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Should you cooperate with the police, aka snitch, when faced with possible drug crimes?

June 21, 2013,

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Cooperation, Undercover Drug Deals, Snitching: Using the little fish to get the big fish.

We have found that our clients charged with drug crimes experience a state of insecurity and despair when it comes to doing undercover work or cooperating with the police. This is something that is outside of the comfort zone for nearly everyone, especially the family members of our clients faced with this dilemma.

The classic predicament: Should a person engage in undercover drug deals or hire a lawyer for advice and face the criminal charges in the court system?
Whether someone charged with a drug crime should cooperate with the police to get a favorable deal is a delicate and controversial topic. It is necessary to obtain legal advice should anyone be charged with a drug crime and asked to cooperate. Consultation with a criminal defense attorney is crucial - time is of the essence.

We have successfully defended clients charged with drug crimes since our firm's inception without taking the precarious route of "cooperation" with the police. This is especially true for clients who do not have a prior criminal record, and those that are caught with a small quantity of drugs or marijuana.

Some Facts about Cooperation with the Police

  • There is no guarantee that you will avoid criminal charges when you cooperate with the police!
  • The police will not be able to guarantee your safety if you engage in undercover drug deals!
  • Cooperation with the police ends when the police say it ends!
  • Cooperation may mean engaging in drug deals that not only involve much higher quantities than you had in your possession, but may also include buying other types of drugs!

What is the Purpose of Cooperation?

The need for inside information is a dynamic law enforcement tool in the war on drugs. A minor drug offender who is used by the police to get the 'bigger fish' is justified on the grounds that drugs are a dirty business. This issue necessitates the need for undercover informants. The end result is another drug bust which nets the police additional sources to gain information. Should the drug bust bear fruit, others will be implicated, assets forfeited and prosecutions will occur.

Retain a Lawyer to Protect Your Rights and Discuss Your Options

When someone is arrested for a drug crime, the arresting agency will attempt to get a suspect to cooperate, or snitch. This is usually followed an offer of possible preferential treatment in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, I hear from my clients far too often that they are told by the police that they do not need a lawyer in this scenario. This is absurd and dangerous. Whenever someone forgoes his or her 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a lawyer, he or she can wind up doing risky undercover drug deals without ever knowing all of the possible options. In addition, we found that police dictate the level of cooperation that is required. In other words, cooperation is not over until the police say it is over. This may mean that someone who is not faced with serious drug charges is coerced, or persuaded, to participate in risky undercover drug transactions without ever getting sound legal advice.

Here is what the police do not tell you:

  • Pursuant to the 6th Amendment of the US Constitutional, you have a right to an attorney.
  • Pursuant to the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution, you have a right to remain silent.
  • Your attorney can petition for deals to have your case dismissed pursuant to MCL 333.7411 or HYTA (Youthful Trainee Act), even if you do not cooperate with the police.
  • You may have defenses to the drug charges. For example, illegal searches and lack of actual possession.
  • You may not be facing jail.

We have made references to an excellent You Tube video, "Don't Talk to the Police", in other internet posts. We found the video to be extremely informative, as well as objective.

Cooperation in the Federal Court System

Federal criminal prosecutions are handled in a much more formal manner. In the Federal court system, the issue of cooperation is much different than what we see at the state court level. In the Federal system, special formalities and agreements exist. They involve both the District Attorney and at least one law enforcement agency; usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the Federal arena, cooperation is prevalent and can be a factor to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. The following language is contained within a Plea and Cooperation Agreement:

"If the defendant commits any crimes or if any of the defendant's statements or testimony prove to be knowingly false, misleading, or materially incomplete, or if the defendant otherwise violates this Plea and Cooperation Agreement in any way, the government will no longer be bound by its representations to the defendant concerning the limits on criminal prosecution and sentencing as set forth herein."

Don't do it alone. Our attorneys can help you determine the best course of action when it comes to dealing with your drug charges in the court system or the route of cooperating with the government. At times, cooperation with law enforcement may be a viable option. In the Federal system, it is routinely utilized in the plea bargaining and sentencing process. However, cooperation needs to be explored for each case on an individual basis by an experienced criminal defense attorney. Keep in mind that it is the client makes the ultimate decision whether to engage in cooperation or undercover operations with law enforcement officers. An attorney will look at the case from every angle, including the prospect of cooperation and whether drug charges can be fought and won. In addition, various Michigan statutes enable qualified offenders to obtain plea agreements for dismissals.


Proving Drug Possession: "Actual Possession" is not always required

August 31, 2012,

Every drug crime requires the element of "possession". In fact, drug crimes rank high on the list of frequently occurring felony cases in Michigan. Drug crimes include: "possession" or "possession with intent to deliver" marijuana, heroin, cocaine, MDMA or analogues.

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Whenever someone is charged with any drug crime, our criminal defense attorneys will question whether the accused legally possessed the alleged drugs.

Michigan Courts Define Possession In Criminal Cases

In Michigan, a person must knowingly and intentionally possess an illegal drug to be charged with possession of a controlled substance under Michigan's drug possession statute. But what does that mean?

The courts in Michigan consolidate possession into two categories

1. Actual possession: an individual has drugs on their person (pocket or shoe)
2. Constructive possession: individual has the right of control and dominion over the controlled substance



Actual possession is simple. If the drugs are in a person's pocket, that person possesses the drugs. But what if the drugs are found in a home where multiple people are present? What about in a car with more than one occupant? What if the person was unaware the drugs were in the car? Determining whether or not the individual had a right of control or dominion over the drugs, or over the premises (car, apartment, house) in which the drugs were found, is critical in these situations. However, an individual's presence in the same house or automobile as the drugs is insufficient to establish possession; a connection between the drugs and the individual must be found as well. When a person is merely present at a place where drugs are found or is an innocent bystander, our firm will argue that there is insufficient evidence to establish the element of possession.

Michigan Courts broadly interpret possession:

People v Nunez (2000): In this case, police entered a home and discovered, along with several occupants, a large stash of cocaine. Although Mr. Nunez didn't have the cocaine on his person, he was charged and convicted of possession of cocaine. The police arrived at their conclusion by observing the apartment and its contents. Mr. Nunez had a key for the apartment and stayed at the apartment most of the time. His name was also found on bills within the apartment. The connection between Mr. Nunez and the drugs was straightforward in this case.



People v Meshell (2005): In this case, police observed a man emerging from a garage in which they later discovered methamphetamine. Upon entering the area, police noticed a strong chemical odor coming from the garage. Mr. Meshell was the only person in the area of the garage and when police ran his record, they discovered past issues with methamphetamine. Because Mr. Meshell had past issues with meth, it was obvious that he knew the smell. He was also the only one in the area at the time police observed him exiting the garage.

People v McKinney (2003): In this case, police entered a home and discovered a large amount of cocaine. Police found crack in drawers containing women's clothing, and linked the drugs to Ms. McKinney because she was frequently staying at the apartment. Drugs were also found within the pockets of women's clothing in the bedroom she was sharing with the owner. By using the drug's location as evidence, the police were able to successfully charge and convict Ms. McKinney of possession of cocaine.

As you can see from the cases above, police can use the surrounding circumstances to establish an individual's possession of a controlled substance:

1. Any past drug-related criminal activity
2. The smell of the drugs, particularly marijuana
3. Whether or not the person was alone
4. Utility bills for the home in which the drugs were found


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Operating Under the Influence in Michigan: The 'Koon' Decision a Reminder of 'Zero Tolerance" Approach to Drugs and Driving

May 3, 2012,

www.abdolaw.com.jpgThe recent Court of Appeals case, People v. Koon (which can be read in its entirety here), illustrates how Michigan deals with drugged driving. Oftentimes clients are under the misguided impression that a prescription or a medical marijuana card offers them immunity from prosecution for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. However, Michigan law has two provisions to deal with this. For Schedule 1 narcotics (cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, for example) where there is 'any amount' of the illicit substance the driver can be convicted. Alternatively, impairment must be proven where a client is charged with driving under the influence of a prescribed medication.

The Koon case deals with 3 issues; 1) the 'any amount' provision of MCL 257.625(8); 2) Michigan's Medical Marijuana Act; and 3) marijuana that was ingested hours before the defendant operated the automobile. In this instance, the defendant had a medical marijuana card and had used marijuana five to six hours before driving his automobile. Nonetheless, marijuana's active ingredient THC, which can remain in one's system for weeks after it's ingested, showed up in Mr. Koon's blood. Both the District Court and Circuit Court held that the Medical Marijuana Act was a defense to the zero tolerance law. Unfortunate for Mr. Koon and other card holders, the Court of Appeals did not.

The opinion, which I recommend those visiting this blog take the time read (it's not too complicated), reasons that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act does not carve out an exception to the 'any presence' law. The MMMA does not reschedule marijuana (it remains Schedule 1) and further specifically states there are no protections for those driving under the influence of marijuana. The issue may be taken up with the State Supreme Court in the future.

What are the takeaways from this case? Most specifically as it pertains to marijuana card holders, they remain at risk driving long after they ingest marijuana. The result does seem harsh given that THC can remain in one's system for weeks after it is initially used. Nonetheless, this seems to shed some light on the way Courts are interpreting that law. Further, this should serve as a reminder that the State does not take lightly to drugged driving. If you are being prosecuted for operating an automobile under the influence of any drug, a marijuana card or a valid prescription does not offer blanket protection. This is likely an issue that will continue to take shape in the Legislature and Court of Appeals over the coming years.

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MMMA Remains Controversial as Ann Arbor and Huntington Woods Begin to Regulate

May 4, 2011,

866036_ir_hemp_leaf.jpgRecently Ann Arbor and Huntington Woods have provided some guidance in Michigan's fractured, complex, and incredibly controversial Medical Marijuana Act. In Ann Arbor, while the city did not weigh in on whether or not to allow additional dispensaries (currently it has 20), it decided that cultivation facilities do not need licenses. Council Member Stephen Kunselman echoed the sentiments of the MMMA and said that he hoped to maintain caregiver confidentiality. Kunselman stated he doesn't want the city to gather information that could wind up in the possession of the feds. Additionally, the city decided not to differentiate between residential and non-residential grow facilities. However, Ann Arbor DID limit the amount of plants to 72. This sheds light on a question frequently posed to us, whether grow cooperatives are permitted under the MMMA.

Somewhat similarly, Huntington Woods adopted regulations for those growing marijuana as caregivers. It decided to prohibit these businesses from being run out of homes. Further, the city has delineated certain districts where these businesses must be located. Additionally, like any other business operating within the city, caregivers will have to submit a site plan to the Planning Commission for approval. However, unlike Ann Arbor, Huntington Woods stated that dispensaries are not embraced by the state law. It should be noted that both of these communities that are opening up the discussion about medical marijuana are communities where the Act was passed by margins in excess of 70%.

However, this does not mean that the dispute over the law's many uncertainties is close to being resolved. Recently, in an article that Abdo & La Grasso Law was quoted in, a Livingston Dispensary was raided. Additionally, the recent raid on Oakland County dispensaries raises serious questions about whether patients and caregivers need to be concerned about interference from the Feds. Moreover, a Dearborn judge recently decided that the entire MMMA was unconstitutional and denied to motion to dismiss a possession case.

So, on one hand we have communities beginning to regulate medical marijuana, and on the other there are communities ignoring the law outright. It is our position that more clarification is needed at the state level. Otherwise, well-intentioned patients and caregivers are going to be placed in jeopardy.

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Michigan Medical Marijuana Law, A New Push For Clarification

April 4, 2011,

marijuana.jpg This weekend, in light of the annual Hash Bash held in Ann Arbor, the Detroit Free Press took an opportunity to explore some of the issues surrounding Michigan's medical marijuana laws. There seem to be two camps in terms of the medical marijuana argument. Opponents view the MMMA as against Federal Law and further as a subterfuge for cardholders to engage in illegal activity. Proponents argue that the law, passed by the people with margins of over 60%, should be upheld. The opponents do bring up a valid point, there have been many who have used their cards simply as a shield to grow marijuana or to sell it to those who don't hold a card. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the law was enacted by the people and therefore the will of the people should be enforced. Currently, there are two big issues that need to be ironed out in the law. Those two issues are dispensaries and what exactly constitutes a bona fide doctor patient relationship.

Dispensaries have become the focal point of the medical marijuana argument. Whether for or against them, the fact remains they exist. The law is not clear on whether or not such distribution shops are allowed, but cities (such as East Lansing and Kalamazoo) have begun licensing them nonetheless. Without some clarification from the Court or the legislature, the State will end up with a patchwork of conflicting regulatory regimes. Many are advocating for a system similar to Colorado's, where dispensaries are regulated by the state. The idea is that the state can then pay for administration of the law through tax revenue. Hopefully, this is something that Michigan's legislature will take up over the summer.

Additionally, there is confusion as to what exactly constitutes as bona-fide doctor patient relationship. The law does not spell out exactly how much time someone needs to spend with a doctor for them to recommend the patient for medical marijuana use. This seems only to fuel the opposition and is yet another issue that the state needs to clarify, hopefully as soon as this summer.

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