Know Your Rights: What Police Can and Can’t Do in Searching an Automobile

Oftentimes, we get clients who have been pulled over by the police and ask to search their car. It’s important to know your rights and circumstances in which police can or cannot search your car.

  1. Probable Cause: Generally, police officers need probable cause to conduct a search of a vehicle without a warrant. Probable cause means that there is enough evidence to reasonably believe that a crime has been committed or that evidence of a crime can be found in the vehicle.
  2. Consent: If a police officer asks for consent to search a vehicle and the individual gives consent voluntarily, the officer can conduct the search without needing probable cause or a warrant. It’s important to note that you can not only refuse consent to the search, but you can also tell the officer which area(s) of the vehicle can and cannot be searched.
  3. Search Incident to Arrest: If a person is lawfully arrested, the police may search the area within the arrestee’s immediate control. In the case of a vehicle stop, this may include the passenger compartment of the vehicle, but not the trunk.
  4. Plain View: If a police officer sees evidence in the vehicle and it is immediately apparent that the evidence is something illegal, like narcotics, police can search and seize the evidence.
  5. Inventory Searches: If a vehicle is lawfully impounded, the police may conduct an inventory search of the vehicle’s contents.

If you’re pulled over call us immediately. Know your rights!

Fourth Amendment Waiver

In Georgia, can a person on probation be illegally searched by law enforcement?  The answer is yes and no.  A probationer who has executed a Fourth Amendment waiver at the time of their plea may be subject to a warrantless search if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or for the purpose of monitoring the extent of the probationer’s compliance or lack of compliance with the terms of their probation.  The general rule is that the police can search a probationer, who is subject to a special condition of probation waiving her Fourth Amendment rights and agreeing to searches of her person, property, residence, and vehicle, at any time, day or night, and with or without a warrant, provided there exists a reasonable or good-faith suspicion for the search, that is, the police must not merely be acting in bad faith or in an arbitrary and capricious manner such as searching to harass the probationer.

If you are challenging the illegal search under a Fourth Amendment waiver you will need to argue the search was without consent and the officer was conducting the search in bad faith or in an arbitrary manner.

If you feel as the police or law enforcement seized evidence illegally, please give us a call at our law firm at 404-581-0999 to discuss the possibility of representation.

How the Fourth Amendment Could Protect You in Drug Cases

The Fourth Amendment provides safeguards for individuals during their interactions with law enforcement. If evidence is discovered during an interaction that violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights, that evidence cannot be used against the individual in court.

This issue commonly arises in cases where an individual is pulled over for a traffic violation and is subsequently charged with possessing drugs. For example, if an officer pulls you over for crossing the solid line, they are not allowed to search your car for drugs if you do not consent to the search. While there are certain exceptions in place to ensure officer safety and to prevent the destruction of evidence (such as patting down an individual on the outside of their clothing to search for weapons, for example), the officer cannot freely look through your pockets or inside your vehicle.

Understanding Fourth Amendment protections is complex, and it is important that you hire an experienced attorney if you are charged with a serious offense like possession of drugs, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, or trafficking drugs. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith, PC will work diligently to discover any Fourth Amendment violations in your case and to keep the harmful evidence out of court. If you are charged with one of these serious offenses in Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, or Fayette Counties, call our office at 404-581-0999 today for a free consultation.

Cherokee County Drug Trafficking Attorney

The war on drugs is alive and well in the Georgia criminal justice system. You may be surprised the amounts of each drug that Georgia law considers to be Drug Trafficking. While selling drugs of any kind is against the law and considered a felony, there is a threshold for each drug that will bump the case into drug trafficking. Drug trafficking has significantly harsher penalties than a simple Possession charge or even Possession with Intent to Distribute. Drug trafficking also can make obtaining a bond more difficult at the onset of the case because only a Superior Court Judge can grant bond in these situations. This can be an issue since the first Judge people typically see after arrest is a Magistrate Judge at First Appearance, and Magistrate Judges do not have authority to grant a bond in Drug Trafficking cases in Georgia. In some courts, Magistrate Judges “sit in designation” and can in fact handle bond hearings for trafficking charges. If this is not the case, attorneys must request a hearing by a Superior Court Judge in order to request a bond.


What is considered drug trafficking?

Simply possessing the following amounts will be considered Drug Trafficking under Georgia law, even if there is no evidence of selling or delivering it.

Methamphetamine: 28 grams or more

Heroin: 4 grams or more

Cocaine: 28 grams or more

Marijuana: 10 pounds


How much time am I facing if I am charged with Drug Trafficking in Cherokee County?

The short answer is it depends. Each drug and amount has a different mandatory minimum sentence. For example, if you have anywhere between 28 grams and 200 grams of cocaine, Georgia law requires a sentence with a minimum 10 years and $200,000 fine. Those numbers go up with every amount over 200 grams.

If you are charged with trafficking marijuana in Georgia, and the amount seized was somewhere between 10 pounds and 2,000 pounds, it is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a $100,000 fine.  Similarly, these numbers will also go up for every amount over 2,000 pounds.

See O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31 for all mandatory minimum sentencing according to type of drug and amount seized. There is a lot of negotiation that can occur in these cases to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing.


There are defenses to Drug Trafficking in Georgia

Drug trafficking cases typically implicate the Fourth Amendment more than any other type of case. Each of us has a Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. Each case is different and must be carefully analyzed in terms of whether the police officers acted lawfully in the search and seizure of the drugs. For example, if the officers had no right to enter your trunk or your safe in the closet, the drugs and case can be thrown out. Likewise, if the search warrant is not valid, or they did not get a warrant, this is another defense to getting the drugs suppressed or excluded.

Drug trafficking in Georgia and in Cherokee County carries significant sentences, and the legal motions must be filed very early on in the case in order to preserve the issue and allow us to argue the suppression of the drugs. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with Drug Trafficking in Cobb County, reach out today for a FREE CONSULTATION with the experienced lawyers of W. Scott Smith by calling 404-581-0999.


Changes to the Way Search Warrants for Cell Phone Content Must be Obtained

A new decision released by the Georgia Supreme Court changes the way police must obtain warrants if they want to search the contents of your cell phone. In State v. Wilson, released on February 21, the Court tightened the reigns on what officers must include in their search warrants.

In Wilson, a defendant was on trial for murder. The defendant’s lawyer argued that the search of his cell phone was illegal because it did not specify what police were looking for and sought to have any evidence recovered from his phone kept out of his trial. The trial court agreed with the defendant’s attorney and said that “the search warrant was overly broad and authorized a general search of [the defendant’s] personal effects without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment and O.C.G.A § 17-5-21”.  The judge ruled that evidence found in defendant’s phone could not be used in trial.

The State appealed the trial court’s decision, but the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court. The Supreme Court reminded us that the Fourth Amendment requires that search warrants list the particular items sought in order to prevent “general, exploratory rummaging in a person’s belongings”. Because the search warrant in Wilson just listed “contents of phone” and didn’t mention that it was limited to evidence pertaining to the commission of a certain crime, it was overbroad and illegal, and the search was unconstitutional.

This means that search warrants for the contents of phones must contains a particular description  of the things to be seized (i.e. text messages or pictures in a child molestation case, or internet search history in a murder case). If you have been charged with a crime in Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Clayton, Rockdale, or any metro county,  and the police searched your phone, it is important to have a lawyer review the search warrant and see if it was properly executed. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith specialize in spotting issues like this and standing up to the State to protect our clients’ constitutional rights. Call our office at 404-581-0999 today for a free consultation.



Was my search warrant obtained properly?

In order for an investigator to obtain a search warrant, they have to prove to a magistrate judge that they have probable cause that a criminal activity occurred or is occurring. Probable cause basically means that investigators can communicate a “reasonable belief” that a criminal activity is taking place. Investigating officers have to lay out this probable cause in an affidavit attached to an application for search warrant. Then, a magistrate judge will review the affidavit and application and grant or deny the warrant. In addition to the written affidavit, magistrates may consider oral testimony of the officers during the warrant application process.

In Georgia, the courts have laid out several scenarios that instruct when probable cause has or has not been communicated. For example, a tip from a confidential informant in a drug case is not enough to establish probable cause. The tip would have to be corroborated by other circumstances. However, if police come to your door and you voluntarily speak with them and admit to a crime, there is enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant.

If a warrant is granted and it lacked probable cause, the warrant is bad and any search resulting from the warrant violates your Fourth Amendment rights. In this case, you need a lawyer to argue that your rights have been violated and that any evidence obtained during the execution of the bad search warrant must be suppressed.

At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we are experienced at spotting issues with search warrants and often successful at having evidence suppressed. Often, after a judge has ruled that evidence must be suppressed, prosecutors are more willing to negotiate or even dismiss charges because they no longer have a strong case. If you are in Cobb, Clayton. Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, or Rockdale County and are charged with a serious offense like Violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, trafficking drugs, or possession of drugs with the intent to distribute and believe that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated by a warrant lacking probable cause, call us for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

I was arrested without a warrant, and they did not bring me to court, what do I do?

If you have been arrested, booked into the County Jail, and there is no warrant, you must be brought before a Judge within 48 hours. If you are not brought before a judge within 48 hours, you must be released from custody.

Under O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62, it requires the arresting person (typically the police officer) to “without delay, convey the offender before the most convenient judicial officer authorized to receive an affidavit and issue a warrant as provided for in Code Section 17-4-40.” Further, “[n]o such imprisonment shall be legal beyond a reasonable time allowed for this purpose; and any person who is not brought before such judicial officer within 48 hours of arrest shall be released.” Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S.  44, 57 (1991).

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a charge without a warrant, and they have not been brought before a judge, having a lawyer fight your case can result in a better outcome. Contact the Law Office of Scott Smith today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

Marijuana Trafficking at the Atlanta Airport

News reports of airline travel being back to 90 percent of pre-covid flying will lead to more scrutiny at the airport for passengers flying into Atlanta’ s airport.  Atlanta has the world’s largest airport: Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport.  In a discussion I had with a DEA agent, he told me on every flight from California, Arizona, and Colorado there will be a passenger on the flight with a large amount of trafficking marijuana.  Even though Marijuana is legal in some states, it is still illegal in Georgia.  If you get stopped by Clayton County, Drug Enforcement Agents or Atlanta Police, and you are found to be carrying greater than ten pounds of marijuana in your luggage you will be arrested for Marijuana Trafficking and taken to the Clayton County Jail.  In all cases, the first appearance judge will deny you a bond.  On every case our firm has been hired to assist couriers charged with marijuana trafficking in Atlanta, we have been able to get the client a bond in Clayton County.  In order to get a bond, you need to acquire copies of the warrants and incident reports.  The state’s prosecutor in Clayton County will want to run the subject’s criminal history.  Once those items are acquired, you can get a consent bond and bond out of jail.  It is also helpful if the person traveling has money (shows they are a courier and not seller), they fly very infrequently and they were cooperative to law enforcement.  However, people flying should never consent to a search of their luggage, as consent is voluntary and nobody should be subject to search of their person or personal effects such as luggage without a warrant.  If you or a loved one gets charged with marijuana trafficking at the Atlanta Airport, please do not hesitate to call our law office so we can assist with representation.  Our phone number is 404-581-0999.

Civil Forfeiture – What does it mean?

Unfortunately you got stopped by the police while driving and you had something in your car that was illegal that resulted in your arrest – maybe your stash of THC cartridges, some loose leaf marijuana, and the cash you had been saving up.  Your main concern is of course the pending criminal case against you, but did you know the state can also seize the drugs, cash and even your vehicle?

It’s called civil forfeiture, and it’s legal in Georgia under the Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act.  The State can seize any assets it claims were used in furtherance of the illegal activity.  So what do you do?  You need to protect yourself in the criminal case and also in the civil forfeiture case.  You’ll know your property has been seized because you’ll be given a Notice of Seizure either by the police at the time of your arrest, or recently after.  Timing is important here, because you have only 30 days to notify the prosecutor’s office that you are asserting a claim on the property.  During this time you’ll want to gather all the documentation you have to show that your seized property was not used in furtherance of the illegal activity.  This could be proof of purchase of the vehicle, pay stubs from your employer, etc.  A knowledgeable attorney can file the notice of your claim with the proper documentation, ensuring that it gets to the right people.

From there the State will serve an official document on you called a Complaint.  They must do so within 30 days of receiving the notice of your claim.  Once you have been served with the Complaint, you then have only 30 days to respond by filing what is called an Answer.  Once all the paperwork is submitted, the court will hold a bench trial, usually within 60 days, to determine if your property should be returned to you.

This is a multi-step, technical process, and our law firm can help you navigate it to get your property back.  If you’re facing a criminal case with civil forfeiture of your property, call the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Can a Spouse of a Convicted Felon Own a Gun in Georgia?

By:  Mary Agramonte

Georgia law prohibits people convicted of felonies from possessing firearms. Similarly, people currently on first offender probation are also not allowed to carry guns. You must be discharged from probation as a first offender without an adjudication of guilt in order to lawfully possess a firearm. Felons cannot have guns unless and until their rights are restored in the State of Georgia.

But what if you are a convicted felon and someone else near you owns a gun? Or what if you are in the same vehicle as someone who has a gun? Likewise, one of the questions we are asked most often is “can my spouse or partner have a gun in the same home as me if I am a felon?”

The short answer is: it depends. The question that is going to be asked by law enforcement and the Courts is whether or not the State can prove YOU possessed the gun. You do not have to actually have it in your hand or your pocket in order to be charged and convicted with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. In some instances, it simply has to be near you, or in a place where the circumstances point to the weapon being yours. This is because Georgia law recognizes two different kinds of ‘possession.’ The first is Actual Possession and the other kind is Constructive Possession.

Actual Possession is where you truly possess the gun: it is in your pocket or in your car, for example. With Constructive Possession, the line can be a little more blurry on whether or not you will be arrested or convicted of possession the firearm by a convicted felon. When  dealing with Constructive Possession, you can be arrested for possessing a firearm even if you never possessed it. The State can prove it through circumstantial evidence. For example, constructive possession occurs where a gun is in a shared hotel room with you and a friend, and you know the gun is there, and you tell police where it is. In that situation, the State will allege you had possession of the firearm- even if you never touched it. Another example of constructive possession would be if the gun was found in the drawer of a shared bedroom, near clothes that match your gender. Additionally, you can be charged with possession of a firearm by convicted felony if your co-defendant carried a gun in an armed robbery that you were a part of even if you never touched the gun.

So the answer to the age-old question is yes, your spouse can own a gun as long as you don’t possess it- actually or constructively, but to be wary as the distinction is not always clear. If you or a loved one has been arrested for Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, call us today for a free consultation on the case at 404-581-0999.