Drug Charges – What defenses do I have?
Drug crimes are prosecuted vigorously in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Understanding your rights, how the case will be prosecuted and the defenses available to defend yourself is critical. Consultation with a Fairfax Drug Defense Attorney at Leary Law will help you understand what will happen in court, what options you have to handle your case and what defenses are available to you.
What are my constitutional rights?
Many drug cases arises from a police officer searching a vehicle during a routine traffic stop. All drug cases require an analysis of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This analysis involves a review of how you came into contact with the police and how the police came to conduct a search of your person, your vehicle or home. Was it a consensual encounter, the product of a traffic stop or investigatory detention (based on reasonable articulable suspicion)? Were you arrested on a warrant, or on the officer’s belief there was probable cause? If so, was the arrest lawful? Were the drugs found through a consent search, or a search incident to arrest? Was the search lawful or the product of an illegal detention, unlawful arrest, or consent that was actually coerced? These are all crucial issues that a Fairfax drug defense attorney must analyze. A Fourth Amendment violation which leads to evidence being discovered is referred to as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The result that is typical: suppression of that evidence. Suppressed evidence from the Commonwealth’s case could mean they have no case at all and your charge would be dismissed.
Can the scientific evidence in my drug case be challenged?
An experienced defense attorney will examine all aspects of your drug case. If you are charged with a drug crime, the government will utilize scientific testing of the drugs alleged to have been possessed of distributed by you to establish that you committed a drug crime. Therefore, analysis of the scientific study used to establish the identity of the substance in your case is critical.
Even if you were in possession of drug paraphernalia and only residue could be found, you can still be convicted of a drug crime. Contact Leary Law, PC for a free consultation about your case.
A drug dog was used to find evidence in my case – Are drug sniffing dogs reliable?
Dog sniffs at a traffic stop are considered “searches” within the Fourth Amendment that require probable cause, and police cannot use a drug dog to obtain that probable cause unless they already have reasonable suspicion. Police must have a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation to pull you over for a traffic stop. To search your car, law enforcement must have probable cause that you have committed some crime other than the traffic violation. Without probable cause, the officer must have your permission to search your vehicle. Otherwise, if a drug sniffing dog is present, the officer can obtain necessary probable cause based upon the dog’s response to you or your vehicle. In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has provided certain limits as to the use of drug dogs, explained below.
Drug Dogs and Traffic Stops:
- Rodriguez v. United States:Unless police have “reasonable suspicion” of a crime, it is an unconstitutional seizure the police to extend a legal traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff.
- Florida v. Harris:The fact that a drug dog is not trained to detect the particular substance found in a vehicle, and alerted anyway, is not enough to dismiss a dog’s reliability or the probable cause their alert provided the police officer. If a drug dog is “certified,” this is enough to create a presumption that the dog provided probable cause, even though there are no uniform standards for drug dog certification and training.
Some issues associated with the use of drug sniffing dogs from recent cases include the following:
- Lack of uniformity in training for police dogs
- Dogs are not trained to alert to all illegal substances
- Inaccuracy of drug dog results. Only 44 percent of dog alerts in a Chicago Tribunestudy led to the discovery of paraphernalia or drugs due to the following:
- The dog handler exhibits leading behavior. Spending too long examining the car or leading a dog around it too many times can lead to false alerts.
- Drug dogs are domesticated animals who are trained to please their handlers above all else. This desire outweighs their drug sniffing capabilities. Studies suggest a drug dog can read its handler’s body language revealing any preexisting beliefs about who might or might not be hiding drugs.
Compounding this problem is that most states do not hold drug dogs to any statutory standard of performance. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the federal court for Virginia, has accepted as evidence dogs with success rates of 43 percent.
Analysis of training employed for Virginia police dogs is important to understand the reliability of the alerts provided by the dogs to potential illegal substances. Knowing that the alert by a Virginia police dog is not 100% reliable is critical. Evidence obtained through the use of drug sniffing dogs must be carefully analyzed to determine whether any challenge to the use of this evidence is available. Call Leary Law, PC for a consultation about your case to understand you options.
I have been charged with Drug crimes. What should I do?
If you have been charged with drug crimes, call our Fairfax drug defense attorney at Leary Law to learn how you can prepare your defense and what steps you can do to position yourself for the best result possible.