Under various names and iterations, the “war on drugs” has been in full force since 1914. That was when Congress passed the first-of-its-kind Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Since the number of arrests is the only real yardstick of victory, Minnesota law enforcement agencies make as many arrests as they can.
Because of this intense pressure, law enforcement sometimes takes shortcuts during the arrest process. These shortcuts sometimes give Brainerd lawyers major tactical advantages when these cases get closer to trial.
However, even if there are no defenses, it may be possible to have the case dismissed. U.S. drug policy has softened somewhat in recent years, and the legal process in Crow Wing County reflects these changes.
Brainerd Lawyers, Search Warrants, and Related Issues
In major methamphetamine and other drug interdictions, the search warrant is usually the culmination of weeks or months of investigation. By this time, multiple agencies have often invested thousands of man hours into the effort. So, in the final rush to “get the bad guy,” illegal shortcuts are common.
Under the Fourth Amendment, officers must have probable cause to obtain search warrants. That probable cause almost always comes from an informer’s tip. Prior to 1983, the Supreme Court used a set system to evaluate these tips. But today, Crow Wing County judges use a totality of the circumstances analysis. They evaluate these tips based on several different factors, including:
- Specificity: Does the warrant affidavit contain general information about suspected drug transactions in a certain neighborhood? Or, does the affidavit rely on specific instances that the informer actually witnessed and information that the informer actually knows?
- Time: Drug transaction tips have extremely short shelf lives. Information that may have been accurate on Monday is often completely outdated by Wednesday.
- Source: Police officers often pay tipsters thousands of dollars for inside information. In many cases, such fees are justifiable, because these tipsters sometimes risk everything to provide information. But in many other cases, huge sums of money simply cast a shadow over the information provided.
The ends never justify the means in these cases. Brainerd lawyers can never argue that the tip must have been valid because it turned out to be accurate. Informers tips stand, or fail, based on their own merits.
Probable cause is not enough. The search warrant must also be specific as to the items to search for and the places to search. Unless a search warrant exception applies, if the warrant states that drugs are in the garage, officers cannot look for guns in the living room.
The list of search warrant exceptions is quite extensive. In fact, the exceptions may swallow the general rule. Some common ones include:
- Consent: Many people do not know that if an officer asks to search your house or car, they have an absolute right to say “no.” Officers usually threaten to get warrants in these situations. But many times, that’s just a bluff. If the officer had probable cause for a warrant, the officer probably wouldn’t ask for consent.
- Plain View: If officers see contraband in plain view, they may seize it. This exception assumes that the officer has the legal right to be in that place. In the aforementioned garage/living room example, the officers probably do not have the legal right to be in the living room, as it is completely separate from the garage.
Other search warrant exceptions, which do not come up in drug cases very often, include the weapons pat-down and exigent circumstances exceptions.
Many times, officers try to blow up drug possession cases into drug trafficking cases. They do so by seizing additional items like:
- Baggies, and
Warrant specificity may be an issue. If the warrant says “drugs,” Brainerd lawyers can object if officers search for something else. Additionally, there is sometimes no connection between drugs and trafficking paraphernalia.
Establishing Possession in Court
Drug possession cases have different problems. For example, if an officer seizes drugs in a car’s glove compartment, the officer may arrest every occupant in the car. This approach artificially raises the number of drug-related arrests.
But such police dragnets often do not hold up in court. There is more to possession than mere proximity. Prosecutors must also establish the following:
- Knowledge: The defendant must know that there were drugs in the glove compartment. This knowledge must be specific and credible. Knowledge that “something illegal is in the glove compartment” is insufficient, as is speculation from a fellow passenger.
- Accessibility: Many glove boxes have locks. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the glove compartment was unlocked, there may be insufficient evidence on this point. The same result may apply if the defendant was in the back seat of the car.
The consent exception is sometimes an issue in auto search cases. Officers must obtain consent from someone with apparent authority. In most cases, that means the driver.
Call Today To Speak With A Brainerd Criminal Defense Lawyer From Carlson & Jones
Drug cases are in no way “slam dunk” convictions. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd criminal defense lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.