Car stopped for broken light: Louisiana gun, drug charges follow

It seems that many arrests for contraband start out with a car being pulled over for a non-operating tail or break light. The officer may then observe a weapon or drugs sitting in plain view. This justifies a search of the vehicle. That fairly common scenario occurred recently in Louisiana near the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe and led to drug charges and a gun violation against a Monroe man.

University police stopped the car when they saw only one operating break light. According to the arrest affidavit, the officer spotted a semi-automatic pistol on the passenger seat with a bag containing a green leafy material on top of the pistol. This led to a search of the vehicle. Police found another bag on the passenger seat that also contained suspected marijuana.

The man was arrested on a drug possession charge with respect to the marijuana. He was also charged with possession of paraphernalia, driving a vehicle with only one break light, and the illegal carrying of a firearm. The man claimed to police that the drugs weren't his and had been left in the car by someone.

This case presents potential questions of whether the brake light was indeed off. If it wasn't, then the stop was illegal. However, if the stop was proper, the observation of a bag of marijuana in plain view on the passenger seat would have justified the search. It remains to be established, however, whether the substance was in plain view for the officer to see from a standing position outside the car. If it wasn't plainly observable, then the search was illegal, and the gun and drug charges can't be supported.

It may be that the search and drug charges are justified. This can only be determined after a thorough investigation and evaluation of the above issues by Louisiana counsel on behalf of the accused. If the evidence supports the prosecution's case, the accused will want to have the benefit of discussing with counsel an early agreement with the prosecutor and learning what benefits could be obtained from an agreement.

Source: thenewsstar.com, "ULM police: Driver had gun, marijuana," March 12, 2013

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