By Attorney Paul J. Dickman on Friday, July 22, 2011
Over 70 alleged drug dealers were arrested in a massive drug round up in Covington, Kentucky this week, with the help of the DEA, FBI, and the U.S. Marshall Service. The individuals were allegedly trafficking in crack cocaine, prescription pills, marijuana and heroin.
Even though these individuals have been rounded up and arrested – they are still presumed innocent- and the Government still carries the burden of proving them guilty – with evidence that has been collected and preserved in a manner consistent with our Constitution.
In many cases evidence supporting drug trafficking charges is obtained by confidential informants conducting controlled buys. These buys are generally recorded on audio or video tape, and are usually conducted using marked currency. In many cases warrants for wiretaps are obtained to monitor communications regarding possible drug trafficking. Warrants for cell phone and computer searches, as well as searches of homes and businesses can also be used by the authorities to obtain evidence in these types of cases.
Of course, investigating authorities need probable cause to obtain these warrants. In cases where no probable cause existed, or where the searches were not conducted in accordance with the constitutional requirements regarding searches and seizures, evidence from such searches may be inadmissible at trial. In these cases charges may be reduced or even dismissed, depending what kind of evidence can be admitted at trial.
Statements made by those charged in these crimes can also be used against them. Once an individual has been detained by police, and has been read his or her Miranda rights, any statements made thereafter during police interrogation can also be used as evidence against them. Voluntary statements made by Defendants are also frequently used against them – for example when Defendants make calls from jail on recorded phone lines, they may make statements which could used against them. These statements are usually admissible at trial.
The trafficking charges can range from D felonies to B felonies, with penalties ranging from 1 to 20 years in prison. The range of penalties depends on the amount of drugs sold, the type of drugs involved, the location of the alleged drug sales, the age of those involved in the transactions, and the criminal history of the alleged traffickers.
Kentucky’s new drug law, House Bill 463 may have an effect on how some of these Defendants are treated. That law reduces sentences for small-time drug dealers -if convicted. For example, under House Bill 463, sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.
While it my seem obvious that these individuals are indeed guilty- their presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of our justice system. It is critical that investigating authorities abide by the constitutional requirements in their search for – and the collection of evidence. From a public policy standpoint – failing to abide by those limitations- no matter how noble the cause may be – can only result in a failure of our criminal justice system.
After all, a successful prosecution means absolutely nothing without a vigorous defense to test the mettle and the integrity of the evidence.