Being arrested for a drug crime, including marijuana possession, can be terrifying. Whether you are innocent, guilty, or accused of a more serious offense than you actually committed, an arrest can be a life-changing experience. It can affect your future, your job, your career.
Individuals who are arrested in Iowa for drug crimes have options. Your very worst option is to talk the police without talking to a lawyer first. Police officers might tell you that you will help yourself by answering their questions. The truth is that you are only helping the police obtain evidence that might be used to send you to jail or prison.
You’ve probably heard on television shows that you have the right to remain silent. That’s true. You might have heard that the police must tell you about that right before they question you. That’s only true if the police interrogate you after taking you into custody. Police officers often try to question suspects before they are arrested so they can avoid giving a Miranda warning.
Whether you are warned or not, you have the right to refuse to answer a police officer’s questions, both before and after an arrest. The best response to an officer’s question about a drug crime is, “I won’t answer any questions until I talk to my lawyer.” Then politely ask — and keep asking if the police keep trying to question you — for an opportunity to call an attorney.
Option: Defend a Drug Case Based on Constitutional Violations
Most criminal charges are resolved without a trial. Drug cases are often won by challenging the lawfulness of police conduct before and after the arrest.
Police officers cannot stop or detain a suspect without having a reasonable suspicion that the suspect committed a crime. They cannot search a person or a vehicle without having probable cause that a crime was committed. They cannot search a residence without a warrant.
There are exceptions to those rules, particularly when individuals consent to allow searches. But that consent must be voluntary and uncoerced. When the police break rules that are embedded in the Constitution, those violations may lead to a judge’s ruling that illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against the defendant. Charges can be dismissed after evidence is suppressed or thrown out.
Other constitutional violations include the failure to provide a speedy trial, concealing evidence of innocence, and obtaining incriminating statements in violation of Miranda rights. Knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys examine the case for any violation of the rules that might lead to a dismissal, improve a client’s opportunity to win a trial, or negotiate a better deal.
Option: Defend a Drug Case at Trial
Some cases do go to trial. When a suspect is not caught with drugs in his or her possession, prosecutors typically depend on the testimony of drug users to prove a defendant’s guilt. Thorough cross-examination often reveals that the witnesses are not credible.
In some cases, what appeared to the police to be a drug transaction may have been something else entirely. In cases alleging drug possession, ambiguous circumstances may raise doubt about who possessed the drugs. Merely being in the same room or vehicle where drugs were found does not establish that every person in the room or car possessed the drugs. Drugs found in a car the accused was driving might belong to the car’s owner, not the accused.
Occasionally, a crime lab analysis about the nature of drugs can be attacked. When a crime depends on the weight or quantity of a drug, it may be appropriate to hire an independent expert to analyze the weight.
Trials are not the best option in every case, but reasonable doubt can arise when there is evidence that witnesses have reason to make false accusations, or that the police made mistaken assumptions about the defendant’s role in the alleged crime. Skilled criminal defense lawyers know how to create and exploit reasonable doubt to a client’s advantage.
Option: Use Drug Court to Resolve a Drug Case
Some counties in Iowa, including Linn County, participate in the Drug Treatment Court program. Drug court is an alternative to incarceration for defendants who are likely facing a prison sentence for a significant drug crime. The program is available to certain defendants who are drug dependent and who are willing to make a substantial commitment to ending their use of illicit drugs.
Defendants in the drug court program are placed on probation and are subject to intense community supervision. They need to participate in drug treatment and are expected to obtain stable housing and employment. They might also be required to participate in mental health or domestic abuse counseling and other community programs. Participants submit to random drug testing and regularly appear before a drug court judge who evaluates their progress. Successful participants avoid serving a prison sentence.
Option: Resolve a Drug Case by Negotiation
Most criminal cases are resolved by negotiation. That process is often known as “plea bargaining.” Negotiation may result in the dismissal of some charges, the amendment of charges to less serious crimes, or an agreed disposition that a client can accept as reasonable under the circumstances.
Experienced drug crime defense attorneys negotiate from a position of strength. While the case might ultimately be resolved by negotiation, lawyers pursue other avenues first in an attempt to seek dismissal of the case or the exclusion of critical evidence.
Good defense attorneys also conduct a thorough investigation that highlights the weaknesses of the prosecution’s evidence. When prosecutors know they are up against a lawyer who has a reputation for obtaining favorable results, they are more willing to resolve cases on reasonable terms.
People accused of drug crimes can help themselves by staying out of trouble while the case is pending. We recommend that clients with drug problems seek voluntary treatment as soon as they can. Clients who demonstrate their willingness to turn their lives around making it easier for their lawyer to negotiate a fair outcome.
If you have a drug problem, you owe it to yourself to get help. Your lawyer can recommend treatment providers who can help you overcome your addiction. Your lawyer will also know which providers are able to write reports that will help judges understand your new commitment to leading a clean and sober life. Being proactive about treatment can help you earn a better sentence or avoid jail completely.
If you or a loved one has recently been arrested for a drug crime, please call the Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz at 800-450-3140 or 319-378-7416.