Drug Conspiracy Cases

By Lee, Gregory D. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Drug Conspiracy Cases


Lee, Gregory D., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


The message is clear. Government agencies, including those charged with public safety, must learn to do more with less. Police managers face the challenge of stretching already-strained budgets even further. Even drug enforcement units that receive asset forfeiture funds have adopted trimmer budgets. This pattern seems unlikely to change.

Drug conspiracy cases may be just the answer for budget-conscious agencies. These investigations produce the same results as more traditional ones, yet do so more quickly while using fewer resources. This article provides guidance to law enforcement administrators seeking to take advantage of the benefits of drug conspiracy cases.

BACKGROUND

Traditionally, law enforcement agencies attempt to arrest drug offenders for distribution. This often entails cultivating an informant, who introduces an undercover officer to a drug dealer. The officer makes several controlled purchases and then orders a larger amount of drugs, hoping to seize as much contraband as possible. Sometimes, this method proves successful; often, it does not.

Conventional drug cases require an inordinate amount of time, personnel, and above all, money when attempting to secure a conviction for distribution. These cases go far beyond what is necessary to convict a suspect for the often-over-looked crime of conspiracy, which is simply an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime.(1)

Drug conspiracy constitutes a separate and distinct offense and does not depend on whether the subjects accomplished the conspiracy's objective--selling drugs. Accordingly, drug investigations that concentrate on the simple elements of proof for conspiracy can achieve many of the same results as more complex investigations but with less cost and effort.

COORDINATING DRUG CONSPIRACY CASES

Although charging defendants with conspiracy can simplify most cases, some investigations require extraordinary means to achieve the desired results. Yet, even these investigations can be streamlined if the police and the prosecutor come to a mutual understanding before they are undertaken.

Prosecutors need to know that budget cuts are changing the way law enforcement conducts drug investigations. Investigators should call for strategy meetings with prosecutors to determine the scope of the investigation, the evidence available, the means of collection, and anticipated legal ramifications and defense tactics. Together, investigators and prosecutors can formulate a plan of attack.

Because prosecutors know the local legal community, they can determine if judges will be receptive to conspiracy trials that lack drug evidence and if the district attorney or State prosecutor will present such a case to a grand jury. Law enforcement officers must consider these factors before initiating drug conspiracy investigations.

THE INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS

The investigator's job is to produce witnesses and evidence to support the theory that a conspiracy existed. Evidence may consist of simple documents, such as car rental agreements, hotel receipts, and phone bills. These seemingly innocent transactions take on a different appearance when witnesses testify that the defendant used the hotel room to discuss privately the details of an upcoming drug deal; that phone records revealed the defendant called known drug dealers from this room; that the defendant, using a fictitious name, paid the bill in cash; and that scientific evidence positively identified the handwriting and fingerprints on the registration card as those of the defendant.

All of these factors further corroborate any informant testimony that may exist. The jury can then decide for itself why an "innocent" person would pay cash to rent a hotel room using a fictitious name and then meet with and call drug dealers from that room. Although much of the evidence by itself has no meaning, the totality of the evidence will help to secure the conviction. …

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