Major Palm Beach County Drug Bust
Port St. Lucie Police officers seized almost $250,000 in cash, along with several items allegedly used in a drug trafficking operation out of a Southwest Hawthorne Circle home.
Acting on information received from the narcotics unit of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, police searched the home and found large quantities of marijuana and marijuana implements, the cash, several firearms, and an unspecified quantity of oxycodone, hydrocodone, and phenethylamines. Three people were arrested on drug trafficking charges. One of the individuals, who owns and operates a nearby e-cigarette store, reportedly told authorities that he sold drugs to supplement the income he receives from his struggling business.
Authorities based the trafficking charges on the quantity of drugs seized, along with the presence of baggies and scales.
Search and Seizure Issues in Drug Cases
Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, officers may only search a residence with a specific warrant that is based on probable cause. If they violate this rule, the evidence is normally thrown out under the exclusionary rule.
This doctrine comes from a colorful 1961 case called Mapp v. Ohio. Police officers in Cleveland suspected Ms. Mapp of harboring a terrorist and essentially broke into her house to execute a search warrant. She demanded to see the warrant, snatched it out of the officer’s hand, and “placed it in her bosom.” After a huge fight, the “warrant” (if it ever existed) was lost but the police nevertheless tore the house apart, finding only some mild pornography which was illegal at the time. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the pornography was inadmissible since the officers only had a warrant to look for bomb making material and lacked probable cause to search for anything else.
These issues are very common in drug cases, although usually not to this extent.
Moreover, mere proximity is not enough to prove possession charges, and certainly insufficient to substantiate drug trafficking allegations. The defendant must know that there is contraband in the vehicle or dwelling and also have the ability to easily access the contraband.
Whenever large quantities of cash are involved, authorities often institute civil forfeiture proceedings, a practice that has been criticized recently using catchy slogans like “policing for profit.” In many states, authorities need only prove that the property was used in criminal activity by clear and convincing evidence before they can seize it. This standard is much lower than the one used in criminal court
But in 2016, Florida lawmakers sharply limited the state’s forfeiture law. Now, authorities must prove that the cash, car, boat, house, or whatever was a part of a criminal enterprise beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard in criminal cases.
Before the new law took effect, Port St. Lucie police probably could have seized both the cash and the business in the above story. But now, the forfeiture would almost certainly be limited to just the cash.
Partner with Tenacious Attorneys
Drug cases often turn on technical legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. today. Home and jail visits are available.