What Might Happen If I’m Caught by Police Using Drugs?

Sound judgment is one of the first casualties of drug use; as an addiction worsens, many people become increasingly reckless. For example, they may drive while intoxicated, use drugs while caring for children or get careless about sharing and selling drugs with others. All of these risky behaviors increase the likelihood of getting pulled over, arrested or put behind bars. If your anxiety spikes while you imagine these scenarios, then seize the opportunity to take action. You can start recovery now by learning the facts: find out exactly what happens to people who get caught with drugs.

The Blow-by-Blow Reality of Drug Possession

According to the United States Courts, your Fourth Amendment rights protect you against unlawful searches and seizures[1]. A search is lawful if you have consented to the search or if the officer has a warrant or probable cause, which means she has enough information to believe you have committed a crime. The following behaviors could alert a police officer that you are driving while intoxicated:

  • Swerving across the road
  • Driving erratically
  • Ignoring traffic signs
  • Committing a traffic violation

Once pulled over, an officer will ask you to remain in your car. He may then ask if you have anything to hide or if he need to call in a drug-sniffing dog. The officer then has probably cause based on everything he can see through the windows of your vehicle or smell while talking to you. Additionally, anything the officer spots that triggers suspicion can provide more probable cause to search your vehicle. While the police can be intimidating they must adhere to the following procedure:

  • Get permission to search your body and clothing
  • Search your belongings
  • Ask you to perform a test, such as walking a straight line
  • Take your fingerprints
  • Ask you to write or sign a statement
  • Request a sample of your breath, blood, semen, hair, or handwriting

If the police found illicit drugs or evidence of use, then you may be arrested. You may be handcuffed if the officer meets the following criteria:

  • Personally witnesses you commit a crime
  • Arrives at a reasonable belief that you have committed or were about to commit a crime

Upon being arrested, the police officer must read you your Miranda rights before holding you for more questioning. The Library of Congress outlines these rights according to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s decision that police must warn arrested suspects that the government could use any information provided to them as evidence[2]. Furthermore, the suspect has a right to remain silent and to obtain legal counsel through a lawyer.

If you are arrested, the police will allow you to make a single phone call. Typically, people use this call to contact a lawyer, trusted friend or family member who can hire a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, then you can claim the constitutional right to receive a court-appointed attorney, also called a public defender.

Appearing before the judge is the next step in the process. At this point, you will have an opportunity to request bond, which is a promise that you will meet the court’s demands as a trade for your release from jail. Usually, these demands include a sum of money that you pay the court. The bond amount is based upon the crime, and the judge sets it to the amount she thinks will guarantee that you show up for trial. The following factors also affect bond price:

  • The severity of the crime
  • Whether you pose a threat to the public
  • Your employment status
  • Your income
  • How much money your friends and family are willing to share
  • Close ties to family and community, factors that make it unlikely that you would run away and avoid your court date
  • A past criminal record that suggests a tendency to repeat mistakes

People who lack the money to front for bond often contact a bail bondsman, someone who lends money so people can make bond and avoid jail time. Most bondsmen require you to pay 10% of the bail amount—they lend you the remaining bail money, usually at high interest rates. However, some states consider bail bondsmen as unethical and opportunistic, so they offer an alternative called a signature bond. Signing this document obligates all signers to pay the bond amount only if the charged individual fails to appear for subsequent legal proceedings. After posting bond or signing a promise to show up, you should be released from police detention.

After the Bust: Your Next Move

Your reaction to getting caught gives a good indication of your willingness to get sober. If you are open to considering that you may have a problem, then respond honestly. It is easy to know if you are avoiding treatment, as the act may involve any of the following thoughts:

  • I will be smarter next time
  • I just had bad luck
  • The police overreacted, because I was not that bad off
  • What happened to me was unfair
  • I cannot catch a break

Being booked for illicit drug use, public intoxication or driving under the influence can be a nightmare and costly. However, scientists published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs argue that you should view the experience as a life-saving wake-up call that helps you face the truth and shatters denial[3].

Recovery from Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love struggles with alcoholism, then know that help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness, so you do not have to go it alone when help is only a phone call away. Start your recovery now by reaching out for professional help.


[1] http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does-0

[2] http://www.loc.gov/law/help/digitized-books/miranda-v-arizona/index.php

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12562105

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