In the event of a drug-related criminal charge, officers must provide evidence that the person they are charging committed a crime. Challenging drug crimes often involves challenging the who, what, when, where, whys. For example, did the drugs actually belong to the person being charged? Did officers comply with search and seizure law? Were the drugs illegal? Were the alleged drugs confiscated drugs at all? The circumstances of any drug-related arrest are critical to the defense, so it is important that an independent advocate review all evidence in the case.
In a recent case that could shift cases in favor of the prosecution, an Alabama court found that police don’t actually have to send drugs to a lab for testing to support a conviction. Our Birmingham criminal appeals lawyers are abreast of the legal developments that could impact the rights of our clients. We are dedicated to staying ahead of trends in Alabama state and federal drug crimes law. This is an important case that could impact future drug crimes convictions.
According to reports, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a conviction for cocaine possession despite a lack of evidence that the substance found on the person was, in fact, crack cocaine. The court said that an officer testifying that the drug was crack was sufficient, even without a lab test. According to the arresting officer and police reports, he found a white rock of the floor of the car and ran a field test. The car did not belong to the defendant and the defense argued that the state did not meet its burden in proving that what was found on the floor was actually crack cocaine.
Civil rights advocates and criminal defense attorneys have argued that this is a dangerous decision, giving police too much authority and opening up the potential for false claims. For the defense in this case, the results were unjust and potentially dangerous, giving police officers the ability to decide whether a substance based simply on experience and personal interest, not an external scientific test. The prosecution argued that a conviction should not rest on scientific testing, but whether the jury was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defendant was convicted after being pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. His prior felony convictions resulted in the 15-year prison sentence in this case. The Alabama Court of Appeals rejected his appeal, which was based on the theory that the conviction lacked scientific proof. According to police reports, he was driving his girlfriend’s car. An officer asked him to get out of the car when he saw what allegedly appeared to be a white rock of cocaine on the floor of the vehicle. The officer was a rookie at the time of the arrest, but testified based on his “field test” of the substance.
Field tests are not used in Alabama courts in most cases. Though the officer preserved the evidence found at the scene, it was never tested by a state crime lab and no evidence of scientific testing was offered in court. The defendant’s attorney is preparing an appeal for the Alabama Supreme Court.