Readers of this Georgia legal blog should be aware that they have important civil rights when it comes to dealing with law enforcement officers at traffic stops. It is important for drivers to know that an officer cannot simply search their vehicle because they think they may find illegal materials.

A Georgia man and his passenger recently faced arrest on drug charges, and their entire ordeal began with a traffic stop. The man was pulled over because he had an out-of-date registration and had not properly secured a child who was riding in his car. When the officer approached his vehicle the officer allegedly smelled marijuana coming from the passenger side of the vehicle and used that alleged odor to give him probable cause to investigate.

The officer searched the passenger and the driver’s vehicle. The search turned up what was alleged to be marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Both the driver and passenger were arrested and the child was turned over to protective services due to the driver’s failure to locate someone to pick up the child.

Officers need probable cause to search a person’s vehicle after a traffic stop. Probable cause is a critical component of keeping traffic stop searches legal under the rules of the Fourth Amendment. The odor of illegal drugs or the presence of what seems to be illegal drugs in plain view may be reasons why an officer will search a person’s vehicle. Georgians who need more information about illegal searches and seizures and how such actions relate to drug offenses can seek professional legal guidance.