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15 Jan 2015

Just Cuz There’s Paraphernalia Doesn’t Mean They Can Jail Ya

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Astor Johanson (not his real name) had just helped unload the catch from a commercial fishing trip.
Johanson drove away from the docks in his SUV, happy to be back on dry land after a successful
fishing excursion.

An overly alert St. Lucie County Sheriff’s detective noted that Johanson was not wearing a seatbelt.
Thus began the drama of a “traffic stop” and arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia.

The eagle-eyed detective spotted a “clear capsule” on the floor. Without consent, the detective
seized the empty capsule and the opportunity to “search” the SUV. Based upon the capsule – which
never tested positive for illegal drugs – the detective literally tore the SUV apart.

During the course of the search, the detective uncovered a “used syringe” under a seat. The
overbearing and presumptuous detective asserted that such syringes are “commonly used to shoot
narcotics”. The detective failed to report that such syringes also have lawful purposes. The
detective’s hunch was later proved wrong by lab testing which showed that no illegal drugs could
be identified.

Based upon these circumstances, the detective used his governmental authority to intrude upon
Johanson’s liberty by giving him a free ride to the St. Lucie County Jail. The intelligent and well trained detective rejected Johanson’s explanation that he knew nothing about the syringe or the capsule.

Immediately following his arrest, Johanson hired Saint Lucie Drug Lawyer Jeffrey H. Garland.
The strategy was simple: the defense would not waive speedy trial and would always be ready for trial. The arrest was an obvious abuse of police authority and prosecutorial discretion.

As is so typical in St. Lucie County, the State Attorney’s office filed a formal charge without even
having a positive test for the presence of a controlled substance. The prosecutor extended a “plea
offer” which called for a conviction, fine, probation and costs.

To make a living, Johanson returned to the sea. The long fishing trips required that speedy trial be
waived.

Judge Cliff Barnes set the case for jury trial on 11/20/14. The State finally came to its senses by
dropping the charge on 11/19/14, the day before jury selection was set to begin.

Analysis
The ever alert detective in this case was assigned to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). Do we
really think the initial stop was to enforce the traffic laws? The stop was an obvious pretext to
conduct a search of Johanson’s SUV. Nothing was found except a clear capsule and a syringe.
Neither item tested positive for illegal drugs and were perfectly legal to possess. This prosecution
was completely bogus.

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