain situations, it may still be possible to use the Fourth Amendment as a defense strategy for drug crimes if you are found to be in possession of a controlled substance.
Below, we’re going to discuss the specific circumstances under which a police officer can search you on public transportation – and when you have the right to refuse a search.
When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply on Texas Public Transportation?
Generally speaking, law enforcement cannot search your private property without a reason, even on public transit. You have the right to a “legitimate expectation of privacy,” which also extends to any property that you bring onto public transit.
In Bond vs. United States in 2000, the US Supreme Court ruled that a bus search resulting in a methamphetamine possession charge was unconstitutional, and the charges were dropped.
The officers were on the bus for immigration crime purposes, and they squeezed a bag before the passenger was able to consent to a search. This made the search unconstitutional.
It was a landmark case that secured citizens’ rights to a legitimate expectation of privacy while on public transit.
Under the reasonable expectation of privacy, an opaque bag is considered your personal effects, which are protected from unauthorized search and seizure by Fourth Amendment rights. In short, if there is no probable cause to warrant a search, your person and personal effects cannot lawfully be searched.
An officer may still ask to search you, but you have the right to refuse a search – a right that we always recommend exercising.
When Is a Search on Texas Public Transit Lawful?
If officers have reason to suspect you for a drug crime, they have the right to search you and your personal effects.
Probable cause for drug searches on public transit can include (but are not limited to):
- Drugs or paraphernalia in plain sight
- Strong odor (for example, of marijuana)
- Disruptive behavior that is suggestive of intoxication
What about drug dogs?
You’ve probably noticed drug-sniffing dogs in Texas airports and bus stations. These dogs can routinely be brought in, even if officers do not suspect a specific person of drug crimes.
Once a train or bus is in motion, it cannot be stopped by drug-sniffing dogs. Delaying a vehicle on unreasonable suspicion is against the Fourth Amendment. This is why you typically see drug dogs working lines of people waiting to purchase tickets or as they go through security.
What Happens if You Are Caught with Drugs on Texas Public Transit?
If you are caught for Texas drug possession on public transit, do not panic. Even a consensual or lawful search does not necessarily end in a criminal conviction. There are a number of defense strategies that may be able to help your case, depending on the circumstances of the search and arrest.
Reach out to a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney for more information regarding drug crime defense.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.