Right at this moment, there are defendants sitting in a Florida jail or sweating out the wait to their trial for a drug crime — even though the prosecutor’s office is aware that they’re likely innocent.
An assistant state attorney noticed a number of disturbing things in the body cam videos she was reviewing from a particular arresting officer. Footage from the body cams didn’t match up with the arresting officer’s written affidavits. The reactions of the people being arrested seemed unusual. There were obvious irregularities in some of the searches that the officer conducted, making them illegal.
Ultimately, the officer was fired for planting drug evidence on defendants after falsely claiming that he had smelled marijuana in order to initiate a search of their cars or persons. While some of the cases have been dismissed already and at least nine individuals have filed a federal lawsuit naming the former officer and two deputies as the perpetrators of their illegal arrest, other defendants are still struggling with their charges.
Why? Frankly, it isn’t clear. The assistant prosecutor says that she received explicit orders from higher up to leave the charges alone, despite admitting “I know these people are sitting in jail. I know that the particular charges they’re in jail on they’re either innocent of, based on the information I see, or there’s no way I could take this in front of a jury.”
Perhaps the state is hoping that they can quietly drop the charges without getting into more lawsuits based on false arrest. That isn’t likely to happen however. At least 37 people have filed suit in state court, and attorneys expect as many as 20 more defendants will eventually join the federal suit.
Many people assume that every drug arrest is ironclad and unbeatable. The reality is that many people are victims of unreasonable search and seizure, and some are victims of even worse behavior on the part of authorities. You don’t know what defenses are possible in your drug case until you’ve fully discussed the situation with an experienced defense attorney.