Category Archives: Drug Offenses

Arrest Warrant

Minneapolis Warrant Crackdown Coming Tuesday 

Do you have an outstanding warrant in Hennepin County and want to avoid an awkward scene at your home or place of work? You should strongly consider turning yourself in today.

That’s because the Hennepin County sheriff’s office will be conducting a warrant sweep on Tuesday in hopes of clearing some active warrants out of the system.

“Do not become a fugitive of the law by ignoring a warrant,” said Sheriff Rich Stanek. “It’s not going to go away on its own. You need to make the right decision and turn yourself in before officers come knocking at the door because we will make sure you are held accountable.”

Stanek said the warrant sweep will focus predominantly on offenders facing drug-related charges as Minneapolis has seen a spike in drug-related deaths over the last few years. 17 deaths were attributed to heroin in Hennepin County in April alone, putting the city on pace to set a record number for heroin-related deaths in 2014. Last year set the previous record with 56 heroin-related deaths.

The Hennepin County sweep will begin on Tuesday and continue throughout the end of the month. Stanek noted that his office would be looking for roughly 160 people with active felony warrants, many of whom have multiple active warrants.

More details about the sweep can be found at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office website, including where to go to turn yourself in and what to bring so you can post bail if necessary.

We handle cases in Hennepin County and are more than willing to assist you throughout this process. If you have questions about the process or your charges before surrendering to police, please give us a call at (952) 224-2277 or contact us through our website. You don’t have to go through this alone, and being proactive about your warrant will put you in good graces with the court. Let us help you get your warrant cleared up.

Related source: CBS Minnesota

Car Search

Judge Throws Out Drug Charge Over False Police Testimony

Prosecutors in Florida dropped drug trafficking charges against a 26-year-old after a judge threw out an officer’s incredibly inaccurate statement that he called “discredited, controverted, and contradictory.”

The case is a great example of due process and proper application of the Fourth Amendment by the presiding judge. According to case details, Emanuel Bell was stopped for rolling a stop sign after authorities observed him leave a “known drug house.” An officer ordered Bell out of the vehicle after he observed him moving his hands near the center console. The officer decided to search the console, even though Bell expressly told the officer he did not consent to the search.

The quick search of the vehicle did not turn up any suspicious items, but the officer was not satisfied. While the officer went to his squad car to write Bell a ticket, Officer Brandon Bill approached the vehicle and claimed to smell a faint odor of marijuana. This gave him all the probable cause he needed to conduct a full search of the vehicle, which led to the discovery of a small amount of cocaine in the car. The officers placed Bell under arrest on charges of drug trafficking.

Judge Notices Discrepancies

Upon a review of the evidence, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews noticed some concerning findings. He learned that:

  • No other officers reported smelling marijuana.
  • No marijuana was found in the car.
  • Bell was detained for 25 minutes, much longer than need be for a routine traffic stop.
  • An officer threatened to use drug dogs to get the necessary probable cause to search the vehicle.
  • One officer referred to Bell, who is black, as “boy,” while another accused him of being a criminal informant.
  • Police did not allow the suspect to call his attorney.

After reviewing all the facts, Judge Andrews issued an unusual statement.

“It stretches the limits of credulity for this court to believe that the search of the defendant’s vehicle was based upon the odor of marijuana,” Andrews wrote. “Here, Officer Bill’s testimony is ‘discredited, controverted and contradictory within itself,’ and as such is incredible.”

Not surprisingly, prosecutors dropped the charges shortly thereafter.

Mel Welch comments

Essentially, a male leaving a “known drug house” was stopped by police for failing to make a complete stop and was held until officers created an excuse to search his vehicle. Police did not receive consent to search the vehicle and the officer alleged the basis for the search was – “he smelled the odor of marijuana.” Sound familiar? The officer left out details in his report which came to light through the contested hearing (officer stated stop was only minutes – actually lasted over 25 minutes; police would not allow the suspect to call his attorney and took his phone; police accused the suspect of being a narc).

In Minnesota, police may stop a vehicle for any traffic infraction (like here – a rolling stop), and likewise they are only supposed to hold a person for as long as it takes to resolve the basis of seizure, and police may not expand the scope of a seizure unless they develop independent bases of suspicion. Here, the officer had to find independent bases of suspicion beyond the traffic violation. The odor of marijuana is always a good go-to for police because: (1) it pits the cops credibility against the suspect’s credibility (because you cannot record smells for independent verification; the suspect has something at stake to challenge the veracity of his testimony; and the officer is supposedly free of any bias in his investigation), and (2) the odor of marijuana has been upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court to justify a search of an entire vehicle.

Thankfully the judge here gave the report a second look. There was no marijuana found in the vehicle, and the police reports were inconsistent with the objective facts. The judge took his role seriously: as an arbiter of credibility and truth rather than a facilitator of the criminal process. Kudos.

Related source: Tampa Bay Times

Constitutional Freedoms, Great Lawyering Help Win Court Case

justiceMel Welch used his extensive knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and case law to earn a hard fought dismissal when the odds were stacked against him. He once again proved that evidence needs to be collected legally in order to be admissible in the court of law.

The case in question involved a client who was suspected of possessing and selling drugs. Police officers had legally obtained a search warrant of our client’s premise, and they set up a perimeter around his home to aid in the search. Unmarked officers positioned themselves in front of our client’s house, while a regular patrol car was parked out of sight on a side street to help in the event the suspect fled and to keep watch on the neighborhood activities while the search was executed.

Before the officers could complete the search, our client left his home and got into a van parked nearby. Shortly thereafter, our client exited the van and got into his own vehicle. He then drove away, and the marked squad car followed.

Michigan v. Summers

Before we go any further, now seems like a good place to explain the court case Michigan v. Summers, and its relation to Bailey v. U.S. In the case of Bailey v. U.S., which discussed the protections guaranteed in the 4th amendment, the judge ruled that “some seizures admittedly covered by the Fourth Amendment constitute such limited intrusions on the personal security of those detained and are justified by such substantial law enforcement interests that they may be made on less than probable cause, so long as police have an articulable basis for suspecting criminal activity.”

In other words, the court ruled that some searches are legal even if the officers don’t have probable cause to execute the search, so long as it meets certain conditions. Those conditions were made expressly clear in the case Michigan v. Summers, which established three factors that, if present, could provide an exception to the probable cause requirement. They are:

1. Law enforcement’s interest in preventing flight in the event incriminating evidence is found.

2. Interest in minimizing the risk of harm to the officers.

3. To facilitate the orderly completion of the search.

Remember these three exceptions to the probable cause requirement. They’ll come in handy in just a bit.

Legit Search?

Back to the story. Our client got in his car and drove away while officers were in place to initiate the search warrant, but before it was executed. The marked squad car began following our client, and pulled him over a few miles away. The officer took our client into custody, and the police drove our client’s car to a nearby parking lot. During this time, drugs were uncovered in our client’s vehicle.

Mel looked at all the evidence against his client and went to work. He sought to suppress the evidence that drugs were found in the vehicle by questioning why his client was pulled over and detained in the first place. He argued that officers had no probable cause to stop his client, and he also did a magnificent job discrediting the exceptions outlined in Michigan v. Summers.

In his argument against Exception #1, Mel reasoned that since his client was unaware of the impending search, and because it had yet to take place, he couldn’t possibly comprehend the thought of fleeing the scene. The presiding judge agreed.

In his argument against Exception #2, Mel correctly argued that officers are much safer executing a search warrant when nobody is home than if the suspect if present. By leaving his residence, Mel’s client unknowingly created a safer environment for the officers who were about to execute the warrant. Mel noted that had the police found weapons or contraband in the residence as part of the legal search, they would have had reason to stop his client, but that was not the case. The presiding judge agreed.

In his argument against Exception #3, Mel stated that Bailey rejects the notion that seizing an individual without probable cause helps facilitate the orderly completion of a search when a suspect departs before a search. An absent suspect can neither hinder a search nor help with its orderly execution. While it may be more convenient for officers to have the suspect in custody, Mel made our forefathers proud by arguing that convenience to law enforcement will never substitute for a person’s 4th Amendment considerations. The presiding judge agreed.

After hearing Mel’s reasoning, the judge had little choice but to suppress the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search and seizure.

Well done, Mel.

Two Men Arrested in “Main Line Take-Over Project” Drug Bust

8705193_sTwo young men eager to take over the high-end drug trade in some of Pennsylvania’s best prep schools were arrested during a coordinated drug bust on Tuesday.

25-year-old Neil Scott and 18-year-old Timothy Brooks were arrested after authorities uncovered marijuana, hash oil, cocaine, ecstasy, cash and several weapons including a loaded .223 caliber AR-15 assault rifle.

“They were in business to make money, and they were going to do whatever they needed to do to make sure that no one threatened their business,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.

Two-Man Operation

According to police reports, Scott imported the drugs from California while Brooks supervised the sub-dealers at local area high schools in the cities and suburbs surrounding Philadelphia – often referred to as the Main Line.

Brooks’ attorney said Scott was the mastermind of the operation, and Brooks only got involved in the project because the pair met “at a very susceptible, low point in [Brooks’] life.” The attorney also said that Brooks was “willing to accept responsibility for what he did,” although he “was only involved in this conspiracy for a very, very short time period.”

Authorities aren’t so keen to take Brooks’ word that he only had a minor role in the operation.

“Brooks instructed the high school sub-dealers to make certain there was always a constant supply of marijuana in their assigned schools,” investigators said. “Brooks said this was important to him because he remembered not always being able to buy marijuana when he was in high school.”

Incriminating text messages may doom the pair, as an electronic trail details a plan to “efficiently distribute drugs at their schools.” Another message from Scott to Brooks read, “[All the marijuana] on the Main Line is about to come from you and me.” Authorities also uncovered messages about their business methods, as the two discussed offering incentives to higher-up dealers and allowing distributors to purchase products on credit.

Scott, Brooks and nine top dealers involved in the ring were arrested on charges of corrupt organization, intent to deliver a controlled substance, criminal conspiracy and dealings in proceeds of unlawful activity.

Ferman concluded that the men were given all the opportunity in the world to succeed, only to succumb to the drug trade.

“You’re dealing with kids from one of the finest institutions probably in the country,” Ferman said. “To take those skills and turn it into this kind of illegal enterprise is very distressing.”

Related sources: Washington Post, CNN

Trooper Unlawfully Stops Colorado Driver Assuming He Has Marijuana

Colorado License Plate WeedA 70-year-old was recently arrested and had his vehicle searched by an Idaho State Trooper all because he had a Colorado license plate on his car, a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. 

According to a lawsuit against the police department, Darien Roseen was traveling between Colorado and Washington in January when Idaho State Trooper Justin Klitch pulled out of the median and “rapidly accelerated” to catch up to Roseen’s vehicle. Like any reasonable person when a cop pulls up behind them without putting their flashers on, Roseen began to feel uncomfortable and exited the highway at a rest station. The trooper followed Roseen off the exit and turned on his flashers.

Roseen parked at the rest station and Klitch approached the vehicle. During their interaction, Klitch said he stopped Roseen for failing to use his turn signal when pulling off the highway, but the conversation quickly turned accusatory. Klitch asked him why he stopped at the rest station, but wasn’t satisfied with the 70-year-old’s response that had to use the bathroom, telling him, “You didn’t have to go to the bathroom before you saw me…. I’m telling you, you pulled in here to avoid me.”

Carrying Cannabis?

Instead of going through the routine procedure of asking for a license, registration or proof of insurance, Klitch asked Roseen why his eyes “appeared glossy” and if he had “something in his vehicle that he should not have.” Roseen told Klitch he was legally carrying some medications, but that didn’t suit the trooper.

“After Mr. Roseen identified his possession of valid prescription medications, Trooper Klitch asked him, ‘When is the last time you used any marijuana?’ thereby assuming that Mr. Roseen had, in fact, used marijuana and inferring that he had used it recently,” the complaint read.

Klitch then threatened to bring in a drug-sniffing dog, and told Roseen his behavior was  “consistent with a person who was hiding something illegal.” It only went downhill from there. According to Klitch, his fatal flaw was allowing the officer to search parts of his vehicle in an effort to get “back on the road faster.” The complaint alleges: 

  • Klitch searched Roseen’s truck, and despite gusty winds, claimed to smell marijuana.
  • The trooper detained Roseen, put him in the back of his squad car, called for backup, and searched the entire vehicle.
  • The second officer drove Roseen’s vehicle to the Payette County Sheriff’s Office without permission or taking inventory the vehicle’s contents.
  • A subsequent search found no marijuana, but Roseen was cited for “inattentive/careless” driving.

Roseen retained council and is seeking federal punitive damages for what he calls an abuse of power and “license plate profiling.”

Mel Welch, a criminal defense attorney with Appelman Law Firm, said the trooper clearly abused his power.

“What struck me was the abuse of authority and the system this officer did by hiding behind accusations verifiable only through his testimony (“I smelled marijuana”), and covering up his abuse by issuing a ticket for inattentive/careless driving,” said Welch. “That kind of ticket is cover for the police to issue bologna citations, thereby calling the abused person’s credibility into question because they have something at stake.”

Related source: CBS Seattle

Could Criminals Soon Face 1,000-Year Prison Sentences?

Elderly CriminalYou may have heard about some extreme cases where judges have sentenced criminals to 100 or more years in prison, but many of these criminals will die before serving the duration of their sentence. That all could change in the near future as some biotech scientists say we may soon have the ability to keep people alive for 1,000 years, meaning sentences could extend into the hundreds or thousands of years. 

“Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying,” said Oxford University scientist Dr. Rebecca Roache. She added that in some particularly heinous crimes, the prison sentences are “laughably inadequate.”

One specific child abuse case struck a nerve with Dr. Roache. She detailed the story of Magdelena Luczak and Mariusk Krezolek, who beat, starved, tortured and murdered Luczak’s four-year-old son. Dr. Roache said the pair, who received a 30-year sentence for their crimes, will receive far better treatment than Luczak’s child.

“They will, for example, be fed and watered, housed in clean cells, allowed access to a toilet and washing facilities, allowed out of their cells for exercise and recreation,” said Dr. Roache.

Extending Sentences

The technology to extend criminal sentences is a two-pronged approach. The first avenue scientists are pursuing involves anti-aging research. Scientists have long been looking at extending lifespans through injections or supplements, and they feel that they are on the edge of a breakthrough. If the technology soon becomes available, even if it only adds a few years onto the median lifespan, it would ensure some criminal spend more time behind bars.

The second approach scientists are researching is a little more controversial. Some believe that influencing the perception of time is a way to artificially lengthen prison sentences. Dr. Roache noted that there are already several drugs available that distort a person’s sense of time, and she added that science might not be too far away from developing a pill that makes a prisoner feel like they are serving a 1,000-year sentence.

Despite her curiousity into the science, Dr. Roache notes the arguments against psychoactive medication.

“Of course, there is a widely held view that any amount of tinkering with a person’s brain is unacceptably invasive.” she said. ‘But you might not need to interfere with the brain directly.”

Mel Welch comments

While I think Dr. Roache is being overly optimistic about how close the science community is to extending lifespans into the thousands of years, I simply cannot get on board with this plan.

The idea of keeping someone alive to extend his or her sentence seems like a huge waste of taxpayer money. Is it really worth it to keep someone alive, someone who likely has limited or little control over their bodily actions at this point in their life (is a 150-year-old really going to be moving about his cell?) just so he doesn’t die, with the taxpayers footing the bill?

And the point about drugging a prisoner to alter their mind is just too abusurd to comment on. Do we really want to play judge, jury, doctor and god with someone’s life?

Related sources: Dailymail.co.uk, Aeon, Blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk

Kerry Kennedy Acquitted of Drugged Driving

Kerry KennedyA 6-person jury ruled that Kerry Kennedy was not guilty of drugged driving on Friday after defense attorneys argued that Kennedy accidentally took the sleeping pill and its affects clouded her judgment to the point that she couldn’t consciously make the decision to pull over.

“I’m incredibility grateful to the jury for working so hard on this case, and to my lawyers and to my family and friends and so many other people who supported me,” Kennedy said at the conclusion of the trial. “I’m just happy justice was done.”

Kennedy faced misdemeanor drugged driving charges after she got behind the wheel after accidentally taking Ambien instead of taking her thyroid medication. Kennedy crashed her car into a tractor-trailer and claimed she had no recollection of the accident at trial.

“If I realized I was impaired, I would have pulled over,” Kennedy testified.

Curious Case

As the case proceeded, it was clear that both prosecutors and defense attorneys believed Kennedy took the sleeping pill on accident, but they were split on what they believe happened next. Prosecutors argued that Kennedy knowingly ignored signs of impairment while she was driving, while defense attorneys claimed the pill made her unable to recognize the warning signs.

Ordinarily, controlled substance DWIs are difficult cases to prove, especially when the drug is prescribed, such as the sleeping aid Ambien. When folks take medications, they believe, and rightfully so, that their doctors are looking out for them, and that they understand the side effects and problems arising from the use of any medication.

With Ambien, and other prescribed sleeping medications, the onset of drowsiness can be swift. Many folks who are not familiar with medications may not have sufficient time to realize what is happening. They become drowsy in a matter of minutes, and in some cases nod off shortly after taking the pills. The pharmacologist who testified in Kennedy’s case told the jury that folks who take sleeping aids are often unaware of what is happening biologically.

The prosecutor in the Kennedy case had an uphill battle. Once prosecutors conceded that Kennedy took the medication accidentally, the state was left to argue that she had to realize that she was drifting off to sleep, and that she should have pulled over at the moment she realized her senses were impaired. When confronted with various medical and pharmacological experts refuting the state’s contention, the jury simply had to acquit her.

Related source: Dailymail.co.uk

McGruff the Crime Dog to Serve 16 Years for Pot, Weapons Charges

McGruff the Crime DogeJohn R. Morales, better known for his portrayal of McGruff the Crime Dog, was sentenced to 16 years in prison earlier this month after authorities seized 1,000 marijuana plants, 9,000 rounds of ammunition, 26 weapons and a grenade launcher from his Texas residence. 

The “ruff” ordeal began when Morales was picked up for speeding back in 2011. During the traffic stop, authorities found diagrams for two grow houses and marijuana seeds in the trunk of his car. Shortly after he was arrested, law enforcement officials raided his home, which uncovered the stash of plants, weapons and ammunition. Also discovered during the raid was a fully functioning grenade launcher. He pled guilty to charges during a February 3 court appearance and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Ironically, Morales spent a good portion of his life advocating against crime as McGruff the Crime Dog, a costumed mascot that visited schools to spread awareness about crime. McGruff’s tagline “Take a bite out of crime,” became a popular slogan during the anti-crime campaign that began in the early 1980’s.

Mel Welch comments

This is quite the ironic twist. A man who championed the anti-crime cause goes to jail with quite the stockpile of illegal substances at his residence. The weapons and marijuana didn’t help his cause, and certainly the high court looked down upon the discovery of a grenade launcher. It doesn’t appear that authorities found any explosive devices while searching his residence, which only would have lengthened his already extended sentence.

Morales could have benefited from the old adage, “practice what you preach.”

Related source: CBS Houston

Can New Lab Manager Save Troubled St. Paul Crime Lab?

Crime LabThe struggling St. Paul crime lab hopes a new criminologist can implement positive changes and restore public trust that was lost under the previous regimen.

“The past is the past,” said Rosanna Caswell, who will take over the floundering department. “I’m going to move forward. I wasn’t here, but obviously there were deficiencies.”

Caswell, 41, has been appointed as the new forensic lab manager for the St. Paul crime lab that came under scrutiny in 2012. It all unraveled for the crime lab after two public defenders challenged test results and collection procedures conducted by the lab. Independent consultants were brought in to review the lab’s techniques, and according to their reports, they found numerous errors in the way the lab tested, reviewed, and processed crime scene evidence.

Other issues with the lab include:

  • Sloppy documentation
  • Dirty Equipment
  • Faulty collection techniques
  • Ignorance of basic science
  • Inaccurate recording of drug weights
  • Citing Wikipedia as a technical reference

Aftermath

The fallout from the mishandled evidence reporting was widespread. Because the crime lab provided evidentiary reports for court cases in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges needed to reevaluate previous cases based on the new information.

In many cases, prosecutors dropped pending charges or offered reduced plea agreements because defense attorneys would be able to easily dispute the evidence’s credibility. Defense attorneys had to review past cases to see if any of their clients could have been wrongly convicted because faulty evidence was taken as fact. Judges were left to sort out the mess.

Criminal Defense Attorney Mel Welch said it’s impossible to know how many innocent people were affected by the crime lab’s mistakes. 

“The process of reading fingerprint evidence, deciphering multiple DNA alleles and analyzing compounds in a chemical mixture is an intricate science, and when done correctly, can be the crucial piece of evidence that puts a man behind bars or sets him free,” said Welch. “Judges and juries rely on this information as fact, because the evidence often paints a truer picture than the usual ‘he said-she-said’ arguments that occur in a courtroom. When the reporting is done incorrectly, be it out of accident, negligence, or even purposefully, those who rely on the information as fact are duped, and we all suffer the consequences.”

Welch concluded that the crime lab’s employees aren’t the only ones to blame.

“There needs to be a top down review, because lives are at stake,” said Welch. “It’s not just the people doing the testing, but the people who put them in charge, and the people whose job it was to ensure the lab was functioning correctly. Removing a few bad apples from the tree won’t stop the problem if the tree itself is poisoned.”

Related source: Pioneer Press

Oregon Couple Tries To Tip Waitress With Crystal Meth

Crystal MethLeave the crystal meth to Walter White – not to your waitress. 

An Oregon couple learned that lesson the hard way after they attempted to settle their bill with a few rocks of crystal meth.

According to the police report, Ryan Bensen, 40, and Erica Manley, 37, were at the Twisted Fish Steakhouse on Thursday when the incident occurred. After a night of wining and dining, it came time to pay the bill. The couple used a gift card to cover the tab, but they wanted to make sure they took care of their waitress with a tip. When the waitress returned to the table, the couple handed her an envelope with a question mark on it.

Expecting cash, the waitress was surprised to find a small stash of crystal meth inside the envelope. She calmly walked towards the kitchen and called police, who arrived on the scene a short while later.

“She was like ‘Whoa — what the …?’” said Steve Keszler, a manager at the Seaside steakhouse. “We’re not a little dive bar or hole in the wall. We’re a classy place.”

Bensen and Manley were still in the restaurant when authorities arrived. A search of Manley’s purse uncovered more than 17 ounces of methamphetamine, which have a street value of nearly $30,000.

“While I should be shocked and surprised, it’s just another example of how dumb these users and dealers are,” said Seaside Police Chief Robert Gross said. “The whole thing almost made me chuckle.”

After uncovering the crystal meth on the suspects, authorities received a warrant to search the hotel room the suspects had rented at a nearby Holiday Inn Express. Chief Gross said police found a small torch, batteries, and other items for making crystal in the mini meth lab.

Bensen was charged with possession and manufacturing methamphetamine, while Manley was charged with possession, delivering, and manufacturing methamphetamine.

Meth in Minnesota

Looking at the law in Minnesota, drug possession crimes are broken down into five degrees. All five degrees carry serious consequences, but first-degree charges are the most severe.

A person can be found guilty of first-degree criminal possession in Minnesota if they possess:

  • 25 grams or more of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or any combination of the three.
  • 500 grams or more of a narcotic drug other than cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine.
  • 500 grams (or dosage units) or more of amphetamine, phencyclidine, or hallucinogenic drugs.
  • 100 kilograms or more of marijuana or Tetrahydrocannabinols

An ounce of meth is equivalent to roughly 28 grams, meaning that Manley had nearly 500 grams of methamphetamine in her possession when authorities searched her purse, well above the 25-gram threshold necessary to bring first-degree charges.

If a person is found guilty of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, they can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, fines of up to $1,000,000, or both.

Related source: The Oregonian