Police in Homewood, just south of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, say they have made the largest methamphetamine bust in area history – all with one chance arrest.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers understand that it started with a traffic stop of a 19-year-old Mexican national who was pulled over for a minor moving violation just after 3 p.m. on a recent Tuesday.
Officials said that during a “cursory search,” officers located some drugs in the vehicle. We don’t know exactly what kind, but that was enough for those on scene to call for a K-9 unit. These dogs are typically trained by police to sniff for certain kinds of drugs, weapons and even explosive devices.
A positive alert from a dog that there is contraband in your vehicle does not negate your right to withhold consent for a search – which you should do anyway if you have illegal items in your car. However, a positive K-9 alert will make it easier for the officers to obtain a warrant to search. Withholding consent, though, provides more opportunities later for your defense attorney to potentially have any items found thereafter suppressed as evidence on a procedural technicality.
It remains to be seen in this case whether that will be an option for defense lawyers. We know that the dog alerted, the officers searched the vehicle and subsequently discovered a hidden compartment in the vehicle. Inside that hidden compartment, police recovered a semi-automatic handgun, pipes used to smoke methamphetamine and 30 ounces of methamphetamine in separate, labeled plastic baggies. There were also small scales in the vehicle as well, presumably for weighing and measuring the drug prior to sale.
In Alabama, police consider 1 oz. of methamphetamine to be a “significant” amount. So a bust that leads to the seizure of nearly two pounds is huge. Prior to this, officers said, the largest bust in the area was one half-ounce of the drug.
The defendant was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and carrying a pistol without a permit.
Alabama Code 13A-12-231(6) holds that a person who is found to have knowingly sold, manufactured, delivered or brought into the state more than 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of methamphetamine but less than one kilo (or 35 ounces) faces a minimum mandatory prison term of five years, accompanied by a fine of $100,000.
If this individual had been caught with five more ounces of the drug, he would have faced a minimum of 15 years in prison. If had been caught with 10 kilos or more, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The state of Alabama is extremely strict when it comes to cases like this, and your freedom is not something you can chance with a public defender.
There are additional challenges posed in this case because there are indications that the defendant is an illegal immigrant, which means he also faces the possibility of deportation.