CO Public Transport: What’s the Law on Drugs?

When you’re pulled over by police while driving your own vehicle, you have the option to consent to a search of your vehicle – or not. That right to say no in the jurisdiction of your own car is a big deal. However, what about when you’re on Colorado public transportation?

The police can only search a person and property if they have probable cause to do so. They must suspect that a crime is being committed or has been committed in order to search legally. This is a right guaranteed to you under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States – but even the Constitution has its limits. And one of those is public transportation.

Here’s what you need to know about legal search and seizure when you’re utilizing public transport to get you where you’re going, what your rights are in this situation, and what you can do if you end up with charges stemming from the search.

What Does the Fourth Amendment Say?

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is all about the privacy of citizens. It provides citizens protection against acts of illegal search and seizure. It even goes further and states that officers must have probable cause to search your person or your property. If evidence is obtained against you during an illegal search, then it likely isn’t allowed to be used against you in court.

When it comes to drug crimes, this means that the amount of the substance with which you are found, along with the type of substance, will be the evidence used against you in court. If this evidence was found on your body or in your things illegally, then it’s possible that the case against you will be thrown out.

Colorado Springs Drug Attorney

Application of the Fourth Amendment on Public Transportation

The police must have a reason to search you and your private property, full stop. And you have the right to expect privacy, even on public transportation, such as a city bus.

This means that, for example, if the police stop the bus to search for illegal immigrants, and find drugs in your bag as a result, then they likely won’t be able to use that against you. The drugs would have to be in plain sight on the bus for them to reasonably claim probable cause. A strong odor could qualify as probable cause, too.

It’s also important to note that, if the police enter a public transportation vehicle that you’re using and ask to search you or your things, you have the right to say no – no matter how nerve-wracking it might be to do so. It’s vital to know your rights under the law.

Understand you should have the expectation of privacy no matter where you are, especially for things that are on your person or that belong to you.

What About Drug Dogs?

Sometimes you see drug-sniffing dogs in airports or other hubs for public transportation. It’s not uncommon for drug dogs to be used even if there’s no reason to believe anyone has something that needs to be sniffed out.

You may be wondering what is and isn’t allowed regarding drug dogs on public transportation. One important fact is that, once a train or a bus is in motion, it can’t be stopped by drug dogs. It is against the Fourth Amendment for a plane, bus, or train to be held. That’s why most searches occur while people are waiting to get through security or to buy a ticket.

If you are at home, it is illegal for drug dogs to be brought to your property without a warrant. If one is, then that’s also a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. It can lead to a defense of illegal search and seizure. Your expectation of privacy extends not only to the place you live but the area around it, such as your front porch.

What If You’re Found With Drugs on a Bus?

In Colorado, those caught posting drugs on public transportation are likely to be arrested, but it is not necessarily cause for panic. An experienced lawyer can help you to formulate a robust defense based on the circumstances of your case. If an illegal search and seizure was done, then that’s one defense, but you may also be able to use other defenses, such as:

  • Drugs found don’t belong to you
  • You were under duress or coercion
  • Evidence was planted on your person
  • You’re struggling with drug addiction and are seeking treatment

Get an experienced attorney involved in your case as soon as you can.


About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.