According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “VIP Barbershop,” located in Oakland Park, Florida, sold more than just haircuts to its patrons. Barbers David Fonseca, 25, and Norman Irizarry, 25, were both arrested on January 22 after a sting operation conducted by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
BSO deputies claim they saw Fonseca sell marijuana to an undercover buyer that they sent in. In the police report, deputies claim that Fonseca reached into a drawer and pulled out a bag of marijuana which he then handed to the undercover buyer.
After raiding the barber shop, deputies allegedly seized 17 bags of marijuana, a joint, and three glass smoking pipes.
Because Fonseca allegedly sold the marijuana, he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute. This is a more serious offense than simple possession because the law differentiates between those who use marijuana and those who sell it.
To make matters worse, the barber shop is allegedly located within 1000 feet of a school. This means that Fonseca may be facing a minimum mandatory sentence for selling drugs near a school.
Defending someone in these situations can be complicated. For starters, the defense team will need to verify all claims made by the police. For example, were the officers really in a position to see all the things they claim they saw? In a similar case, my law office defended an individual accused of selling crack cocaine from the front door of his apartment in Hollywood. While the police claimed to have seen the hand to hand transaction from the street, this was proven to be false when I went to the scene of the alleged sale and took a photograph of a concrete wall that obstructs all view of the client’s front door. In that case, I was able to prove that it was physically impossible to see the things that the officers claim they saw.
If the defense team can prove that the officers in Fonseca’s case were not in a position to make their observations, or if they can highlight any inconsistencies in their stories, the case may come down to the sole testimony of the undercover buyer.
This is a very good thing.
Unless they are plain-clothes cops, most “undercover buyers” are really criminal defendants who entered into a deal with the prosecutor’s office to avoid doing prison time on their own cases by acting as a snitch. The credibility of such snitches is notoriously poor because they are doing whatever it takes to avoid prison in their own cases.
Moreover, it is likely that the deputies failed to video record their observations. With the advent of cameras that can read license plates from outer space, it is mind-boggling why the police do not invest the time and effort to create question-proof evidence. Instead, the police expect us to rely strictly on their honesty simply because they wear a badge. Frankly, given the widespread police corruption that is endemic to Broward County, such expectations are unrealistic.
Ultimately, if the police lack credibility or their claims don’t add up, the entire case may rest on the testimony of the snitch. Depending on what other evidence exists in the case, if any, the defense team may be able to use this weakness to negotiate probation or a waiver of the minimum mandatory sentence. If not, challenging the snitch’s credibility may not be much of a challenge should the case go to trial.