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Arrests for drug crimes during traffic stop raises concerns

When off-duty officers make arrests it may be indicative of an overzealous attitude on their part. Of course, in some instances it is necessary for officers to act to protect the public whether they are on duty or not. In a recent Arkansas arrest, there are not enough facts yet available to determine whether a drug crimes bust on Arkansas 80 in Waldron was an act of excessive authority or one of reasonable law enforcement protocol.

Three sheriff's deputies from Scott County were returning from a criminal justice class in Little Rock when they pulled over a vehicle on suspicion of a traffic violation. They ended up  arresting the two occupants for possession of methamphetamine, paraphernalia, marijuana and other suspected contraband. Under the circumstances, it seems unusual for officers who were off-duty and returning from a course on drug investigations and searches to decide to stop a vehicle for a traffic violation.

The kind of traffic violation allegedly observed is not mentioned in the press reports. One rule that the officers may have learned at the class is that there must be at least reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation before they would have the authority to pull over a driver. The facts of the initial allegation of a suspected traffic violation are important in terms of deciding whether or not the stop was legal.

The legality of the stop under Arkansas law is important because if it was without legal justification, then everything that flowed thereafter, including the arrests for drug crimes, would also likely be held illegal. The rule makes common sense, and it is also constitutionally mandated. The permitting of random stops of vehicles on the highway, without reasonable cause of some illegality taking place, would tend to create an oppressive environment that could easily be abused by overzealous law enforcement officers. An exception to that general rule is the allowance of random stops for group DUI checks, which were approved by the U.S. Supreme Court with restrictions and certain legal prerequisites.

Source: 5newsonline.com, "Deputies Make Drug Arrest On Way Back From Drug-Investigation Class", Shain Bergan, Feb. 6, 2015

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