Many people are familiar with the tragic story of Len Bias. In the early 1980s, Bias was a basketball star at the University of Maryland. Some people said he was better than Michael Jordan. Based on Bias’ highlight reel, they might have been right. In 1986, the Boston Celtics made Bias their number one pick. At a celebratory party, Bias did one line of cocaine, laid down, and died.
Before then, most people believed that doing a line or two of cocaine was like drinking a few six packs. These things weren’t healthy, but they weren’t harmful either. Bias’ death changed that perception, especially among lawmakers. More on that below.
Drug possession cases require a special kind of Marietta criminal defense lawyer. These matters have both legal and practical aspects. Obviously, a lawyer always tries to reduce the direct and collateral consequences of a criminal case as much as possible. However, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer must also be aware of the surrounding circumstances. The last thing anyone wants, including the defendant, is to be back in court a few months or years down the line.
Procedurally, most cocaine possession cases go to Cobb County’s drug court. Defendants without criminal records are often eligible for pretrial diversion. Other defendants must have a defense to avoid the harsh penalties in these cases.
As mentioned, Bias died in 1986. That was an election year during the height of the Reagan years. Thus, many lawmakers were anxious to impress voters and “get tough” on criminals. Congress wound up passing extremely harsh mandatory minimum sentences. A little cocaine residue often meant a lengthy prison sentence.
Those days are gone now. Congress has rolled back some, but not all, of these harsh penalties. Additionally, former President Barak Obama pardoned several thousand people who were sentenced under these harsh laws.
Nevertheless, a cocaine possession conviction is no walk in the park. Possession under one gram of cocaine, which is about an eighth of a sugar packet, could mean three years in prison. Possession under four grams could mean eight years. Possession under 28 grams is a maximum fifteen years. Anything above 28 grams/milliliters is a trafficking offense.
Vehicle Possession Charges
Occasionally, officers arrest people in their homes as they are using cocaine. But much more frequently, officers catch people in their cars, either immediately before or immediately after they use cocaine. Such stops involve some intricate legal issues.
Initially, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain a motorist. A mere hunch that the defendant doesn’t “look right” will not hold up in court. As a practical matter, however, most officers zero in on defendants who don’t “look right” and follow them until they roll through stop signs or commit other minor traffic violations.
Next, an officer must have probable cause to arrest a driver. Probable cause must be evidence of a specific offense. Rolling through a stop sign is unrelated to cocaine possession. Probable cause for possession usually means catching the defendant in flagrante delicto (red-handed) with cocaine.
Some officers rely on physical symptoms of prior use, such as a red nose or bloodshot eyes. These symptoms might be sufficient for DUI-drugs, but it’s not enough to prove possession. Using cocaine isn’t against the law. Neither is an addiction.
Officers must also have probable cause to search vehicles. If the defendant has cocaine residue on his/her face, that’s most likely probable cause. Other times, officers rely on probable cause exceptions, such as:
- Consent: Owners and apparent owners may agree to property searches. “Apparent owners” are people like roommates who are not on the lease. “Agreement” is an affirmative, voluntary action. Subtle agreement or coerced agreement doesn’t count.
- Plain View: Officers may seize any contraband in a car they see in plain view. At this point, the contraband must only pass the eyeball test. The seized substance must look like cocaine. This exception requires a legal stop, as outlined above.
- Exigent Circumstances: This exception, which is also called the emergency exception, doesn’t arise in vehicle searches very frequently. Occasionally, however, officers stop drivers who are passed out behind the wheel and obstructing traffic. In these situations, officers may seize contraband they see in plain view.
Drug possession cases usually have a scientific element as well. In court, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the seized substance was, in fact, cocaine. There are a number of white, powdery substances in your pantry at this very moment. Additionally, sometimes cocaine has so many adulterants and diluents that it doesn’t qualify as a controlled substance.
Getting tough on criminals impressed many voters in the 80s. Getting tough on criminals impresses prosecutorial supervisors today. Convicting lots of defendants of the most serious possible charges is the best way to move up the corporate ladder. So, prosecutors look for enhancements at every opportunity. Sometimes, they get overaggressive. Drug-free zone enhancements are a good example.
This enhancement applies if the offense took place within 1,000 feet of a school. That’s about three football fields. A first offense could mean twenty years in prison. So, when these cases hit their desks, many prosecutors immediately pull out their GPS gadgets.
However, this possession enhancement often doesn’t hold up in court. The defendant must possess cocaine and intend to distribute it. Being in a motor vehicle and having cocaine in a baggy is evidence on this point, but it probably won’t convince anyone beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the alleged distribution must involve money changing hands. Again, prosecutors must prove this element beyond a reasonable doubt.
Cocaine possession charges could involve several defenses. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.