A Marietta man faces multiple felony charges after he picked up several boxes at a local post office which contained several thousand prescription painkiller and muscle relaxer pills. In a subsequent search, police found even more evidence in the man’s vehicle.
Customs officials at New York’s Kennedy Airport became suspicious when they intercepted ten boxes marked “supplements.” They opened the boxes and found over 17,000 Tramadol pills and 2,000 Soma pills. As soon as 40-year-old Don Johnson picked up the boxes at the Lawrence Street Post Office, authorities arrested him. Police then searched Johnson’s car and found over 2,000 more prescription pills, mostly Soma muscle relaxers.
Johnson told investigators that he conspired with an unknown person over WhatsApp to smuggle these drugs into the country. So, the investigation is still going on.
Types of Prescription Drug Crimes
Until fairly recently, many Cobb County law enforcement agencies did not even consider painkiller abuse to be a criminal matter, even though it was technically illegal. But the opioid epidemic changed everything. Today, opioid overdoses kill over 40,000 Americans a year. So, authorities aggressively arrest and prosecute people for prescription drug crimes. You do not have to have 29,000 pills or even 29 pills. One or two suffice.
Some common prescription drug crimes include:
- Possession Without a Valid Prescription: Commonly, police officers pull over motorists for traffic violations. During questioning, these people admit they have prescription drugs that someone gave or sold to them.
- Possession with Intent to Distribute: A large quantity of pills usually indicates intent to distribute. But authorities could press such charges even if the defendant only has one or two pills. There must be supporting evidence as well, such as baggies, cash, or scales.
- Forgery: This offense, which is usually a felony, covers a wide range of activities. Some people alter prescription labels to increase the number of refills or change the name of the patient. Other people impersonate a doctor’s office when a pharmacist calls to confirm a prescription.
- Fraud: This offense, which is normally a misdemeanor, is also called doctor shopping. It’s illegal to go from one doctor to another in search of pain pills or other prescription medication, whether or not the person has an illness or injury.
Most Cobb County prescription drug cases go to designated drug courts. These prosecutors have special training in this area, so they are very tough. The good news is that pretrial diversion programs are more readily available in drug court. So, even if the defendant is charged with a felony, it may be possible to go through the system and come out with no criminal conviction.
Prescription Pain Pills and DUI
The above activities are only illegal if the defendant did not have a valid prescription. However, it’s always illegal to drive under the influence of any drug, prescribed or not. In fact, it’s also illegal to drive under the influence of certain over-the-counter medicines, like Sominex or NyQuil.
Typically, when officers pull over motorists for traffic violations or detain them at DUI checkpoints, they look for evidence of drug impairment, such as bloodshot eyes or glazed eyes. Officers also normally ask people if they have been taking drugs, and their answers are usually admissible in court.
Next, since there is no Breathalyzer test for drugs, officers normally administer field sobriety tests. The three approved FSTs are:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Certain intoxicating drugs cause nystagmus, which is involuntary pupil movements when people track moving objects simply by moving their eyes. However, lots of other things cause nystagmus as well. In fact, this condition, which is also called lazy eye, is actually fairly common.
- Walk and Turn: It’s extremely difficult to walk a straight line heel-to-toe in anything other than athletic shoes and not use arms at all for balance, whether the defendant is drunk or sober. It’s even more difficult to walk an imaginary line as opposed to an actual line.
- One-Leg Stand: Officers are supposed to ask people if they have an illness or injury before they administer this test, but they do not always do so. Furthermore, officers often testify that defendants “failed” this test because of minor technicalities, like dropping the elevated leg a little too early.
In court, Cobb County prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant failed the FSTs because the defendant was intoxicated, and not because the defendant was tired, nervous, or clumsy.
Felony drug crimes and DUI are probably two of the most serious crimes in Georgia. It is much easier to obtain a successful resolution in these cases if the defendant has a defense. A Marietta criminal defense attorney can leverage these defenses during pretrial settlement negotiations, and at trial as well.
Prescription drug cases usually involve procedural defenses. In DUI cases, officers cannot detain motorists unless they see a crime in progress. That crime could be something unrelated to prescription drug intoxication, like a traffic violation. But a hunch is probably not enough. An anonymous tip about an intoxicated driver is probably not enough either.
Possession and trafficking cases usually involve either search warrants or search warrant exceptions. Both warrants and exceptions must meet very specific legal standards. For example, search warrants must be based on probable cause. And, search warrant exceptions, like plain view, only apply in limited situations. Specifically, it’s very hard to search someone’s car after an arrest.
Procedural defenses are effective because they are black and white. If there is any grey area, the judge must normally side with the defendant, because of the presumption of innocence. Furthermore, if there was a procedural mistake, prosecutors cannot go back in time and correct it.
Reach Out to an Experienced Lawyer
Even if you have a valid prescription, pain pill use can cause significant legal troubles. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.