Federal prosecutors hope that a sensationalistic visual aid, a well-told story, and clever alliteration will bolster their case against an alleged local drug dealer.
33-year-old James Triplett was among 42 people indicted in a drug sweep operation that centered on the West Side’s North Lawndale area. In a 200+ page complaint, government lawyers charge that “Trell” dominated the area drug market, but the case against these defendants may be built on style rather than substance. Prosecutors included a blown-up surveillance photograph in the court documents, which they claim shows roughly 30 people standing outside in line to purchase heroin. They allege that, once inside, customers received baggies filled with heroin and adorned with Hershey’s kisses, Batman, black pandas, and basketballs. All this took place near what government attorneys call the “Heroin Highway,” a.k.a. the Eisenhower Expressway.
Authorities made 32 arrests in one morning, simultaneously seizing 12 firearms, some cash, and two used cars.
Like most states, Illinois drug laws basically take into account the type of substance and the amount possessed to assess punishment. “Street drugs” like heroin and crack have essentially no medicinal value, are highly addictive, and have possibly lethal side-effects. Other illegal drugs, like Vicodin and Xanax, have medicinal value (and are in fact legal to possess with an appropriate prescription), yet they have serious side-effects and are highly addictive. Less dangerous illegal drugs like Phenergan with Codeine or Robitussin AC, have only a small amount of narcotics and are illegal to possess only in certain limited circumstances.
As for the amount, the law basically presumes that if a person has a large quantity of substances, there is an intent to deliver and/or sell them, so the penalties increase commensurate to the amount. Copious amounts of crack or heroin may lead to a life sentence, while a few extra bottles of Robitussin might only trigger misdemeanor charges.
Drug Crime Defenses
Lack of evidence is the best defense to any criminal prosecution because the prosecutor has the burden of proof to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Glossy pictures and a suspicious location look great in press releases, but they are not compelling evidence that a specific crime took place at a specific time.
The exclusionary rule is usually the best way to limit the amount of evidence that a prosecutor can use in court. In most cases, if the proffered evidence either directly or indirectly resulted from a search and seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment, that evidence is unavailable in court. To invoke the exclusionary rule, the defendant must show that peace officers conducted an unreasonable search and seizure.
Especially in multiple jurisdiction cases, chain of custody is another possible argument. The prosecutor has the burden of proof to establish that the items in court:
- Are the same things that peace officers obtained in the field,
- Have never been unaccounted for or missing, and
- Have not been tampered with.
If the chain of custody is not in place, the prosecutor cannot lay a proper foundation for the evidence and it is normally excluded.
Count on Experienced Attorneys
The state needs a lot more than smoke and mirrors to win a drug case. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson. We routinely handle cases throughout Chicagoland.
(photo courtesy of Scott Liddell)