A 43-year-old Alabama man faces up to twenty years in prison for alleged fentanyl trafficking in the Peach State.
Court documents state that the Tifton County Sheriff’s Office initiated an investigation into the possible distribution of fentanyl, heroin, and other illegal drugs within the local community.
During the investigation, Tifton investigators searched a Howard Johnson motel room in Tifton, where the defendant resided. Officers met him as he exited the motel room with 32 bags of a brown substance and blue pills labeled “M 30.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the substances tested positive for 8.544 grams of fentanyl. According to the DEA, two milligrams of fentanyl, nearly the same amount as 10-15 grains of table salt, is a lethal dose. Based on that research, the defendant possessed nearly 4,272 lethal doses of fentanyl.
The Tifton County Sheriff’s Office and the GBI investigated White’s case, and Assistant U. S. Attorney Hannah Couch is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.
During the early days of the War on Drugs in the 1960s, authorities focused on large-scale distribution of cocaine and other extremely dangerous drugs. Fifty years later, as the opioid epidemic intensified, the focus shifted to illegal possession of prescription painkillers, like Oxycontin. Fentanyl basically combines both aspects of these different focuses.
At very low dosage, fentanyl has a number of medical uses. In fact, this drug is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. The drug is an easy-to-use surgical anesthetic. If a woman received an epidural during labor and delivery, the epidural probably contained fentanyl.
Mostly, however, fentanyl is a painkiller. Doctors prescribe it for breakthrough pain and chronic pain. Fentanyl is also a palliative drug (reducing pain and suffering for people with extremely serious chronic illnesses).
If prosecutors are correct in the above case, the arrested man probably didn’t plan to use fentanyl for any approved purpose. The cheap drug is 100 times stronger than morphine. A slight overdoes, and we do mean slight, causes:
- Respiratory Depression: Decreased sensitivity to carbon dioxide drastically reduces the breathing rate, which can cause anoxic brain injury or death. A simple endotracheal tube practically eliminates this risk. But most people don’t have endotracheal tubes when they use high fentanyl doses in back alleys.
- Heart Attack: Bradycardia, a condition similar to respiratory depression, is increased brain stem activity which lowers the heart rate. Fentanyl also vasodilates arterial and venous blood vessels through a central mechanism, by primarily slowing down vasomotor centers in the brainstem.
- Wooden Chest Syndrome: The first two side-effects, as bad as they are, pale in comparison to this one. Sudden and unexplained rigidity of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles hastens the respiratory depression and heart attack side-effects. Only a powerful dose of naloxone reverses wooden chest syndrome, a condition that’s usually fatal within minutes.
As fentanyl misuse became more widespread, overdose deaths skyrocketed from 2,600 in 2011 to over 75,000 in 2021.
Because of these shocking effects and numbers, prosecutors aggressively pursue fentanyl possession cases, and especially fentanyl distribution cases. To avoid extremely harsh penalties, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer must quickly identify any possible defenses. Mostly due to political pressure, prosecutors usually don’t offer favorable deals in these cases unless a defense lawyer backs them into a corner.
Large and Small Drug Investigations
Many large fentanyl investigations are up-the-ladder investigations. Police officers nab small-time dealers on streetcorners and interrogate them until they provide names. Then it’s lather, rinse, repeat until investigators arrest Mr. Big.
Large-scale investigations eat up lots of resources. As these investigations proceed, officers are under enormous pressure to nab Mr. Big. So, they often take shortcuts. When police officers make procedural mistakes, prosecutors pay the price.
A search warrant that over-relies on informer testimony is a good illustration. Let’s go back to the streetcorner dealer. If officers promise leniency, most of us would throw almost anyone under the bus in that situation. So, the Mr. Big identification is unreliable.
Note that there’s a difference between accuracy and reliability. A broken clock is accurate twice a day, but it’s not reliable.
A few additional words about hotel searches. Technically, the hotel owns the room, so the hotel clerk can give officers permission to search the room. However, most courts agree that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in hotel rooms. So, the “we asked the hotel owner” argument usually doesn’t hold up in court.
Other times, officers stumble upon large fentanyl stashes, often during traffic stops. If officers didn’t have warrants, and they usually didn’t in these situations, prosecutors rely on the plain view exception to the warrant requirement.
Officers may seize contraband in plain view, as long as they were legally in that place at that time. So, to beat the plain view exception, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer usually challenges the legality of the stop. Officers must have reasonable suspicion, which is more than a mere hunch, to detain and question motorists.
Resolving Serious Drug Crime Cases
Probation is basically nonexistent at the federal level. But probation is available in state court, even in serious drug crime cases. The probation option opens two big doors for a Marietta criminal defense lawyer: deferred disposition and dearly discharge.
Deferred disposition is a special kind of probation that, in the end, doesn’t stain the defendant’s permanent record. At a plea hearing, the defendant pleads guilty or no contest and the judge accepts that plea. However, the judge doesn’t say the magic words “I find you guilty of X.” Instead, the judge defers that finding until the probation period ends.
At that point, if the defendant had a good probation record, the judge dismisses the case. The arrest record remains. But people can legally say “no” to criminal record questions on job applications, mortgage documents, and so on.
Deferred disposition often goes hand-in-hand with early discharge. Probation terms are very long in Georgia, so some violations are almost inevitable. The sooner probation ends, the easier it is to finish with a good record.
Drug crimes have serious consequences, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.