b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1416718478.jpgDefendants in criminal cases often face an uphill battle as they respond to the charges against them. Law enforcement officials have significant resources that they may use as they investigate an alleged crime, gather evidence, and build a case against a person. However, defendants have certain rights, including protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a ruling that may affect the types of searches that may be performed and the evidence that may be allowed in cases involving drug crimes.

Court Rules on Search Warrants, Canine Sniffs, and Visual Sweeps

In the case of State of Connecticut v. Ricardo Correa, the defendant was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. During his initial trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the evidence was uncovered due to the use of a drug-sniffing dog and an officer’s visual observations that were performed prior to obtaining a search warrant. This motion was denied, and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. The defendant appealed the case, but the Appellate Court ruled against him. However, after a further appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s decision and found that the search was unconstitutional.

The question of constitutionality in this case involved whether a canine sniff prior to receiving a search warrant is considered to be an illegal search. Officers had been conducting surveillance of the defendant at a motel room, and they performed a sweep on the walkway outside the motel room with a drug-sniffing dog. When the dog indicated that the defendant’s room contained narcotics, officers applied for a search warrant. The defendant claimed that conducting a canine sniff without a warrant was a violation of the Connecticut state constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches or seizures. 

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hartford drug charges defense lawyerEncounters with police officers can be stressful. Whether a person is pulled over in a traffic stop, has an officer knock on the door of their home, or is approached by police in other situations, they may worry that if they say or do the wrong thing, they could be arrested or face criminal charges. If police officers perform a search of a person’s vehicle or other property, they may uncover evidence that may be used to pursue drug charges or other types of criminal charges. Due to concerns about police misconduct, a person may worry that these types of searches will provide officers with the opportunity to plant evidence that may be used against them in a criminal case. Fortunately, recent changes to the law and rulings by courts have limited police officers’ ability to perform searches based on claims that they smell marijuana.

Marijuana Odor May Not Be a Valid Reason to Conduct a Warrantless Search

For many years, claims that an officer has noticed the odor of marijuana have provided a pretext for performing a search of a person, vehicle, home, or other property without receiving consent from the person or obtaining a search warrant. Officers are generally allowed to perform warrantless searches if they have probable cause to believe that a person has violated the law. Since marijuana was treated as an illegal controlled substance in the past, the alleged smell of this drug was often seen as a strong sign that a person had illegally possessed or used the substance. When performing searches based on the smell of marijuana, officers may have been able to find drugs or other contraband, and this would often lead to arrests and criminal charges.

As marijuana has been legalized for medical and recreational use in a large number of states, the smell of this drug may no longer be seen as an indication that a person has violated the law. Recently, courts in several states have addressed this issue. In Delaware, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that drugs found in a search performed after a minor was arrested because of the smell of marijuana in a vehicle were not admissible as evidence. 

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hartford defense lawyerThe “war on drugs” has led law enforcement officials to crack down on anyone who is suspected of illegally possessing, selling, distributing, or manufacturing controlled substances. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there has been an increase in the number of drug overdoses related to fentanyl. Because of this, authorities may be looking to pursue drug charges against those who are accused of possessing this substance. Anyone who has been arrested for drug possession or distribution will need to secure representation from a criminal defense lawyer.

Increased Concerns About Fentanyl and Cocaine

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has become more available in recent years, since it is fairly easy and inexpensive to manufacture. It is highly addictive, and it is often more potent than other opioid drugs. Recently, officials have raised concerns about an increased number of overdoses involving the combination of fentanyl and cocaine. These overdoses may have occurred because the drugs were unintentionally mixed together or because drug users attempted to use multiple substances at the same time. Those who have not built up a tolerance for fentanyl are more likely to experience dangerous or fatal overdoses.

Fentanyl-Related Drug Charges in Connecticut

Under Connecticut law, illegal possession of a controlled substance may be charged as a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to one year, as well as a maximum fine of $2,000. However, law enforcement officials may pursue charges for possession of controlled substances with the intent to sell, distribute, give, or administer these substances to someone else. The specific charges will usually be based on the amount of drugs that are found in a person’s possession, and even seemingly small amounts of fentanyl or other drugs could lead to charges of illegally manufacturing, distributing, or selling controlled substances.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerMarijuana use has become more and more accepted over the past decade, and multiple states have chosen to legalize this substance. The state of Connecticut will soon be joining these ranks after Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill that will make marijuana legal for recreational use. Some of the bill’s provisions will go into effect as soon as July 1, 2021. In addition to affecting criminal cases involving drug charges, this new law may also play a role in cases involving juvenile crimes, probation violations, and clearing of criminal records.

Details of Connecticut’s New Marijuana Law

Starting on July 1, 2021, people over the age of 21 will be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis plant materials on their person or an equivalent amount of products containing marijuana. A person may also possess up to five ounces of marijuana in a locked container in their residence or that is locked inside the trunk or glove compartment of a vehicle. The law has also eliminated the criminal penalties for manufacturing, selling, or using drug paraphernalia related to marijuana, and it reduced the penalties for illegally manufacturing or selling marijuana. 

The law made a number of other changes that will affect criminal cases, including:

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Hartford federal drug charges defense attorneyFor years now, many lawmakers have agreed that the United States criminal justice system has needed major reforms. Many bills intended to address this issue have been introduced in the past few years, but most have fallen on deaf ears in Congress and have not made their way to the President’s desk. This all changed in December 2018 when President Trump signed the FIRST STEP Act into law. The FIRST STEP Act is one of the first major changes to sentencing for federal drug crimes and is intended to help reduce the prison population. It will also help those who are newly convicted with drug crimes.

Reforms Made By the FIRST STEP Act

The FIRST STEP Act pushes the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to assess the risks and needs for every offender when they are sentenced. Then, the BOP will attempt to reduce the rate of reoffending through individualized and evidence-based plans, which will be offered to all inmates. Programs that could be a part of these plans may include substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, job training, educational support, and even faith-based initiatives.

Another reform made by the Act is intended to help inmates transition back into their communities. The Act allows inmates to serve a portion of the end of their imprisonment in a halfway house or in-home confinement. This allows inmates to successfully transition back into normal life and lowers their chances of reoffending. The BOP will perform the risks and needs assessment more frequently during this time to make sure the services the inmate needs are there.

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