Most Tarrant County drug crimes are simple possession cases. That’s true for 85 percent of drug cases overall, and over 90 percent of marijuana prosecutions.
These statistics are so high because possession arrests are easy to make. Officers pull over a driver for a busted taillight or investigate a reported disturbance, they find drugs, and that’s that.
However, drug possession cases are very difficult to win in court. Occasionally, a substantive defense applies. In December 2018, Florida police charged a man with heroin possession, but chemical tests established that the substance was Tide laundry detergent.
Procedural defenses are even more effective. Since officers are under great pressure to make drug arrests, they often take shortcuts. And, once they make procedural mistakes, it’s impossible for prosecutors to go back in time to correct them. So, the case essentially collapses.
No Miranda Warnings
Most people know about the Miranda rights. Before custodial interrogation begins, officers must inform suspects of some of the Constitutional rights (you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney, etc).
“Custodial interrogation” is one of those legal phrases which has no precise definition. Basically, it means the police are asking questions and the suspect is not free to leave. This part of the law enforcement contact usually begins before the arrest. For example, if they get pulled over, most people do not feel like they are free to leave, especially after questioning begins. Yet officers hardly ever read people their rights at this point.
If officers did not properly Mirandize the defendant, any statements the defendant makes, including the presence of drugs, are inadmissible in court.
Improper Search Warrant Exception
As mentioned, possession drug crimes usually start with unrelated police contacts. So, officers hardly ever have search warrants. Therefore, prosecutors must establish that a recognized search warrant exception applies. Some common ones include:
Plain View: If officers are lawfully at a certain place and if they see drugs or contraband in plain sight, they may seize it. Those are two pretty big “ifs” which are difficult to establish in court.
Exigent Circumstances: This exception allows officers to enter places without search warrants. If they believe someone is in danger, they may enter that place, make sure that everyone is okay, and seize any contraband they see in plain view. These searches are usually limited.
Consent: Owners may give officers permission to search their property. Only the owners, or people with apparent ownership authority, may give such permission.
If no valid search warrant exception applied, the exclusionary rule requires judges to essentially throw the case out of court.
Definition of “Possession”
People do not legally possess drugs just because they are close to them. In court, prosecutors must also establish knowledge and possession. Additionally, they must establish these elements beyond any reasonable doubt.
Automobile possession cases are a good illustration. It’s very difficult for a driver to legally possess drugs which are under the back seat, especially if it’s a large vehicle, the driver did not put the drugs there, and there is a back seat passenger on top of the drugs.
Drug possession arrests often do not hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.