As a nation it seems we are gradually coming to the realization that the 40-year war on drugs has been a colossal failure, pocked with racial prejudice and leaving a legacy of decimated lives and communities.
And yet, it continues, often with the staunch support of law enforcement agencies (whom, it’s worth noting, tend to be very powerful lobbyists when it comes time to lawmaking). They cite the negative impact that drugs can have on an individual, a family and a community.
While there is undoubtedly some truth, our Fort Lauderdale defense lawyers have to question the approach and motivations of police, especially in light of reports like the one that was recently published in the Sun Sentinel.
This story, which involved reporters spending six months scouring some 645,000 South Florida jail booking records over the past four years, revealed that police departments are making millions of dollars annually as a result of initiating reverse sting operations busting people for cocaine trafficking and possession. Many of these defendants are lured in from out-of-state, and most are looking to buy a kilo or more of the drug.
The tactics of the department’s vice squad units, while not technically illegal, are unusual. Typically, law enforcement targets drug traffickers within a community as the best means of improving quality of life. Here, they are luring buyers in hopes of using seizure laws to score a payday. Informants tip off police to potential buyers, who are offered too-good-to-be-true deals on the sales. Would-be buyers, many of whom the were not even career cocaine traffickers, came to South Florida, affirmed the buy and were arrested on serious felony charges.
According to Florida Statute 893.135, any person who sells, buys, manufactures, delivers or is in “constructive possession” of more than 28 grams of cocaine or some mixture of it commits a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The possibility of such a lengthy prison term allows prosecutors to strong-arm defendants into plea deals wherein they plead guilty to lesser criminal charges, in exchange for a reduced sentence.
However, that guilty plea then allows police agencies to initiate civil forfeiture action. This is a procedure whereby police agencies can act to seize property belonging to the defendant that may have in any way been connected to the drug trade. So this includes vehicles, jewelry, phones and cash.
Turns out, this is a very lucrative business in South Florida. In 2011 and 2012, the Sunrise Police Department raked in an eye-popping $5.8 million from civil forfeiture actions initiated as a result of the drug trade. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department made $1.8 million from such deals during that same time frame. In Coconut Creek, the cops took home $1.5 million. Same with officers in Coral Springs. In West Palm Beach, they collected $1.3 million.
These figures don’t even include the hundreds of thousands of dollars that undercover officers are earning in overtime on these deals each year.
This is the kind of money that raises serious questions about the motivations of these agencies with regard to the continuation of the war on drugs.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
Cops. Cash. Cocaine. How Sunrise police make millions selling drugs. Oct. 1, 2013, By Megan O’Matz and John Maines, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Unreliable Witness for the Prosecution: an Advantage for the Defense, Oct. 11, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog