You’re driving along, singing a song, and then… it happens! You’re getting pulled over, and there’s pot in the car! What do you do? Maybe it’s just a tiny little piece of pot in the center console, or half a joint sitting in the ashtray.
For all too many people, the first instinct is, “get rid of it!” Some try to throw it out the window, some break it up and scatter it on the floor, and some even try to eat it. Use your imagination, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of other ways one might try to hide or destroy weed in this situation.
These decisions are made in a fraction of a second, and with little or no thought. But, what many people do not realize is that these split second decisions can lead to grave criminal consequences!
Florida Statute 918.13 makes it a felony of the third degree to “alter, destroy, or conceal physical evidence, with the intent to impair the use of that evidence, while aware that a criminal investigation is underway, or about to be underway.” What this means is that a cop who finds you with a mouth full of grass has probable cause to arrest you for a felony tampering with evidence charge!
So, what should you do if you are getting pulled over and you know there is marijuana in the car? First of all, stay calm! You are probably only being stopped for a traffic violation, and if the officer does not have probable cause to search your car, he or she cannot do so without your permission. Nothing gives an officer probable cause to search your car faster than shaky hands and a heartbeat that he or she can see through your neck, so try to remain calm, and be respectful to the officer.
If the officer asks for your permission to search the car, you do not have to give it. However, be polite! Being a jerk to the cop is not likely to lead to a good outcome. Explain that you would rather not be inconvenienced by a search, and would prefer to go on your way.
Even in the unfortunate event that the officer does find marijuana in your car for whatever reason, you are much better off facing a misdemeanor possession charge than a felony tampering with evidence charge. Additionally, if the officer did not have probable cause to search your car, and you did not give him or her permission to search, an experienced criminal defense attorney can often get the case thrown out by invoking your constitutional rights. Your arrest record can also later be sealed.
In some parts of Florida, officers are simply issuing civil citations for possession of small amounts of pot, so you might not even get arrested at all. But, this will probably depend greatly on your attitude. So, for a third and final time, be respectful! And, whatever you do, don’t try to “get rid of it,” or risk a felony.