A few years ago, I was appointed by the court to represent a woman accused of possession with intent to sell drugs and distribution of drugs in Longmont. My client had lots of contacts with the criminal justice system. The Longmont Drug Task force was watching her and a few people she lived with. They wanted to get her bad. She had previously beat a drug charge at trial in Weld county. We suspect someone in the house was working with the Longmont Drug Task force because someone left the house at about 530AM and SWAT busted in about 6AM.
Yes, SWAT. There were about 30 police, a fire truck, hazmat, etc. The house looked like the house in ET The Extraterrestrial after the government came in. They spent many hours and 1000s of dollars on this raid.
In the end, they found a little marijuana, some baggies, a small ledger and one bindle of methamphetamine. All that time/money and they get one tiny, single serving size, bag of meth. Egg on face, embarrassed, the Longmont Task Force felt stupid. They did everything they could to charge her with as much as possible to justify this expensive, embarrassing raid. Some of what they did was lie.
My biggest problem in the case was that the bindle of meth was found in my client’s underwear drawer, on top of her checkbook. This is what is known as a bad fact. At trial, I wanted to make sure the jury understood that proximity does not equal possession. Possession must be knowing and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. To possess drugs, or anything else, you must know you have it. Prior to jury selection, I placed a bindle of fake drugs between the cushion and armrest of a juror’s chair. No one knew it was there but me. When discussing this issue, I asked the juror if he possessed meth. He said no. I asked him to look in his chair. When he did, he pulled out the bindle and showed it to the room. It was clear example of the knowledge requirement of possession. This gave the jury the lens with which to see the case, but we need much more.
During the testimony, several Longmont Police and Drug Task Force members testified. These are seasoned detectives tasked to root out meth and meth dealers. I was able to show that their reports showed the unused baggies were different colors in different reports, and were found in different rooms. We showed how their evidence collection system did not mesh with the police reports. There were other issues as well. One of the detectives was very honest and hurt the police case. We showed sloppiness, if not outright lies. The basic argument is that with a sloppy (or worse) investigation like this, can we be sure the bindle of meth was actually found in client’s underwear drawer on top of her checkbook? Is it possible the likely snitch put it there for the police to find? Were the police so embarrassed at finding nothing that they cooked up the evidence a little?
The jury found my client not guilty. Afterwards, they asked to speak with me. After thanking them, I listened. The jury all believed my client was a drug user and dealer. They made me promise to try to get her to get help. (I tried, but I do not know how much she did.) They told me that they found her not guilty because the police failed to do their job correctly and therefore they did not trust the investigation beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury fully believed my client guilty, just not enough to convict.
I hope that police and prosecutors learn from these cases. If they do their job correctly, they get convictions, as they should. If they do not, the community is not being served. If not, we waste money on police and trials.
I am proud of this jury for coming to this result. It is not easy for a juror to tell the police and prosecution to do better, especially when they believe a person guilty. I am proud because if my client were found guilty, the only lesson the police learn is that they can get away with sloppy work. There are many reasons for the jury system and for the prosecution burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The most important is to protect the innocent. Another important reason is for the community to tell the government whether they are doing their job correctly. If you do not trust the investigation as neutral, unbiased, and complete, a not guilty verdict is appropriate. If you do not trust the investigation due to sloppiness or possible lying, then the only appropriate verdict is not guilty. If the prosecution does not foreclose all reasonable possibility that my client is innocent, then the verdict is not guilty. It is our job, mine to show it to the jurors, and theirs to act, to correct bad investigation. Anything less is sanctioning poor police work. Poor police work results in innocent people convicted and imprisoned.