Last week, Delaware Online reported that a routine traffic stop turned into a huge drug bust after Maryland State Police discovered over 350 pounds of marijuana in the car of a New Jersey man. According to police, on December 30th Donald P. Gayle was stopped for failing to move into the left lane as he drove by several stopped police cruisers on U.S. Route 113. Adopted in 2010, Maryland’s “move over” law requires motorists to switch to an available lane when passing a stopped emergency vehicle such as a police cruiser or ambulance.
According to the story, the trooper that pulled Gayle over became suspicious during the stop and radioed for a drug sniffing canine. A drug dog alerted to the vehicle and the subsequent search of the vehicle revealed five duffel bags containing three cellophane wrapped packages of marijuana. The total weight of the marijuana was more than 350 pounds and had an estimated street value of $400,000.
Gayle has been charged with several felonies, including importing a controlled dangerous substance, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and possession of marijuana. Under Maryland Annotated Code §5-614, any person who brings 45 kilograms or more of marijuana in to Maryland that is not authorized to do so is guilty of a felony and subject to up to 25 years and a fine of up to $50,000.
In Gayle’s case, however, he faces up to 50 years in prison because he is alleged to be a repeat drug offender. According to the story, Gayle was previously stopped in February of 2008 for running a red light. During the traffic stop, police discovered over 100 pounds of marijuana hidden in Gayle’s vehicle. Gayle was convicted of a felony drug offense and served three years in prison.
Gayle’s situation is further complicated by the fact that, because police believed he may have been transporting the drugs over state lines, the federal Department of Homeland Security was contacted. If the authorities can show that Gayle crossed state lines with the marijuana or intended to, he could be prosecuted under federal drug laws, which often carry substantial mandatory minimum sentences.
Search & Seizure Issues
Likely to become a point of contention in Gayle’s case is whether police had a sufficient reason to stop and search his vehicle. The law requires that, in order to stop a vehicle, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is involved in criminal activity. This relatively low standard can generally be established by a minor traffic violation and is often difficult, though not impossible, to overcome.
In order to search a vehicle, however, a police officer must meet the higher standard of probable cause. Probable cause for a search exists where the totality of the circumstances establishes a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.
The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals charged with drug crimes in both state and federal courts. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.