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The Bill of Rights and Drug Trafficking Cases


James Madison, the Founding Father who spearheaded passage of the Bill of Rights, initially opposed them. In fact he called the proposals “parchment barriers” that provided no individual protections. Madison wasn’t wrong. For many years, the Bill of Rights was little more than a statement of purpose. The Supreme Court didn’t introduce the exclusionary rule, which prevents the state from using illegally-obtained evidence in court, until the 1960s.

Even today, Madison’s initial assessment is still correct. The protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights are absolutely meaningless unless a Tampa drug trafficking lawyer enforces them. This enforcement is especially important in drug trafficking cases. These often lengthy pretrial investigations have lots of moving parts. When the investigations concluded, law enforcement officers are under substantial pressure to make arrests and justify the effort. Such shortcuts could cripple the state’s case in court.

Fourth Amendment

Writs of assistance, or blank search warrants that were often transferable, were one of the major sore spots between the British and Americans. The Fourth Amendment, with its requirement of reasonable searches based on probable cause, addressed that issue.

Many drug trafficking investigations feature search warrant affidavits that, on their faces, show probable cause. However, many warrant affidavits over-rely on confidential informant statements in drug trafficking cases. Quite frequently, law officers arrest low-level participants and encourage them to turn state’s evidence.

This “encouragement” usually takes the form of a large cash payment or promised lenient treatment. Many people will say almost anything for love or money. So, the statements CIs make in these situations are almost inherently unreliable.

Incidentally, there’s a difference between reliability and accuracy. A blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. At this stage, reliability, not accuracy, is the issue a Tampa criminal defense lawyer must focus on.

The Supreme Court has carved out several exceptions to the search warrant requirement. Owner consent might be the most common exception in drug trafficking cases.

Frequently, as these investigations draw to a close, officers don’t have enough evidence to obtain a warrant, but they have identified the heart of the drug trafficking network. In these cases, they often ask the owners for consent to search.

Consent is an affirmative and voluntary act. Just like there’s a difference between reliability and accuracy, there’s a difference between consent and assent. Furthermore, officers cannot bully or berate owners until they provide consent.

Incidentally, the “if you don’t consent we’ll get a warrant” threat is usually an empty threat. If officers have sufficient evidence to secure a warrant, they wouldn’t ask for owner consent.

Fifth Amendment

This provision gives defendants the right to remain silent when questioned. This protection begins not in the interrogation room or even at the time of arrest. Instead, the Fifth Amendment’s protections kick in when officers ask any questions and defendants don’t reasonably feel free to leave.

Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment doesn’t just apply to verbal silence. Because of the Fifth Amendment, defendants don’t have to appear in lineups, pose for pictures, or do anything else, except obey basic “step out of the car” commands.

 Work With a Hard-Hitting Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.


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