Federal agents recently arrested 7 people for allegedly smuggling marijuana bound for Miami, Florida. These arrests began with a major bust that went down on December 11, 2010. In that bust, Federal law enforcement acted on information received concerning two boats laden with marijuana that would arrive in Miami from Bimini.
After watching the boats travel up the New River, Federal agents saw the boats dock at a particular house. A raid was executed and 90 bales of marijuana were seized from the bottom of the vessels. A search of the residence attached to the dock revealed the presence of a hydroponics lab, 15 cannabis plants, and a cooler with additional marijuana.
Three people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to import a controlled substance and conspiracy to possess and distribute a controlled substance, however the names of those arrested have not yet been released.
The fact that their names have not been released tells me that they may be cooperating with law enforcement officials by providing information or participating in future law enforcement action.
Unsurprisingly, these arrests were followed by a second raid that was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Florida. During that operation, the Coast Guard intercepted a Bahamian vessel that was later found to contain 42 barrels of marijuana. Four people were arrested and transported to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where they are being detained. It is not yet known whether or not the vessel was intercepted in international waters or U.S. territorial waters.
Again, the names of those arrested have not been released.
Since the details of these two seizures are skim, it is impossible to provide a detailed legal analysis.
However, I will emphasize that arrests like these are mostly the result of snitches. In law enforcement circles, snitches are referred to as “Confidential Informants.” Without the information provided by such people, law enforcement, especially narcotics enforcement, would come to a grinding halt.
While some informants are paid for their services, most information comes from people who have been arrested and are looking to save themselves from hefty prison sentences. Given the extremely rigid and lengthy minimum mandatory sentences that certain drug offenses carry, law enforcement almost always has the upper hand.
When a person is arrested for drug trafficking and is facing a minimum mandatory sentence, he/she is placed in a position where ratting out their friends, partners, and even families becomes very lucrative. No matter how strong a person’s loyalty maybe, it is rare to find the individual who is truly willing to give up his life for others.
Narco-traffickers know the risky business they are in. Serving a few years here and there can be an acceptable loss, especially when you regularly move $1-2 million in product at a time. However, when the consequences of being caught are measured in decades, things change rapidly.
Given the immense pressure minimum mandatory prison sentences place on an narco-traffickers, prosecutors are willing to trade prison time for good information.
Good information is not general in nature and it isn’t the kind that is unverifiable. Rather, the unsaid rule of thumb is that an informant must bring the kind of information that results in arrests that are bigger than his/her own. The more arrests one’s information results in and the more narcotics, weapons, or other contraband that is recovered, the more prison time prosecutors will be willing to come off of.
As a criminal defense lawyer, my job does NOT include telling people to snitch out their partners. That decision is strictly left to the client. Rather, when a client decides to take that path, my role is simply to make sure the process is done according to law and ensure that the client gets the credit he/she deserves.
These arrangements are formally called “Substantial Assistance Agreements.” They are written on paper and provide an informant with certain use immunities so that they can talk with law enforcement without fear of additional prosecution.
Ultimately, even if a criminal defendant does provide useful information to law enforcement, the decision to deviate from a minimum mandatory sentence always lies with the presiding judge. From my experience, judges usually go along with the recommendation of prosecutors except for certain circumstances.
While there is never a guarantee that a narco-trafficker will be able to fully avoid a minimum mandatory sentence, cooperating with law enforcement is sometimes the only option a person has. Unless an illegal search and seizure was conducted or the entire case hinges on an illegally obtained confession, most drug trafficking cases are a slam dunk for prosecutors.
This leaves narcotics traffickers with little options.
Before any real conclusions may be drawn about this case, much more information will be needed. If those arrested are intelligent, they will immediately hire a criminal defense lawyer to help them with their case.