After they executed several search warrants in central Georgia, authorities seized forty pounds of high-grade marijuana, digital scales, multiple firearms, and over $125,000 in cash.
Law enforcement had multiple search warrants were issued for residences involved in the drug trafficking rings.
“While the investigation is still underway, narcotic investigators believe that they have already dealt a large blow to the Jordan Gaines drug organization and marijuana trafficking industry in Houston County and Middle Georgia,” Houston County District Attorney William Kendall said in a release. “All charges are being referred to the Houston County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.”
Multi-agency anti-drug operations, like Operation Green Machine, have lots of moving parts and cost lots of money. Both these features create opportunities for a Marietta criminal defense lawyer to create a reasonable doubt in the mind of one juror. Legally, that’s all that’s necessary to obtain a not-guilty verdict in court.
Text messaging and emailing has eased many of the communication problems that traditionally affect large investigations in multiple counties. An email is instant, like a phone call, and verifiable, like a letter. But expanded technology cannot force an investigator to open an email or read a text. Technology also cannot change the “king of the hill” mentality that also plagues these investigations.
Many law enforcement officers only grudgingly accept outside help, even from other law enforcement officers. They often believe that such assistance is basically an indictment of their ability to do their job. Soldiers on the battlefield are usually relived when reinforcements arrive. But to some law enforcement officers, reinforcements are more like replacements that we had to call in because you couldn’t get the job done.
These communication problems often create search warrant problems. Frequently, an officer doesn’t file supporting documents or other paperwork because the officer assumes someone else did it. More on that below.
Additionally, multi-agency investigations involve lots of overtime and other program costs. When people invest a substantial amount of money, they expect a substantial return. In the War on Drugs, the only “return” is a headline-grabbing arrest. Many officers take shortcuts to make such an arrest.
Search Warrant Issues
Back in colonial times, British authorities used blank search warrants to randomly search personal property. American colonists greatly resented this intrusion. So, when colonists started calling the shots, they passed the Fourth Amendment. Under this provision, as well as subsequent federal law, search warrants must be specific. They must also be based on probable cause affidavits.
General search warrants are usually illegal. Instead, the warrant must specify the area of the dwelling to be searched (e.g. the living room) and the target of that search (e.g. marijuana). Officers usually cannot get a warrant for a house and turn everything upside-down until they find contraband.
During press conferences, police officers usually lay all seized items on a single table. This action implies that they were all found together. However, that’s frequently not the case. In the above story, the forty pounds of marijuana was most likely spread among several different locales. The amount of drugs in any one defendant’s possession makes it easier for a Marietta criminal defense lawyer to defend drug trafficking charges against that individual.
On a related note, warrants are dwelling specific. If the probable cause affidavit indicates that drugs are in the garage, officers cannot search the house. That’s especially true if the garage is detached from the house.
Probable cause affidavits could be an issue as well. Frequently, these warrants over-rely on paid informer testimony. That’s especially true in drug cases. Officers often promise to drop possession or other charges against the “little fish” if they provide information about the “big fish.” Many people will say almost anything in these situations.
Such informer testimony is very hard to authenticate. These snitches usually have no track record to evaluate. Therefore, judges often look for corroborating evidence. Since probable cause is such a low standard of proof, a little evidence goes a long way. For example, if the informant gets the time of a drug transaction right, the tips are more reliable, even if they’re unrelated to that specific transaction.
Accuracy is not a relevant factor. Prosecutors cannot work backwards and argue that since the information was accurate, the tip was reliable. Each tip stands or falls based on the facts known at the time.
Civil Forfeiture Proceedings
Did you ever wonder what happens to seized property? It usually ends up at police auctions. Cash-strapped local law enforcement agencies usually don’t have enough money to pay for large initiatives like Operation Green Machine. Forfeited property sales often generate the necessary revenue.
While law enforcement strongly defends broad forfeiture laws, opponents condemn them as policing for profit. One advocacy group gave Georgia a D- for its broad forfeiture laws. The burden of proof in these matters (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is very low, third-party owners have few rights in these proceedings, and law enforcement keeps 100 percent of forfeiture-generated money.
Generally, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer negotiates a buyback with prosecutors. It’s wrong for defendants to buy their own property from the state, but this option is better than losing that property permanently, which is what would probably happen otherwise.
Drug Trafficking Prosecutions
We hinted at some of the procedural and substantive defenses in drug trafficking cases above. Now, let’s look at them in detail.
If officers didn’t have a valid warrant that’s based on probable cause, a Cobb County judge must exclude the seized evidence. No physical evidence means no case. The prosecution collapses like a house of cards. Occasionally, a search warrant exception, like plain view, is available. But these exceptions rarely apply in drug trafficking cases.
Additionally, the state must have enough evidence to prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Even if the judge admits all the seized evidence, it might not be enough to meet this high burden of proof. That’s especially true if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer presents a reasonable alternative theory to the jury. For example, many people keep large amounts of cash because they don’t trust banks, particularly in the wake of the SVB failure.
Drug trafficking charges often don’t hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal law attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.