Dozens of University of Alabama students were arrested in a huge drug sweep spear-headed by the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force – which, itself is facing scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigations over questionable accounting practices.
Our Birmingham drug crime defense lawyers understand that of 74 people arrested during the raids, more than 60 were students. The task force executed a series of search and arrest warrants throughout the day, beginning as early as 4 a.m.
Many of those search warrants and arrests actually took place on campus and in dorm rooms, following a two-month investigation.
In all, the task force lodged nearly 180 charges against 71 men and three women. Primarily, these charges were for marijuana infractions – possession and sale. However, there were also a number of more serious charges involving drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, prescription pills and mushrooms. Additionally, officers reportedly seized thousands of dollars in cash as well as a number of guns.
Task force members say there were 15 other drug arrests connected to this same investigation made in January. The task force relied heavily on the use of confidential informants.
School officials released a mass message to parents and students, saying that the students arrested will be referred to the school’s Judicial Affairs office, where they will be subject to reviews and may receive punishments up to and including expulsion.
Marijuana possession (first offense) under Ala. code 13A-12-214 is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $6,000. A second offense is a Class C felony, punishable by between 1 to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Same goes for drug paraphernalia.
Marijuana sales, also known as trafficking, carry much harsher penalties. If the trafficked amount is greater than 2.2 pounds (but less than 100 pounds), the defendant faces a mandatory minimum of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Alabama does not allow exceptions for medicinal marijuana.
Many of those arrested were between the ages of 18 and 20. Facing a felony criminal record at this stage in their lives could set them up for severe impediments in the future. Securing an experienced drug defense lawyer will be critical. Parents weighing the decision of whether to help them cover the legal expenses – or allow them to simply suffer the consequences – should consider that this is really an investment in their future. For many, the simple scare of an arrest will be enough for them to learn the severity of their actions. It’s not necessary for them to also carry the lifelong branding of “felon.”
Interestingly, the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force is facing its own scare, in the wake of an audit completed late last year. According to TuscaloosaNews.com, the FBI is looking into a number of questionable accounting practices within the agency. The task force is responsible for handling both grant money, as well as funds that have been confiscated in the course of drug investigations.
The FBI, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is continuing to investigate potential criminal misconduct with regard to misappropriation of funds, but as of yet, no charges have been filed. Red flags were raised during a routine audit conducted after the former task force’s commander retired.
It’s not clear whether the outcome may have any impact at all on pending investigations or charges, but it certainly raises an eyebrow when those in charge of criminal investigations are also under a microscope.