In the 1980s, possession cases accounted for about 5 percent of all drug arrests. Since then, that proportion has grown to over 80 percent. Police officers are more aggressive when it comes to possession cases, but many Crow Wing County jurors are more forgiving. Increasingly, people view drugs as a health and safety issues as opposed to a criminal law issue. That’s especially true with regard to semi-legal drugs, like marijuana and prescription painkillers.
Partially because of this attitude, it’s easier for Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers to successfully resolve these cases, particularly if the defendant has little or no criminal record. Additionally, as outlined below, drug possession charges are difficult to prove in court.
Produce the Substance
According to an obscure legal principle called the best evidence rule, a police officer’s testimony that a defendant had drugs is usually not good enough, unless there is corroborating physical evidence. And, just because officers seize contraband, that doesn’t mean the substance is admissible.
Normally, physical evidence is inadmissible unless officers have search warrants. Since officers rarely bother with search warrants in possession cases, they must rely on a search warrant exception. Some common ones in these cases include:
Consent: Officers cannot look in backpacks, glove compartments, or other containers without the owner’s permission. Typically, consent is an affirmative, immediate act. However, different rules sometimes apply if the defendant was on probation or parole.
Exigent Circumstances: Police officers can disrupt parties or other gatherings if they believe someone is in trouble. In these cases, they can perform a safety sweep and seize any contraband they see in plain view.
Plain View: As the name implies, if officers see drugs or other contraband in plain view, they may seize it without a warrant. Partial plain view cases, such as a pistol grip protruding from under a car seat, are in a grey area.
Judges usually determine if contraband is admissible during pretrial hearings. Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers can use previous cases to show that the seizure was illegal. If the evidence is admissible, the case moves to the next area.
Brainerd, MN Drug Crime Lawyers and Proof of Illegality
Officers always claim that substances “field-tested” positive as illegal drugs. These field tests are completely unscientific. Frequently, they are not much more than sensory tests. Additionally, these tests are completely uncorroborated. There are usually no actual test results. Frequently, it’s just the officer’s word.
So, these preliminary tests are never conclusive. In December 2018, police arrested a Florida man was arrested on heroin possession charges. That “heroin” turned out to be laundry detergent.
The lesson from cases like this one is clear. A Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyer must always order scientific tests from an independent laboratory.
This element is particularly complicated in marijuana possession cases. Industrial hemp is legal, and recreational marijuana is illegal. The problem is that hemp and marijuana are physically indistinguishable. They look alike and smell alike.
To prove the substance was marijuana and not hemp, prosecutors must order expensive THC content tests. These tests are not cost-efficient in some cases, and not available in other cases. So, it’s even easier for Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers to resolve marijuana possession cases. Frequently, prosecutors would rather offer pretrial diversion or another alternative in these cases, especially because of the aforementioned juror attitudes.
It’s not enough to produce the substance and prove it was illegal. Crow Wing County prosecutors must also establish possession. And, they must establish it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the everyday world, possession usually means proximity. I possess my smartphone even if it’s on the table instead of in my hand. But to Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers, possession means more than proximity. Prosecutors must also establish knowledge and control.
Assume officers pull over Freddy for speeding. They suspect wrongdoing, and Freddy gives them consent to search the car. During that search, officers find marijuana in the glove compartment. So, they arrest Freddy and Shaggy, who was a passenger.
The possession charges against Shaggy will not hold up in court unless the state proves Shaggy knew there was marijuana in the glove box and he had access to it. Unless Freddy and Shaggy were practically joined at the hip, a Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyer could probably beat the charges against Shaggy, even if the substance turned out to be marijuana instead of hemp.