Harsh drug possession penalties might be one of the last vestiges of the 1980s war on drugs, which probably began with the heartbreaking 1986 drug overdose death of Len Bias. Most observers said the University of Maryland standout was as good as Michael Jordan, or maybe even better.
That year, Bias was the first-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. If he had joined a club which already had five Hall of Famers (Bill Walton, Robert Parrish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Larry Bird), there’s no telling how good those teams might have been.
According to witnesses, immediately after Bias did one line of cocaine at a party, he slumped over and died. In response, and since 1986 was an election year, Congress passed incredibly tough drug possession laws.
Now, attitudes have changed. During his eight years in office, former President Barack Obama pardoned over 3,000 individuals, many of who received excessive drug possession sentences. Nevertheless, these laws are still on the books, at least for the most part. So, a St. Paul drug crimes attorney must aggressively defend these charges in court.
These defenses are often very effective in drug possession cases. Police officers cannot turn back the clock and correct procedural mistakes they made earlier in the process. And, the exclusionary rule is quite clear. If the evidence was illegally obtained, it is inadmissible at trial. No evidence means no case.
Physical evidence, like drugs, often involves an informer’s tip. Someone sees something and informs police officers. To evaluate the reliability of these tips, courts look at several factors, such as:
Ramsey County prosecutors cannot work backward. Even if the tip lead to an arrest, it could still be unreliable. The ends do not justify the means.
Failure to properly Mirandaize the defendant is another possible procedural defense. Police officers must give defendants their Miranda rights, such as the right to remain silent, when custodial interrogation begins. Generally, people are in “custody” when they do not feel free to leave. That could be as soon as flashing lights appear in the rearview mirror. Additionally, “interrogation” is not limited to asking drug-related questions. Experienced officers know how to extract information without asking questions.
Finally, if officers do not have search warrants, and they usually don’t have them in drug possession cases, a search warrant exception must apply. Some common ones are:
Frequently, officers bully owners to obtain consent (e.g. “if you don’t let me in I’ll get a warrant”). That’s usually an empty threat. If officers had probable cause to enter, they wouldn’t ask for consent.
Officers always testify that the substance “field tested” positive for marijuana, cocaine, or whatever. Frequently, this unscientific “field test” is not much more than a visual inspection. In late 2018, a Florida man was arrested and charged with trafficking heroin. The heroin turned out to be Tide detergent. So, a St. Paul drug crimes attorney must always demand a scientific re-test.
Here in Minnesota, this issue often comes up in marijuana possession cases. Hemp is legal, but marijuana is illegal. If a St. Paul drug crimes lawyer has hemp in one hand and marijuana in the other, it’s impossible to tell the difference. Unless the state runs an expensive THC content test, prosecutors usually cannot establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the substance is illegal.
In this context, “possession” and “proximity” are not synonymous. In addition to proximity, Ramsey County prosecutors must establish the other two elements of possession, which are:
So, a defendant could literally be sitting on a stash of drugs and not legally possess it. Prosecutors must establish possession beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of evidence in the law.
Drug possession charges are serious and complex. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul drug crimes attorney, contact Capitol City Law Group, LLC. Go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.