Authorities released few details about a yearlong investigation that resulted in eight arrests for drug trafficking and related charges.
During the investigation, which involved the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, officers executed twelve search warrants at locations across Augusta-Richmond County. They seized three kilograms of cocaine, 1.6 grams of methamphetamine, four pounds of marijuana, five firearms, $75,435 in cash, and five vehicles.
“This is a continuation of Sheriff Roundtree’s commitment to the disruption and dismantling of dangerous drug trafficking organizations in our community while also targeting those that support and enable these criminal drug trafficking enterprises,” the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Combined, these three agencies probably spent at least $45,000 on this long-term investigation. When politicians invest that kind of money, they expect to see a substantial return. In criminal investigations, that return means criminal arrests.
To make as many arrests as possible and justify that large investment, police officers often take shortcuts. They usually don’t care if these shortcuts enable a Marietta criminal defense lawyer to get a case thrown out of court. As far as they’re concerned, they did their jobs. Then, lazy prosecutors dropped the ball, and a sleazy defense lawyer got the defendants off on a technicality. That “technicality” happens to be the Bill of Rights.
Multiple agencies run up the investigative tab. Additionally, certain agencies often don’t play well with others. Electronic connections, like emails and IMs, have cured many of the communication problems that once plagued these investigations. However, the most expensive laptop at Best Buy cannot change the fact that different agencies have different agendas.
As these investigations near their conclusions, investigators obtain search warrants, so they may move in for the kill. Search warrants are only valid if the are based on affidavits that show probable cause.
An affidavit is a written document which contains the sworn statement of a police investigator with personal knowledge of the facts in that document. AN affidavit is not an email and certainly not a phone call. Furthermore, in most cases, the affidavit must contain the proper jurat (e.g. I swear this information is true and correct), and it must be signed in the presence of a court clerk or notary.
There’s no formal definition of probable cause, but it’s a very low standard that’s a little higher than a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer successfully challenges a search warrant affidavit, that challenge is usually based on technical grounds.
Usually, but not always. Many investigators over-rely on confidential informants. Many of the aforementioned costs are informer payments. The average informant earns almost $5,000 a month. When investigators offer that kind of money for a simple tip, many people will say almost anything to cash in.
Other informers work for free. They’re even more unreliable. Generally, investigators offer these CIs leniency in exchange for their testimony. Many people would roll over on their own mothers to avoid prison, especially if they know investigators aren’t too concerned with accuracy, as mentioned above.
Don’t get us wrong. Police informers take substantial risks, so they deserve substantial compensation. But a line must be drawn somewhere.
Drug Trafficking Charges
Investigators feel like they must make arrests to justify their budgets, and prosecutors feel like they must obtain serious convictions to move up the corporate ladder. So, they upgrade drug possession charges to drug trafficking charges whenever possible. A Marietta criminal defense attorney must know the law and aggressively challenge the evidence in these cases.
One way prosecutors make shaky drug trafficking cases hold up in court involves the overuse of Georgia’s broad RICO (Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations) law.
Assume Bud and Lou are the drug lords of Richmond County. If Dana and Chris work for Bud and Lou, prosecutors can charge all four of these individuals with drug trafficking, even if Dana and Chris were only couriers.
However, simple association isn’t enough. Instead, prosecutors must establish a pattern of RICO offenses. How many incidents over what period of time constitutes a pattern? The answer to this question is subjective, but it’s clearly not one or two incidents over one or two months.
In the above example, Dana and Chris are probably guilty of drug possession. But trafficking charges might not hold up in court. Nevertheless, prosecutors almost always file drug trafficking charges against Danas and Chrises. When the boss hands out raises and promotions, a drug trafficking conviction is much more impressive than a drug possession conviction.
Non-Drug Physical Evidence
Another method involves over-emphasizing circumstantial evidence. Note that, in the above story, investigators made a big deal out of the money and weapons they seized from these alleged drug dealers.
There’s not always a direct connection between drugs and other circumstantial evidence. Cash is a good example. Most likely, these guys didn’t have $75k sitting on their living room coffee table. Instead, most of that money was probably in bank accounts the alleged drug traffickers owned or controlled.
That amount of money certainly looks suspicious. But it’s not illegal to have money, and the connection between money and criminal activity is often tenuous. So, is that cash proof beyond a reasonable doubt that these guys were drug traffickers? Maybe.
On a related note, when law enforcement officers seize money or other property, they usually confiscate it, pursuant to Georgia’s forfeiture law. In a forfeiture proceeding, the state must only prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the property was connected with criminal activity. As mentioned above, this standard of evidence is extremely low. Aggressive use of forfeiture laws has been criticized by many, but nothing has changed.
Several defenses are available to serious drug trafficking charges. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal law attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.