16

Some individual broke into my car in the United States to steal my dashcam and a few quarters, and in the process, while searching my car for other valuable items, left some drug paraphernalia in the passenger front seat. I am currently in Washington state and was planning to drop by Canada soon.

How shall I proceed if my car may contain other illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia before entering Canada from the US? Shall I go to a US police station to ask to screen the car? Can I voluntarily declare at the Canadian border the potential presence of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia without getting into trouble? Shall I pursue another course of action?

13
  • 1
    I do not think this question belongs on Law, but I can imagine you thinking up a good question for Law Stack Exchange which will give you clues or answers to your current problem. (Still +1 for this Q here.)
    – Willeke
    Jun 25 at 10:55
  • 55
    I would STONGLY recommend getting this sorted by the local cops and NOT by Customs and Border Control. To CBP this sounds very much like "the dog ate my homework". Approaching a border with illegal items is NOT a good idea, regardless of how they got into the car.
    – Hilmar
    Jun 25 at 12:27
  • 3
    Did you leave your car unattended for a longer period of time? travel.stackexchange.com/questions/168799/… Jun 25 at 15:05
  • 1
    I agree the previous comment to get local police to take a look. This could also be aided if you have filed a police report already to back up your request for them to check it out
    – Midavalo
    Jun 25 at 15:21
  • 2
    it's a very difficult situation. I feel there's no solution
    – Fattie
    Jun 27 at 17:58

6 Answers 6

34

If either the American or or Canadian police find drugs in your car they will assume it's yours

Possession is 9/10ths of the law. If there are drugs in your car a border agent will assume it's yours. Do not ask the American police to screen the car for you. They'll think you're a drug mule checking your work. If they find drugs they will assume they are yours.

You can file a police report if you want. They will probably show up after 3 hours, write a report and walk away. They will not check anything.

At the very least go to a self-service cleaning lot and do a thorough search of your car and vacuum everything. Personally, I'd go to a full-service car wash and pay for a deep interior cleaning just to get rid of the ick factor.

Many drug runners steal a car at night - use it to run pounds of drugs, then abandon it before the owner wakes up. I know this because one of my friend's had her car stolen likely for this purpose. The cops found it that afternoon and told her they suspected this happened. The cops didn't do a search of the car.

I'd suggest a professional deep-clean + a thorough check yourself of any nook or cranny you can get to without tools.

EDIT - in response to this answer. Which is dangerously wrong.

There is also a saying - tell it to the judge. People will insist they are innocent and someone hid drugs/guns/money in their car, house, or on their person to frame them regardless of mountains of evidence that suggest otherwise.

I'd bet the first words out of every mule's mouth are "those drugs aren't mine."

Think about it - if you could get a get-out-of-jail free card by having the cops check your car before-hand, then you'd get them to check - THEN put the drugs in.

If you ask the cops to search your car and they find something, they'll just assume you are a dumb criminal, and book you anyway.

If the cops on either side find something they'll book you, tell you they don't care about your story, and to explain everything to the judge. The judge has probably heard this before too.

5
  • I doubt the police will actually come out nowadays for a car break-in. They'll probably take info over the phone or direct you to a website to submit a report. I wouldn't necessarily put too much trust in their "drug runner" story either - police told me an intricate story of gangs coming up from L.A. to break into peoples cars but it turned out it just was my roommate's friend - Occam's razor. Jun 28 at 17:14
  • @HannoverFist - you probably are correct. I've known a few people who had their car stolen and then found later. The cops never showed much interest - likely because they know it could easily be a friend of a friend. Better to let you think it's a gangsta than the hot chick that was just over. Jun 28 at 17:21
  • Some LEOs/BPOs might be suspicious of a freshly laundered car, though. I've seen enough crime documentaries where someone REALLY tried to clean the evidence but missed a spot, etc, and the cops looked into it even harder. It's probably better to ask a lawyer familiar with a specific jurisdiction what they should do. I'm not saying this answer is wrong, just that it may be just as dangerous as coming clean to someone in the first place, even more so since you've actively "destroyed" evidence.
    – phyrfox
    Jun 28 at 21:18
  • @phyrfox - lawyers are expensive. I think the OPs fears have as much to do with the ick factor of a criminal in your car as anything else. I doubt there are more drugs/paraphernalia. Jun 29 at 13:24
  • @sevensevens It's expensive to retain a lawyer, not to ask a question. I've met several lawyers who didn't bill me a cent just to talk about my case and see what I should do. I have a consult service provided by my work for $10/month, and one can easily get this service for similar prices for online lawyer networks. It's at least worth asking a question, in my opinion.
    – phyrfox
    Jun 29 at 13:39
22

Here is what I would do.

  1. Look through you car thoroughly and identify all illegal items but don't touch them
  2. Drive to the local police station, file a report and ask what to do with the illegal stuff. Chances are they will take the items as evidence. They may want to search the car themselves: you can give them permission to do so. Ask them for advice what else to do and how to handle the border.
  3. Clean your car and make sure to remove any residues
  4. Keep a copy with the police report with you in case a dog sniffs something.
10
  • 39
    You don't care if the police investigate anything. The point is that you have got rid of the drug paraphernalia in an unquestionably legal way, and given yourself excellent plausibility in support of your story if other drugs or paraphernalia are found later. Jun 26 at 22:51
  • 9
    Re: "Ask them for advice ... how to handle the border." No way local police are going to be able to give useful advice on that. Jun 27 at 16:48
  • 6
    Unfortunately and unusually, I feel this answer of H's is unfortunately wrong in every way, in the world we live in. (1) is missing the point - certainly our OP would have "checked", the entire point is he may have missed something. (2A) the police would tell you to go away, or give you major grief for not filing the report in the first place; also almost certainly (2A-ii) they'd assume your story was nonsense and you were drug-involved {the whole story sounds like a whack plan by a mule} (2B) they would not have a clue about Canadian officialdom in any way, and (3) it is utterly impossible
    – Fattie
    Jun 27 at 18:02
  • 12
    Yeah, this is like the worst advice ever. Doesn't look like the answerer is familiar with how the Police works in America (Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they're all bad), but to suggest that you show up at the police station with drugs and be like y'all go search my car is the stupidest thing that you can do. You should never be giving police permission to search your vehicle, if they want to they can get a warrant. Talk to a competent local attorney and do what they say, internet strangers can't really help with this OP.
    – nikhil
    Jun 27 at 18:32
  • 6
    Depends on how much you trust your local police department not to be assholes. The way drug laws are written, possessing them is a crime. Period. How you came to be in possession isn't actually relevant. Most judges and juries would hopefully be reasonable, so you'd likely get the charges dismissed eventually. But the police could easily choose to seize your car and it would be on you to sue them and prove that the car wasn't being used to transport illegal drugs... Which it was. Maybe the judge will take pity on you. If the local guys are nice, then sure, they can help. Just be careful.
    – Perkins
    Jun 27 at 20:03
14

If you’re very paranoid about potential drugs, I’d pay for a full detail of the interior and exterior. I highly doubt the drug addict had specialty tools on them to hide drugs within the cars internal compartment, so a regular detail and car wash should get rid of all residue.

Just make sure to never mention this story to the border agents, as this sounds like a great way to get banned from the country as a suspected drug mule. As far as you’re concerned the car has no drugs whatsoever, end of story.

14
  • 2
    Any fruits or vegetables? No, sir. Enjoy your stay. Thank you. Have a nice day.
    – Mazura
    Jun 26 at 21:57
  • 1
    @Mazura the issue arises if they ask whether all items in the car belong to me. Jun 26 at 22:27
  • 17
    If you knowingly leave somebody else's drug paraphernalia IN YOUR CAR when you cross the Canadian border, you are an absolute nutter. I've had a car searched for much less, like the time the customs officer smelled something funny and tore apart my brother's car, eventually finding the old half cup of ice cream under the seat that was causing the smell. Jun 27 at 0:20
  • 2
    @WoJ in immigration matters its better to avoid any stories in the first place. No drugs in the vehicle, end of story.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 27 at 16:21
  • 2
    @WoJ there's not that many places to hide stuff in the car unless you bring tools into the picture, which a random addict would never bother doing for someone else's car. Yeah, you should look between/under the seats but that's the end of it. There are no magical invisible compartments in the car to stash drugs. I'd rather spend half an hour with a vacuum than waste 1+ hours at the border explaining my weird story and possibly putting a black mark on my travel profile.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 27 at 16:39
6

I assume you reported the break-in to the police? If your intent was to report this situation to the authorities, that would have been the time to do so.

While I agree that the border patrol are likely to be the least sympathetic, I don't think there is a de facto answer to how a given police force (local, municipal, CBP, etc...) would react; it will likely depend on the precinct and officer who takes your report.

The right thing to do is to report the abandoned items, but the smart thing to do is to avoid the unpredictability of the authorities and scan your car for additional items and clear them out.

Realistically, if a razor/works/pipe fell out of a perp's pocket, then that is probably all there is to find. It might give you peace of mind to have your car deep cleaned, but I think that it is unlikely to affect the end result. I sincerely do not think that CBP is looking for trace amounts of residue so much as they are looking for transporters who are trying to smuggle a stash for fun or profit.

If you feel truly concerned about ensuring that this incident is reported to an authority, then consider consulting a lawyer.

Best of luck!

5
  • 1
    A drug sniffing dog will react to those trace amounts of residue, so it's right to be concerned. I don't know how common it is to have drug sniffing dogs at border crossings though. Jun 28 at 4:31
  • Thanks, I submitted an online police report. Jun 28 at 20:03
  • @MarkRansom a dog that sensitive to drugs would be useless in practice due to how many people use drugs routinely. It would bark at something like 10% of all cars.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 28 at 21:10
  • @JonathanReez you're assuming they care about accuracy. All they want is an excuse to search you if they get suspicious. Jun 28 at 21:55
  • @MarkRansom then whether or not a drug addict left drugs in their cars previously wouldn't matter
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 28 at 22:12
2

As pointed out by a commentor here,

To CBP this is a "the dog ate my homework" story.

I know, love and trust Franck. I know the story is true.

The simple fact is, if you told this story to a thousand humans, 999 would snicker and assume it's a story.

1000/1000 border agents will give you maximum grief.

(The notion of "cleaning" the car mentioned a few times on this page is risible. Dip the entire car in a swimming pool of vodka for two weeks, and the dog will just say to it's handler "Huh - this guy tried the vodka swimming pool trick, he must be a serious dealer.")

3
  • 3
    I'd note that drug sniffing dogs are far less efficient in practice than law enforcement wants us to believe. Its easy to boast on TV about how good they are, but real life is harder: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24631776 (see the mention of car searches).
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 27 at 18:25
  • 1
    @JonathanReez I once had a car share car where I found some weed from the previous user. I know it was the previous user because he was there trying to get his weed when I picked up the car. A drug sniffing dog took a bit of an interest in me two weeks later at the baggage claim, but not enough of an interest for the officer to do anything about it. When my wife and I were talking about it on the way home, we realized that I was wearing the same trousers I'd worn in the weed car -- but they'd been washed twice since then.
    – phoog
    Jun 27 at 19:55
  • 4
    @phoog a dog that sensitive would be pretty useless in practice as too many people smoke/handle weed these days. As mentioned, the police loves to make people believe they've got ultra high tech tools (or dogs in this case) that will catch every single criminal but reality is far more disappointing.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 27 at 21:10
0

The police would MUCH rather just take the drugs. I used to work at a facility that handled controlled medications. One of my responsibilities was to take the medications of past patients to the police station so that they could have them destroyed. This is a win/win for the police and they are not likely to press into your story for two reasons:

  1. They don't want the drugs on the street, so they will happily take them
  2. They don't have to go anywhere to get the drugs: you are surrendering them.

Possession is a crime, but it is not unheard of for druggies to forget things in places... even their drugs. Therefore, according to your story, since the possession was not your choice or the result of any actions of yours and since you are giving them the drugs, they will likely just take them and not worry about you. It's not worth it to chase after someone if they are giving up drugs. Do drug mules just give their drugs to the police without being caught first? NO, that would make for a TERRIBLE mule! That is the opposite of what a mule does. Hell, the police would LOVE it if every mule did that because then their streets would be cleaner.

For future readers, it's smarter to forget the bias, at least temporarily, and surrender the drugs to the police.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.