A locked case?
A Miami Herald article reports the arrest of a father and son charged with drug dealing and possession of weapons at their Northwest Miami-Dade home. According to the article, an anonymous tipster alerted police to activities involving a “hodge-podge of drugs” and “a cache of weapons” at the home.
Responding to the alert, undercover narcotics squad officers “quickly and quietly” set up surveillance and watched two men approach the home, knock on the door, and receive “suspect narcotics in exchange for US currency.” The officers then approached the home, the article continues, the son opened the front door “to deliver more drugs . . . noticed the cops . . . and tried to strike one of the officers,” who then took him into custody. The father then reportedly consented to a search of the home, in which the police discovered narcotics and firearms. After that discovery, “police detained the men at the home until obtaining a search warrant from a judge.”
Police charged the father with armed trafficking of cocaine and the son with drug distribution and “possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony.” The son posted a $50,000 bond for his release. The father remains in jail because, a Miami-Dade corrections officer said, “he cannot bond out.”
Presumably, the sole source of the information reported in the article is the narcotics squad, and the information raises many questions that a Miami-Dade criminal defense lawyer would investigate. The police apparently did not know the anonymous tipster and so had no reason to credit the tip as reliable and probable cause to believe that criminal activity was underway. The fact that they did not use the tip to request a search warrant supports this inference.
With no probable cause for a search or an arrest, the narcotics squad went to the scene and set up a surveillance that did not last long. They observed a visitor receive “suspect narcotics” from someone inside the home. They then approached the front door still without probable cause to take action. Mere suspicion that the visitor had received contraband is not enough for probable cause.
How to establish probable cause, accuse the son of “trying to strike one of the officers” when he “noticed the cops”? The “undercover officers” by definition were not uniformed and their cover would not be effective if they were noticeable as cops. The son would hesitate to strike an unknown visitor without provocation for fear of trouble for himself. A Miami-Dade criminal defense attorney would find such loose ends in the accusation to attack it as lacking credibility for probable cause.
The father’s consent to the search of the house is highly questionable in the circumstances as more likely coerced than voluntary. Of course, then having found narcotics and firearms, the police had no need for the search warrant that they then obtained. They may have thought that the warrant somehow would validate and whitewash their investigation after the fact.
Beyond the issue of probable cause for any search or arrest, there may be legal problems with the charges. Did the police charge the son with “possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony” for trying “to strike one of the officers” as the felony, an implausible account, and does Florida law make criminal mere possession of firearms in a defendant’s home? And why can’t the father “bond out” as is his constitutional right unless he is subject to a correctional detainer as the article may insinuate but does not say?
To sum up, what may seem like a locked case for the prosecution can crumble before an onslaught by a skilled, experienced criminal defense lawyer.