Drugs

Ross Attorney Arrested for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (CA Health and Safety Code 11364(a))

A 38-year-old client was surprised to see his own attorney accused of having an inactive license to practice law due to the fact that a warrant was out for his arrest.  The 48-year-old lawyer from Ross claims that the charges against him, related to identity theft and possession of methamphetamine paraphernalia (CA Health and Safety Code 11364(a)), are false and that he will soon be exonerated.  Oddly, the lawyer and his client were both forced to remain in custody for a time, in the same jail in San Mateo.  He further claims that he was not acting as his client’s attorney while in court, but only as a witness until another attorney could be found.  This, of course, may serve to be an unexpected moment of grace for his unwitting client.

This attorney exhibited a good amount of what some would call gall in showing up to court knowing that he would likely be brought to jail.  In particular, brings up the notion of ‘bench warrants,’ which are commonly issued in courts all across the nation.  A ‘bench warrant’s’ name comes from the fact that this is a kind of warrant issued ‘from the bench,’ or by a judge.  Bench warrants are quite different than other types of warrants, like arrest warrants or search warrants, because they are not issued in relation to any criminal act.

There are, however, many reasons why a bench warrant might be issued:  an individual may have neglected to pay a particular fine or other costs associated with the court; an individual may have failed to appear in court at the appropriately appointed time; or the individual may have ignored a court order, failing to participate or complete community service obligations, DUI classes, or pretty much anything else that the court has ordered and they have failed to follow through with.  Ignoring a bench warrant, even if it is issued for something as simple as failing to appear in court due to a traffic violation, can end in severe penalties.  For example, an individual could end up spending time in county jail or state prison, incur additional fines, or even have their driver’s license suspended.  It is thus important for anyone, including attorneys, who are often considered to be a respected extension of the justice system, to pay close attention to any bench warrants issued that concern them.

Woman Sentenced for Drug Trafficking at Oakland Airport (CA Health and Safety Code 11350)

A 48-year-old woman has recently been sentenced for having been caught attempting to smuggle close to 2 pounds (856 grams) of cocaine through the Oakland International Airport.  No one noticed the woman’s Spandex underwear was full of the illegal substance until she attempted to go through airport security in order to board her flight.  Reports claim that at least 14 similar arrests have been made in connection to baggage handlers with the same airline, Southwest.  The woman meant to pass the drugs on to another person for distribution when she reached her destination.  She seems to have refused to be searched by one of the new image screening devices and was, thus, taken to a private room for a body search.

Although California law is quite strict when it comes to the possession of illegal narcotics such as cocaine (CA Health and Safety Code 11350), especially if intent to distribute can be proven, federal law is even harsher.  According to the DEA’s (Drug Enforcement Agency) official website, federal trafficking penalties for trafficking cocaine (anywhere from 500-4999 grams mixture) includes a minimum 5 year and maximum 40 year prison sentence for a first offense.  However, if anyone associated with the crime has been seriously injured, an individual person could be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $5 million.  A second offense results in even more severe penalties, including a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum of life in prison.  Fines can reach upward of $8 million dollars for an individual person.

DOJ Prosecutes FedEx For Illegal Drug Shipments (CA Health and Safety Code 11352)

Recently, federal prosecutors have accused the international shipping company FedEx Corp. of having been part of a conspiracy to allow illegal prescription drugs to be shipped into the United States.  2 pharmaceutical companies also stand accused of conspiracy.  The feds claim that FedEx took in approximately $820 million in revenue between 2000 and 2010 from delivering packages from pharmacies on the Internet.  Seemingly, customers bought the drugs online and then FedEx shipped them unknowingly.  FedEx stands to pay at least twice the amount they made in restitution and fines.

One of FedEx’s attorneys claims that there is already a federal law in place that allows for transportation companies possession of some illegal drugs because of the nature of the shipping business.  In other words, FedEx has no way of knowing what their customers ship, within reason, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the contents of a shipper’s packages.  This law was, in fact, intended to protect shipping companies for being prosecuted for this very misdeed, shipping illegal substances.  In fact, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer believes that FedEx shipped the drugs knowingly, although it seems certain that Judge Breyer merely wants to avoid a situation in which any drug dealer can become a shipping company or get a carrier’s license and be protected from prosecution in this manner.

Prosecuting shipping companies on the off chance that they might have knowledge of illegal shipments of drugs (CA Health and Safety Code 11352) seems to have become a federal habit, however.  Just 2 years ago, UPS (United Parcel Service) paid out a whopping $40 million to the U.S. government in order to avoid going to court on trumped up charges.  Public outcry is certain to follow this latest spate of attempts by the U.S. Department of Justice, if companies like FedEx and UPS are held responsible for the contents of the packages they deliver, then there is only one solution for their protection: start opening up and examining each and every package that goes through their hands.  In other words, shipping companies may begin opening up your private packages in order to avoid liability for their contents.

 

 

BART Passenger Arrested for Possession of Cocaine (CA Health and Safety Code 11351)

A 27-year-old Antioch man was passed out on a BART train recently.  When the conductor tried to wake him, and was unsuccessful, he called the BART police.  Upon arrival, law enforcement officials claim that the gentleman had approximately 12 baggies of cocaine and nearly $300 in cash on his person.  When questioned, he offered an unusual explanation:  the cocaine was for personal use, he sprinkles it on his marijuana before smoking it.  His future attorneys will likely offer a more appropriate defense in court.

California law is clear when it comes to the possession of narcotics like cocaine.  A person arrested for possession, sales, or trafficking of this Schedule II drug can expect severe penalties.  According to California Health and Safety Code 11351 (“possession or purchase of cocaine for sale”) is likely the crime that the BART gentleman will be prosecuted for.  Simply possessing cocaine may mean a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in state prison and a $20,000 fine.  However, possessing this same drug for the purposes of selling it (as the 12 baggies seem to suggest) comes with harsher consequences.

For example, if an individual is convicted of possession of cocaine with the intent to sell, then the punishment largely depends on the amount of cocaine you are caught with.  If you are caught with under 1 kilogram, then the penalty is up to 5 years in state prison and a $20,000 fine.  However, if you are caught with over 1 kilogram, you can expect to spend an additional 3 to 25 years in state prison and the possibility of a total of $8,000,000 in fines!  If the BART rider is successful in proving that the cocaine was for his personal use (CA HS Code 11350), then he may fare better as far as sentencing goes.

 

Second Arrest Made in Dark Web Silk Road Charges of Drug Trafficking (CA Penal Code 11350-11356)

Most Californians remember last year’s arrest of the man calling himself “Dread Pirate Roberts” (from the movie “The Princess Bride”) in the dark Web site “Silk Road,” which enabled the purchase of narcotics through the use of bitcoins, a type of Internet currency.  Now, another arrest has been made in this federal case, this time of a 26-year old self-identified tech geek living in San Francisco.  Federal authorities allege that this individual (name withheld to protect the accused) took over for the Dread Pirate Roberts once it was certain that he would not soon return to run the site.  The man authorities believe is “Defcon,” is their latest suspect and has been charged not only with the sale of narcotics, but also with money laundering, identity fraud, and computer hacking.  His arrest was the result of an Internet sting conducted by various members of different law enforcement agencies.

When and if “Defcon” can be identified with certainty, he or she will face charges similar to those that the unnamed suspect above has been charged with.  In California, most cybercrimes fall under CA Penal Code 502 (the “Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Alert Act”), which is a  ‘wobbler’ (meaning that it can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the facts of the case).  Penalties range anywhere from 1 year in county jail to 3 years in state prison and fines are hefty.

However, ”Defcon” will face, not state penalties, but federal ones relating to 18 United States Code 1028 (“Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information”).  Penalties at this level are up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of drug trafficking crime (CA Penal Code 11350-11356).  It seems that federal agents will go to any lengths to stop such dark Web sites and to break through the anonymity that the Internet provides for anyone they perceive to be breaking the law.

 

California to Search and Arrest Prison Visitors Smuggling Illegal Drugs (CA Health and Safety Code 11357)

By the middle of next month, something big will have happened to the 34 institutions that make up the California prison system.  If a recent protocol takes root, you could be subject to arrest, strip searches, being sniffed by drug dogs, and hand swabs the next time you visit a loved one or a family member in a California prison.  Officials say that there is a growing problem with illicit drugs in the penal system and the assumption is that these drugs are making their way into prisons through visitors and staff members.  So, state corrections representatives came up with a plan, they would use the same types of methods put in place in airports around the country.  You can’t blame them; this kind of required search has meant a good many arrests for prisons that have put similar measures in place already.  Already this year, officials report that 546 visitors have been arrested for trying to smuggle illegal drugs (mainly marijuana (CA Health and Safety Code 11357), but also cell phones)) into prison.  The public will have 45 days to comment before these ‘emergency’ measures are fully approved.

While state officials believe it would be ideal to purchase 1 $30,000 ion scanner (which interprets hand swabs and would be programmed to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine only) for every prison in the system, in the short term, they plan to install the machines in 2 test prisons to see how efficient they are and how well they work.  Critics, including many advocacy groups, say that these expensive scanners are not reliable and often produce false positive results.  Additionally, there have been reports from across the country that something as simple as touching the steering wheel or paper money that has drug residue on it can result in a positive scan when the person being swabbed is actually drug free.  Unreliability of these machines is reported to be the reason for the Federal Bureau of Prisons having ceased their use of such scanners more than 6 years ago.  That may be the most compelling argument, besides the potential for human rights violations, for abandoning the practice before it takes hold, costing the taxpayers tens of thousands of unnecessary dollars.

 

Oakley Resident Arrested on Charges of Selling Methamphetamines from Ice Cream Truck (CA Health and Safety Code 11350)

62-year-old (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) looked like an average ice cream truck driver.  But, as it turns out, he was using the vehicle as a front for allegedly selling methamphetamines.  So, how did local law enforcement agents in Brentwood find out that this Oakley resident was peddling meth instead of popsicles?  He supposedly attempted to sell some of his illegal wares to an unsuspecting customer, one who came for ice cream and not ‘treats’ of a different kind.   He was arrested on charges of suspicion of possession of methamphetamine.

Whether you are selling drugs on any given corner in the Bay area or out of a cleverly used ice cream truck, you are still subject to the same California laws as anyone else caught dealing in illegal substances (California Health and Safety Code 11350 – Possession of a Controlled Substance).  There are actually 3 different types of ‘possession’ according to the aforementioned law:  actual possession, constructive possession (they were found in a building you own, for example), and joint possession (if that same building was owned by your spouse).  Only if you have illegal drugs on your person (or, in this case, your vehicle) can it be called actual possession, even if the police can only prove that you had the drugs on your person or in your direct possession just before they searched you.

Generally, this crime is prosecuted as a felony when methamphetamines are involved.  If convicted, he faces up to 3 years in state prison (depending on the facts of the case, such as his prior criminal history) or 1 year in count and a term of probation.

 

San Francisco Man Exonerated of Drug Charges After Low-Copy DNA is Re-Tested (21 US Code 841)

A San Francisco man (name withheld in order to protect privacy) was arrested in 2008 on drug charges and while at the Tenderloin police station, was subjected to a strip search, during which nothing was found on his person.  However, when he left the station, local law enforcement officers found a plastic bag full of 14 grams of cocaine on the floor near where he had been sitting.  This is where his story gets interesting.

Officers determined that the best way to figure out whom the crack cocaine belonged to was to test it using a controversial technique, low-copy number DNA testing.  This particular method is often used in so-called ‘cold cases’ or other instances in which it is difficult to use other DNA testing practices because it enables scientists to use a very small amount of genetic material to get results. He was already known to have previous convictions on drug charges and had been sitting near where the bag was discovered.  So, it seems only natural that police wanted to blame him.

The problem is not only that low-copy number DNA testing is undependable, but also that his DNA was never found on the bag, they simply couldn’t rule him out.  Adding to the problematic issues in this case is the fact that, though he has been exonerated of all wrong-doing, he still spent almost 6 years in federal prison on charges of possession and intent to distribute a controlled substance (21 US Code 841).  He was originally sentenced to 5 years and 10 months.

 

Capsized Boat Found in Pescadero May Belong to Smugglers (18 United States Code 545 and 1590)

The U.S. Coast Guard found a capsized boat close to Pigeon Cove. The 18-20 foot motor craft may be a sign that the original passengers were either people or drugs being smuggled into the U.S. illegally.  Of course, there are 2 separate laws that prohibit each of these federal crimes.

Smuggling any kind of goods or “merchandise contrary to law” into the United States (18 United States Code 545).  If convicted, you may face up to 20 years in federal prison.  U.S. federal drug trafficking penalties range anywhere from 5 years to life and hefty fines, depending on the drug in question.

Human trafficking and use of “force, fraud, or deception” of persons “with the aim of exploiting them” to be tantamount to modern slavery (18 United States Code 1590).  In fact, airport workers in Oakland, San Francisco, and one other city recently completed training that will allow them to more readily identify potential victims of child sex trafficking.  Prison sentences for human trafficking now range from 15 years to life and fines have reached up to $1,5000,000.

No one knows whether or not the capsized boat found in Pescadero was used in a human or drug trafficking scheme (18 United States Code 924), but local law enforcement officials are always on the lookout for these kinds of clues (CA Penal Code .  They claim that trafficking of both sorts has become ever more problematic.  In fact, Greg Stump (Coast Guard Captain) has been reported by local news outlets as having said, “this kind of smuggling activity helps fund violent international criminal organizations, threatens the safety of law-abiding citizens at sea and ashore, and contributes to the supply of illegal drugs on our streets.”

 

Santa Clara Deputy Arrested for Possession of a Controlled Substance (CA Health and Safety Code 11350 and 11550)

48-year-old Santa Clara deputy (name withheld to protect the anonymity of the accused) who has worked for 14 years, has recently been arrested for possession of a controlled substance (CA Health and Safety Code 11350), and being under the influence of a controlled substance (CA Health and Safety Code 11550) after local law enforcement officials found that he had been living with individuals he knew to be of the ‘criminal element,’ including parolees and persons currently on probation.

If you are arrested in the state of California on charges pursuant to (CA Health and Safety Code 11350), these charges will be taken very seriously by prosecutors in your area.  The law dictates that possession of any controlled substance without a prescription is illegal and this includes things like heroin, peyote, any kind of opiate, and some hallucinogenic substances.  It also includes hydrocodone and codeine, substances that are commonly prescribed by physicians, but illegal without a prescription.  In his case, there has been no information given to the public concerning the type of controlled substance he has been accused of possessing.  What can be known is that it was not marijuana, as the law regulates it separately.

However, prosecutors will have to prove that he knew the drug was in his home, knew that it was an illegal controlled substance, and that there was enough of it in order to consider it a controlled substance that could have been used as such (California Jury Instructions, Criminal, 12.00).  If convicted on this charge, he may face up to 3 years in state prison as this charge is usually treated as a felony.  On the other hand, if he’s convicted on charges pursuant to (CA Health and Safety Code 11550), which is far more difficult to prove, then he may be looking at 90 days to 1 year in county jail and a maximum of 5 years of informal probation.