Many criminal drug cases come down to search and seizure issues concerning how law enforcement gains evidence of the alleged crime. Generally, police officers need a warrant from a judge in order to search your home or other property. There are several exceptions to this rule, but even cases in which a search warrant has been issued can raise tricky legal issues. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is a good example of how cops can establish probable cause to get a warrant in drug cases.
Two defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, stemming from their alleged roles in an Orlando marijuana trafficking operation. Much of the evidence against the pair came from a series of property searches and surveillance operations conducted after Drug Enforcement Agency investigators obtained warrants from a federal judge. The defendants at trial later moved to block prosecutors from entering into the record any evidence obtained during the searches and surveillance operations. They argued that the investigators misled the judge by providing incomplete information on their warrant requests and that those requests didn’t establish the probable cause needed to justify the warrants.
The first warrant, which the DEA agents used to search a self-storage facility in Orlando, was based on information gained from a confidential source and from two undercover officers. The confidential source told agents that a South African drug dealer had been selling 200 pounds of marijuana a month to Dominican buyers in Orlando. He said the dealer had asked the source to contact the Dominicans about some $250,000 still owed for the drugs and to try to re-establish the relationship. The confidential source and two undercover agents met with Cassara and Almeida four times. They agreed to facilitate a marijuana sale to the Dominicans, according to the court. One defendant said he would load 25 pounds of marijuana in a truck and leave it for the Dominicans to pick up in exchange for leaving cash in the truck.
Agents followed that defendant to the storage unit after the meeting in which the deal was reached. They confirmed with the property manager that he was renting the unit. They also observed security camera footage showing him unload three duffle bags and several pieces of luggage from his truck and place them in the unit. The agents returned with a warrant, searched the unit, and found evidence later used in the prosecution.
The District Court rejected the defendants’ claim that there wasn’t sufficient probable cause to support the warrant. The judge noted that the CS provided evidence of a large-scale drug trafficking operation and that the defendant had agreed to a transaction including large quantities of the drug. The judge further observed that he had said he planned to package the marijuana in suitcases and leave it in a truck.
“These facts are sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that the suitcases contained marijuana and that the storage unit was being used to facilitate the [Dominicans’] operations and, thus, that there was a fair probability that the storage unit contained evidence of [the defendant’s] criminal activity,” the Court said. It rejected the duo’s challenges to subsequent warrants on similar grounds.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater drug crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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