A federal judge has so far sentenced fifteen individuals to almost one-hundred sixty years in prison for their roles in a large methamphetamine distribution network.
“These individuals are being held accountable for their part in a significant methamphetamine trafficking network responsible for funneling more than 100 kilograms of a highly addictive and deadly drug in Southwest Georgia,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will do our part to support law enforcement at every level to identify and bring to justice all those pushing large amounts of the most dangerous illegal substances into our communities.”
One additional defendant, who faces up to life in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced in late September 2022.
Guilty/No Contest Pleas and Sentencing Procedures
There’s an old saying that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” If you have a good thing, like a reduced sentence in a criminal case, it’s better to take it than to risk losing it on the hope of obtaining something better, like a not-guilty verdict at trial. This attitude isn’t always true, largely depending on the facts of the case, but it’s usually true.
During the Founding Fathers era, and for many years thereafter, trials resolved most criminal cases. As the country grew, taxpayers weren’t willing to pay for expanded justice infrastructure, like bigger courthouses and more judges. So, in the late 1800s, plea bargains became more common. One of the first recorded ones was in 1881. Californian Albert McKenzie, who allegedly embezzled $52 from his employer, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges to avoid felony charges.
Plea bargaining, which some attorneys call “ritual begging,” is much the same today. Defendants often plead guilty to reduce the charges against them. In the above story, many meth defendants faced life in prison. Since they pleaded guilty, at least they’ll get out someday.
Actually, many misdemeanor defendants plead “no contest” as opposed to “guilty.” A no contest plea, or nolo contendere for you Latin scholars, means the defendant doesn’t admit guilt but agrees to accept the court’s punishment.
Felony pleas usually require an allocution, which is Legalese for a profession of guilt. Some courts also require some defendants to provide the details of what they did.
Sentencing procedure is different in state and federal court. In state court, plea and sentencing usually happen at the same time, especially in misdemeanors. In federal court, defendants usually plead guilty, and judges sentence them a month or two later, after a pre-sentence investigation is complete.
The Levels of Drug Offenses
America’s War on Drugs may have peaked in the late 1980s, after the sudden drug overdose death of basketball phenom Len Bias. Many people thought Bias was as good, or better than, Michael Jordan. At a 1986 party, Bias did one line of cocaine, and his heart stopped. In response, Congress passed a number of tough laws which were motivated, in part, by shaky science and racism. President Obama later pardoned many individuals who received very harsh sentences in the 1990s.
The War on Drugs has cooled off, but it hasn’t stopped. Marietta criminal defense attorneys regularly deal with three basic kinds of drug offenses.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
PODP is usually a predicate offense that authorities don’t pursue in court. Technically, drug paraphernalia is any object used for doing drugs. That could include spoons and lighters. However, it’s very hard to prove such items were used for drug consumption. Therefore, most PODP cases involve roach clips, rolling paper, and other items more closely associated with drug use.
If officers see such an object in a car or anywhere else in plain view, they use the paraphernalia to justify a full search of the vehicle or other area. That’s especially true since the tried-and-true “I smelled marijuana” justification is now on shaky legal ground. Hemp, which is legal, has the same physical properties as marijuana. So, an odor of marijuana doesn’t necessarily indicate criminal activity.
Other times, PODP is a fallback offense. If officers see paraphernalia and don’t find drugs during a search, they can at least change the defendant with PODP. These charges usually get dismissed later, but at least the arrest is in the system, so the defendant is on police radar.
Misdemeanor or felony possession accounts for about 80 percent of the drug crime arrests in Cobb County. These cases have a lot of moving parts. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Proximity: This element is usually straightforward, especially in vehicle possession cases, which constitute most drug possession cases. Any illegal item in the passenger area, even a pickup truck’s bed or a car’s trunk, meets the proximity requirement.
- Knowledge: Proximity isn’t enough. In fact, the defendant could literally be sitting on drugs and not legally possess them. Lack of knowledge is easier to prove if the defendant didn’t know anyone else in the car or dwelling very well, so s/he probably didn’t know where drugs were stashed.
- Control: If the drugs were in a locked glove compartment or other container, unless the defendant had the key, the defendant didn’t control them. Lack of control could also be a defense if the defendant was in the front seat and the drugs were under the back seat.
If a legal defense could apply, prosecutors are often willing to make favorable plea deals. The aforementioned “bird in the hand” adage works both ways. Prosecutors would often rather convict defendants of something than risk letting them go at trial.
Drug trafficking infractions usually grab the headlines. But statistically, these cases are few and far between, mostly because they often require multi-agency investigations and search warrants.
On TV, law enforcement officers from different agencies work hand-in-hand to get the bad guy. The real world is different. King of the mountain territorial disputes are common and communication is usually poor.
Search warrants must be based on affidavits which demonstrate probable cause. The uncorroborated word of a snitch or a paid informer usually isn’t probable cause. Most people will say almost anything for love or money. The fact that officers found what they were looking for is irrelevant. The warrant affidavit stands or falls on its own.
There’s a difference between a criminal charge and a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense lawyer, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.