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Protecting yourself after a ‘highway stop-and-frisk’

There are roughly 9 million licensed drivers in Pennsylvania; countless more drivers regularly travel through the state. Of these drivers, according to Pennsylvania State Police, nearly one million were stopped in 2019.

Even though traffic stops are not uncommon, many people do not fully understand their rights when the police pull them over. This unfamiliarity can be problematic, particularly when a stop turns into drug charges as a result of the controversial practice of highway interdiction.

What is highway interdiction?

Highway interdiction (also referred to as a highway stop-and-frisk) is a system used by law enforcement to increase arrest rates for drug-related offenses. The practice involves stopping as many drivers as possible and using just about any factor to justify suspicions that someone may be engaged in criminal activity.

Officers will typically camp out on interstates and highways, looking for reasons to stop someone. In some cases, having a GPS device mounted on a windshield is all it takes for an officer to pull over a driver.

Once the officer conducts a stop, he or she focuses on finding reasons to investigate the driver or vehicle, like the smell of marijuana or a driver carrying large amounts of cash or gift cards. Officers will often ask to search the car and call for a K-9 unit to arrive and sniff for drugs.

Numerous problems with this system

Highway interdiction produces questionable results, as this article discusses in more detail. Broadly, they can easily cross the line from a justified stop to one that violates a driver’s rights.

In some cases, there is no probable cause to support a traffic stop in the first place. In other cases, courts find that the stops were discriminatory and, therefore, unlawful.

Further, numerous problems can arise during a stop when police illegally search a car or detain a driver while waiting for a K-9 unit to arrive. Federal laws state that police cannot detain drivers for an unreasonable amount of time for a minor traffic offense.

Considering all the problematic elements of highway interdiction, drivers caught up in these nets would be wise to consult an attorney to understand their rights. It is not uncommon for drivers to see drug charges resulting from these stops to be dismissed due to insufficient evidence, improper police actions or unlawful searches.