The State of Oklahoma has created several highway drug interdiction teams along I-35, I-40, and I-44. These teams include the District Drug Task Forces, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN), and COMIT (Central Oklahoma Metro Interdiction Team). There are locations in Beckham County between Sayre and Elk City, just east of El Reno in Canadian County, east of Yukon on I-40, in Oklahoma County at the intersections of I-35 and I-44 (both east and west bound) and in the eastern part of the state in Sequoyah County near Sallisaw. There are also teams along the Turner Turnpike around the mid-way mark between Oklahoma City and Tulsa (on the Lincoln County – Creek County line) and another between Miami and Vinita in far northeast Oklahoma. There are similar local task forces conducting drug interdiction around the state.
The officers in these locations are there for one purpose — and one purpose only — drug interdiction. They pull over unsuspecting travelers looking for drugs and drug proceeds (drug money). Generally moving east, the cars are searched for drugs. Moving west, the cars are searched for money.
The typical scenario involves the officer pulling over a car for an illegal lane change or failure to use a signal for the proper distance, speeding one or two miles per hour over the speed limit or such other minor traffic infraction. Immediately, the driver is told that he will only be issued a warning, and the officer requests the driver’s license and proof of insurance. The officer will separate the driver from the passengers by taking the driver to the patrol car. While running the driver’s license with dispatch, the officer will question the driver and then the passenger separately looking for clues or body language such as (1) travel plans — where they have been and where they are going, (2) how long they’ve been traveling, (3) where they have stopped, (4) names of the other persons in the car, (5) nervousness, and (6) ultimately whether they object to allowing the officer to search the car. If the driver and passengers stories are inconsistent in any little way, then “you must be drug dealers.”
The traffic stop is typically videotaped, along with the search. You are also being tape recorded either by a body microphone on the officer, by a tape recorder in the patrol car or at the warehouse or jail where you are taken. All of this is perfectly legal. Do not answer questions without a lawyer.
Once the dispatcher “clears” the driver for any warrants, the officer writes a warning ticket and returns the license and insurance verification. Then as the driver starts to exit the patrol car, the officer asks, “Can I ask you a couple of questions?” The driver always says yes. The officer will then ask (1) do you have any drugs, (2) do you have any large sums of cash or currency, (3) do you have any weapons?
The next question is do you mind if I search your car? If the driver says no, then the officer searches (often with a drug detector dog). If the driver says “yes, I do mind and do not consent,” then the officer still takes a drug detector dog around the perimeter of the car for a so-called open air sniff. Most often, the dog will sit at some point giving an indication of the odor of drugs (marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin). If no drugs are found, the officers claim that sometime in the past few days, the car or person has possessed one of these drugs or that there is a large sum of money in the car that has been in contact with these drugs.
It may be possible to suppress evidence (meaning to exclude evidence) if the facts and circumstances allow. See our Search & Seizure page. By way of example, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that “Police may not extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct dog sniff . . . .” Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (April 15, 2015). That ruling, however, is narrowly written, but the Supreme Court reiterated that a “traffic stop ‘prolonged beyond’ the ‘time reasonably required to complete [the stop’s] mission’ is unlawful.” See Rodriguez (citing Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. at 407). Please understand that there are so many exceptions to the Fourth Amendment that the “fruits” of the search may be allowed — particularly in searches of vehicles (rather than search of your home). These exceptions often include plain view, plain smell, exigent circumstances, search incident to arrest, inventory or impound search, good faith of the officers, etc.
Most generally, the driver, any passengers, and the car are taken to a warehouse for further investigation and interrogation. No matter the explanation, they will seize any large sums of money and any drugs found — even though travelers have very valid reasons for carrying large sums of U.S. currency. Note: it is not a crime to carry money in any amount. At the warehouse, the officers tear down the car looking for drugs and secret compartments. They generally keep the driver and passengers separated and video tape the interviews; however, if you are in the back seat of a patrol car with another traveler, then the officers have tape recorders in the car and are likely taping the entire conversation hoping you will incriminate yourselves. That is why they often give you a few minutes together alone in the patrol unit. After getting a confession or statement, the officers then impound the car and take the driver and passengers to jail on drug charges if there is any sign of controlled dangerous substances (drugs) or large sums of money. If there is no evidence of CDS, but there is a large sum of currency, the money will still be seized as so-called drug money or the proceeds of drug transactions — regardless of the owner’s explanation of why he/she is carrying so much cash.
You have a right to remain silent or anything you say can be used against you. Exercise your rights. Demand to see a lawyer and tell the officers that you will NOT make a statement without a lawyer present. You cannot harm your case by demanding a lawyer. In these circumstances, the officers are not your “friends.” They are looking to put you in jail — for what may be up to life in prison. Possession with intent to distribute and distribution carry anywhere from 2 years to life under Oklahoma law. So the best course of action is to seek an attorney and keep your mouth shut. Silence is always the best advice.
If any of this description sounds familiar, you need an attorney. Whether you are arrested for possession or distribution of CDS or drug proceeds or whether the interdiction team merely seized your money, you need an attorney. These are tricky cases. If the Sound familiar? officers do not follow the letter of the law, it is possible that any evidence found be subject to suppression (i.e., that it cannot be used in court). In other situations, the officers have followed the law, and you need counsel to negotiate the best deal possible or to take the matter to trial. That is what we do.
Call the Wyatt Law Office at 405.234.5500 for your Oklahoma Highway Drug Interdiction & Seizure Lawyers & Attorneys. Your future is our business.
Drug Evidence Suppressed in Federal Court. Wyatt and Scott Graham teamed up arguing and convincing the federal court to suppress evidence obtained after a “routine” traffic stop pursuant to an open air drug dog sniff search. During an illegal search, Troopers found 3,000 Oxycontin pills, multiple fake I.D.s, fake prescriptions, and over $17,000 cash. All evidence suppressed and case dismissed.*
*Note: Results may vary because each case must be decided on its own unique facts and the law applicable to that given case. You should not infer the likelihood of success on a given case based on past cases handled by this firm.