Of the Many Drug Trafficking Cases I am Retained on there is a Common Theme that Could Simply be Avoided
I see it time and time again. A family member calls for someone who has been arrested for drug trafficking. The normal scenario can be twofold. One, a person is what is called a "mule" who has been retained by a cartel to drive illegal drugs across the country (normally to the east coast) for delivery. The second, is an individual who believes they can turn a quick profit by doing the same thing. The cartels normally pay between a few thousand to ten thousand, depending on the product and amount, to young people who have no idea of what trouble they can get into if caught. The individual traffickers believe they will receive profit from selling it when they return home.
The first error traffickers commit is driving a rental vehicle or a vehicle with west coast or southwest states license plates. The second error commonly seen is they drive rental cars. The rental cars are most of the time rented in another person's name making the scenario even more suspicious to law enforcement. Currently there is a series of LPR (license plate readers) that can track a vehicle anywhere in the country. For instance, say a person is in California and he/she drives east and is stopped by police, they can determine the exact date and time that vehicle has been in any state in between their departure to stop. This creates issues for those stopped when they are interviewed by police. Many times the defendant will give erroneous information to law enforcement about there whereabouts during the trip. Any false evidence given to police can lead to probable cause to detain and search the vehicle. LPRs are used on the bridges from MO to IL. We have many DEA Task Force agents who have access to that data in our county. They normally position themselves on I-70 or I-55 and wait for the out of state plated vehicle to drive past them. Then they track the car and stop it for a variety of reasons. Normally Improper Lane Use, Following Too Close, or Speeding are the initial reasons claimed by them for the stop. All ISP squad cars and many municipal squads have dash cams. However, none of the DEA Task Force vehicle have cameras and the officers don't wear body cams. This makes disproving a reason for the initial traffic stop very difficult to dispute. The squads that do have video sometimes don't capture the claimed reason for the stop. Some dash cams don't activiate until one minute before the overhead lights are activated. If a police officer claims to have witnessed a prior violation of the vehicle code that won't appear on the cam. Again in that scenario it is difficult to dispute whatever the police claim was the reason for the initial stop.
After the vehicle is stopped the next mistake is multiple air fresheners, open cannbis, scent of cannabis, etc. If an officer detects a scent of cannabis or sees cannabis in plain sight - game over. The entire vehicle can be legally searched under the plain scent doctrine. Even though cannbis is legal in certain amounts in Illinois, a driver cannot have open cannbis or have used cannabis inside a vehicle. Legal transportation for a person requires the contents be secured in an odor proof box. Its surprising how many people have used or have open cannabis in their vehicles when trafficking.
Next the officer will ask the person to step back to their squad car where a variety of questions about where that person is travelling to, from, who they are meeting, what is the purpose of the travel, what states have they been in, why didn't they fly to save time and money, what does a person do for a living are asked. Where more than one person is in the vehicle it is easy to trip them up so the stories don't match. Again, this creates probable cause to detain and search. The officers will then claim to witness physcial signs a subject is overtly nervous (heartbeat elevates, sweating, etc.).
The law states a person may be detained for a reasonable period of time to issue a citation/warning. However, if a subject shows any of the above signs the police normally summon a K9 to the scene. If the K9 arrives before the citation/warning is issued and detects narcotics - game over. The entire vehicle can be legally searched under the sniff search results. The law, however, states that if a person is detained longer than is necessary to complete the mission of the reason for the initial traffic stop then the stop becomes unnecessarilsy prolonged and all evidence may be suppressed. However, motions to suppress always have uncertainty built into them. We never know with certainty how a judge will rule on such a motion. There are cases where the court has improperly denied a motion to suppress. In that the case the charge must be fully resolved and the subject sentenced to prison before an appeal can be filed. And again there is no certainty a defendant will win their appeal. With sentencing ranges from 6 to 120 years it is a difficult position to deal with for a client. Some of the sentences must be served at 85%.
The controlling case law is stated in Caballes and Rodriguez. These cases have resulted in many defendants having charges dismissed due to bad stops and searches.
I believe most suspects have no idea of the amount of time they can be sentenced to when they agree to travel across the country with illicit drugs. Some of the clients I have represented were paid $2,500 and risked 30-120 years of their lives. I have been able to avoid any high sentences with my clients. The most time any of my clients have ever been sentenced to were six and two and a half years. Both of those cases were unusual. The vast majority of my clients serve no time at all. There are various methods I use when defending clients that result in far better outcomes than all other attorneys. I do charge a high fee but my results warrant the fees. Some attorneys take these types of cases and have no idea what facts to look for or motions to file. I always obtain complete discovery including any Valkyrie, telecommunication, dispatch, camera evidence, EPIC evidence, LPR evidence, and any other evidence that exists for each specific case. I have recently begun obtaining as much pesonal cellular data from officers as I can get. K9 packets for both the K9 and handler must be obtained. The K9s are only trained for four specific drugs. If a person/vehicle is subject to a sniff search and is charged with possession of a substance for which the K9 is not trained that opens the door for another motion to suppress evidence. Cellular data from subject's phones is one type of evidence that oftentimes can be suppressed. An officer cannot search a cellular device without consent or a search warrant. I have seen many times where devices are searched without either. These are just some examples of what type of evidence can be obtained and suppressed under the right circumstances.