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Mandatory 25 Year Heroin Prosecution Dropped

Mandatory 25 Year Heroin Prosecution Dropped

R.L.G. was charged in St. Lucie County with trafficking in morphine, 28 grams or more, and possession of drug paraphernalia.  The trafficking charge carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, together with a $250,000.00 fine.  The paraphernalia charge was only a misdemeanor.

The Public Defenders office for the 19th Judicial Circuit initially represented this defendant from the time of his August 7, 2005 arrest until he retained attorney Jeffrey H. Garland on March 15, 2006.  R.L.G. did not have confidence that the Public Defenders office was giving the appropriate attention to his case, particularly in light of the dire consequences which could result from a conviction.  The plea offer was 30 years in prison.

After an initial evaluation of the circumstances of the vehicle stop, Attorney Garland suspected that the real reason for the stop was not a traffic violation.  The stop was made shortly after 11:00 P.M. on the Florida Turnpike.  The St. Lucie County Sheriffs office never conducts a pre-planned stop in the middle of nowhere, many miles from help in the event that something were to go wrong.  Likewise, the Sheriffs office almost never stops a vehicle for a routine traffic infraction in the boondocks in the middle of the night.  It is even rarer for a detective with special investigations to be on routine patrol in the boondocks in the middle of the night acting as backup for the primary deputy.

Initially, the case was being evaluated from the point of view of probable cause for the stop.  In addition, the law enforcement officers detained the defendant for over 45 minutes before the drug detection dog arrived.  Clearly, the search was unreasonable if there were no probable cause.

Subsequent investigation determined that there was, in fact, probable cause.  The DEA had directly contacted special investigations with instructions to stop the car.  That explained why the vehicle was stopped in such a remote place at night.

Over two ounces of heroine were found in a shoe box on the back seat of the car.  The defendant was driving.  His friend was in the front passenger seat.  Neither the defendant nor the passenger made any statement.  After the heroine was found during the course of the dog search, both were arrested and transported to the St. Lucie County Jail.

Attorney Garland surmised that the case could be well defended on a constructive possession theory.  The car in question was occupied by more than one person at the time of the offense.  The contraband was not in open view.  Accordingly, the law creates no presumption that either occupant of the car knew of the presence of the contraband or had the ability to control it.  The State would be required at trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt both elements of possession, to-wit: that the defendant knew of the presence of the heroine and had the ability to control it.

While constructive possession was a pretty good defense under the circumstances, there was something about the case which was missing.  The thing missing was the co-defendant.  The passenger, although originally arrested and charged in State court, subsequently had his State charges dropped.  He was reportedly being prosecuted in federal court.

Attorney Garland took the time to review the federal court proceedings.  He determined that the passenger had been indicted in federal court together with 15 others in a comprehensive charge of conspiracy to distribute heroine.  The passenger was charged in just one count of the 19 count indictment.  The passenger plead guilty to the charge and had just recently been sentenced to five years in prison.

A further review of the federal case file disclosed that the DEA had been conducting wire taps on telephones associated with the head of the conspiracy.  After the passenger was taken to the St. Lucie County Jail, he was quick to call the head of the conspiracy.  The passenger made all sorts of admissions which both established his guilt and cleared R.L.G.  The federal case file confirmed that the passenger was a regular customer of the conspiracy.  It did appear that the passenger purchased the heroine in Palm Beach County for a later distribution in the Tampa Bay area.  The federal file documented telephonic and cellular calls from the passenger to the conspiracy before the day of arrest.  Even after the arrest, the passenger continued to call the conspiracy members.  The evidence suggested that the conspiracy members made arrangements to bond the passenger out of jail.

The evidence developed in the federal prosecution demonstrated R.L.G.s non-involvement in the conspiracy.  By implication, R.L.G.s only involvement was driving the car.  There were no calls to conspiracy members by R.L.G. or from conspiracy members to R.L.G.  They did not assist R.L.G. in bonding out of jail.

Attorney Garland listed as evidence in the State court proceeding the federal wiretaps.  Although the federal evidence plainly established probable cause for a stop of the vehicle, the same evidence exonerated R.L.G.  Based on this, the State filed a written nolle prosequi on July 10, 2006, which terminated the prosecution of R.L.G.

State v. R.L.G., St. Lucie County Case No. 2005-CF-xxxx