04/28/2010

Andrew HawkesHighway Drug Interdiction
with Andrew Hawkes

Be ready for a battle in the courtroom

To get a guilty verdict for a suspect in a drug interdiction case, be ready to withstand the scrutiny of the lawyers, judges, and possibly a liberal jury

Years ago, it was pretty simple. Getting a conviction on a suspect for hauling a car full of dope across the country was a case that practically made itself, and the steps in the path were relatively straightforward. An officer sees a vehicle commit a traffic violation, stops the car, asks for (and receives) verbal consent to search the car. The officer discovers the load of dope, arrests all the occupants of the vehicle, and then sits on the witness stand and testifies to the these facts. Not too long after giving that testimony, “BAM!”, a guilty verdict follows — sometimes only a few minutes later!

But in today’s times — in an age where everything is captured and posted on YouTube — highway drug interdiction cases in the courtroom are a little more complex. Blame it on the ever increasing liberal judges in the judicial system. Blame it on bad K-9 searches or cops doing searches without probable cause. Blame it on one (or a handful) of jurors in a case that are on a prescription for “medical marijuana.” Whatever you blame it on, now more than ever before, we are seeing an increasing number of perps walking on “not guilty’ verdicts even thought they were, no doubt about it, hauling 50 kilos of coke, or some

Nowadays, to get a guilty verdict in a highway drug interdiction case, you had better be able to withstand the scrutiny of the lawyers, judges, and possibly a liberal jury. The officer better be prepared to tackle tough questions like:

1. What was your probable cause? Was the probable cause recorded? If not, why?

2. Was the consent to search by the owner or person in care, custody, and control of the vehicle recorded on audio and/or video? Did he or she sign a written consent to search? Why or why not?

3. You charged the passenger of the vehicle with possession of 50 pounds of dope that was in the trunk — what was your affirmative link that the passenger was involved?

4. A K-9 alerted to the presence of narcotics in and around the free air on the outside of the vehicle. We are going to need to see the K-9’s training records for its service history, along with his success rate, the percentage of times the K-9 has alerted versus the number of times it actually found dope, six different certifications from every national K-9 association in the country, and we will need the K-9 to take the stand and testify, as well. (Not really, but seriously!)

5. And last but not least: Can you demonstrate that you did all this within what the courts recognize to be a reasonable amount of time, and what a reasonable person would think is a justified, extended detention beyond the scope of the traffic violation?

Some of this sounds a little bit tongue in cheek, and it is. There’s nothing wrong with using a little humor to get my point across. The fact of the matter is that those abovementioned questions MUST be in your mind WHILE you’re making the stop. If not, you can almost bet your interdiction case will result in one of those frustrating, heartbreaking “not guilty” verdicts.

Recent cases such as Arizona vs. Gant have made it more and more difficult to succeed in court. However, it is still possible. If you are an interdiction officer out on America’s Highways still bustin’ the big loads, don’t give up. We as cops know we are making a difference. We in law enforcement will continue to do our jobs within the scope of the law, whatever the courts decides that is.

“Your honor, do you want audio and video and written consent? No problem, I’ve got those right here.”

“You want an affirmative link between the 100 pounds of dope and the suspect? Please refer to the images showing him sleeping on the bundles in the back of the van.”

“You want a biography on my dog’s life and how reliable he is? Here’s a signed copy.”

“You want to know how we were justified in pursuing these suspects in a high speed vehicle chase that resulted in a tragic accident other than the fact that the fleeing felon, hauling hundreds of pounds of illegal narcotics, failed to stop for a law enforcement officer. OK.”

And we will get all this for you while we are standing on this busy highway in the middle of the night alone. We will get it for you while we are trying not to get run over by another car, shot at, jumped by the perpetrator, or take an unreasonable amount of time to conduct a felony criminal investigation.

Why? Because no matter what direction our country is going, we are the good guys, and despite increasing efforts to “tie our hands” we will continue to play within the rules, and we will continue to be successful, and, most importantly, we will continue to take illegal drugs off of the streets, and out of the hands of our children.

So, next time you arrest a dope hauler and he tells you he’s gonna get off in court, just give him a smirk — you know, a little half smile — while you’re double locking those cuffs behind his back, and tell him to “bring it.”

You smile and you say that because you know, you absolutely know, that you’ve got answers to all those questions. You’ve got the paperwork, the video, the audio, and the law to back you up. Post your comments and experiences below, tell us what you think.

About the author

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.

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