How to Beat a Drug Package Case (More Drug Trafficking Via Express Mail)

cardboard_box_love-300x224Do you know how many people died last year in car accidents?  Worldwide, 1.3 million people.

How safe are airplanes, compared to cars?  For the same time period, 324 people died in plane crashes.  Again, 1,300,000 people died in cars (these are 2016 stats, and yes, I know its 2018).

Now, airplanes are interesting because some planes are designed to shoot down other planes and you would think this would drive up the airplane death stats significantly.  This is what makes being a fighter pilot such a tough business.  We all know the stress involved because, after all, who can forget Tom Cruise losing his best friend “Goose” in Top Gun?  That was a true story, wasn’t it?   If not, at least Fargo is a true story, isn’t it?

There are lots of theories on how to win a fighter jet battle like those found in Top Gun.  The most famous book on the subject, Aerial Attack Study, was written by the guru John Boyd.   Boyd’s book said lots of things the military didn’t want to hear: the best pilot doesn’t win the fight.  The best fighter jet doesn’t win the fight.  Contrary to popular military opinion, “perfection” in a dog fight is not the goal.

When Boyd wrote Aerial Attack Study, there were only two fighter jets worth a damn: the Russian Mig and the American F-16.  Have you ever checked the stats of, say, a Porsche 911 versus a Dodge Dart?  The Porsche has more horsepower.  It has a higher top speed.  It is faster 0-60 mph.  Same deal with the Russian Mig fighters: the Mig won in every category.  It had a higher top speed.  It had more firepower.  Better range.

So, why is it that our F-16’s have won every fight with a Mig, ever?

Because our F-16’s change direction faster than a Mig.  That’s all.  Just that one thing.  Agility.  Sure, the Mig was a more “perfect” plane statistically–stronger, faster, blah blah blah.   But, the ability of an F-16 to change direction faster than a Mig made it so that our pilots could outmaneuver the Mig every time.  And that was the crux of Boyd’s advice–build a plane with more agility, and you win.

The lesson here?   You don’t have to be perfect.  But you must be agile.  If you’re not moving in the right direction at first, change directions before your opponent knows what hit them.

Agility wins in business too.  Was YouTube a perfect company when it started in 2005?  Hardly.  YouTube started as a dating site, with the slogan “Tune In, Hook Up.”   And, you know the rest of that story. 

Amazon started out selling books, now they’re delivering stuff better and faster than the inventors of their idea, the Sears & Roebuck’s Catalog.  Drug dealers have also figured out what Amazon already knows, that you can use the mail system to increase business (you like that segue?).   Amazon has cut out the middle man located at the local mall, why can’t drug dealers cut out risky drug mules, and just send their product via US Mail?  My guess is that the United States Postal Service’s overnight service is the largest drug dealer on Earth.  People who send drugs via mail can beat the system–some of the time–because the Drug Enforcement Agency cannot catch up with every single illegal package that must be delivered the next day.  Its a numbers game, and rarely will folks get caught the first time they mail drugs, but the House always wins.  Vegas will not be going out of business soon, nor will the DEA.

To understand some of the legal gymnastics we defense attorneys use to beat a drug package case, let’s take a look at the real life example found in  Sanchez v. State.  210 So. 3d 252 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017).

First, a little background info.

Sanchez was sentenced to a 15 year minimum mandatory prison sentence after pleading guilty to trafficking in heroin (and similar offenses).  Now, 15 years may seem like a big plea, so you may be wondering why someone would agree to so much time.  Well, unfortunately, we have judges handing out 50+ years on drug trafficking cases (30 years per trafficking count, roughly), so 15 years isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  Sanchez was facing more than a hundred years total.   Let’s say Sanchez is 24 years old, the conversation may have gone something like this: “You wanna get out of prison when you’re 39 years old, or 119 years old?”  Have you ever seen a 20/20 or Dateline where they interview folks who live past 100?  How did you get past 100?  Dessert every day?  Hot dogs & beer? I can assure you, none of these centenarians are in a jumpsuit.  No one survives prison to get to a ripe old age.   I’m just saying.

Sanchez’s case evolved as any other package case: a narcotics dog at the post office alerted on a package.  The cops take a closer look at the package, and notice it wasn’t addressed to the person that lives at the addres (Sanchez), it was addressed to a fictitious Jason Cardenas.  This is a dead give away.  These sorts of shenanigans will get your package a dog sniff sooner than most, and this case is no exception.  By the way–the Post Office keeps track of aliases on an address, so the government’s radar was on red alert as they saw the alias Jason Cardenas.

Rather than face triple digit prison years, Sanchez enter a plea to 15 years.  He then appealed his 15 year sentence, and the appellate court denied his appeal.  So, what happens after you lose an appeal?  You complain about your attorney.  Technically, this complaint/lawsuit is called a 3.850 motion for post-conviction relief, alleging that your attorney was ineffective for one reason or another.

What did Sanchez’s attorney do wrong?  That list, in essence, is a brief lesson on how a defense attorney should handle a package case.

First, the court noticed that Sanchez’s defense attorney never looked into whether or not the drug sniffing dog was legit.  Yes, it takes a special dog to sniff for drugs, not just any dog can handle this.  Training, certification, the whole nine yards.  Not every dog that is certified should be trusted, and if you can show that the dog can’t be trusted–the whole drug case gets dismissed.  It’s a beautiful thing.  So, we defense attorneys must review all of the training records of the dog.  Sanchez’s attorney didn’t do this.

Second, even if the narcotics dog is reliable, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search the package the dog alerts on.  In Sanchez’s case, the police never obtained a warrant to open the package after the dog alerted on it.  Yes, this is America.  Yes, your mail is private (even if its addressed to your alias, believe it or not).  Yes, the government needs a warrant to search your stuff.  In this case, they didn’t get a warrant, but Sanchez’s attorney never challenged the search.

With the above glaring defense attorney oversights, the appellate court decided to send Sanchez’s conviction back to the trial court for more hearings about what (didn’t) happen in this case.  And the lesson here is pretty simple, if you’re unlucky enough to grab something in the mail like what was mailed to “Jason Cardenas”, make sure your defense attorney has challenged all of the things listed above (and then some).  Also, there are other problems with proving drug trafficking cases via mail service.  In one case, the defendant picked up drugs at the post office and was so excited to get them, that he was caught doing lines of coke in the parking lot, but the case was dismissed for reasons you’ll find if you click here.   And, what analysis of drug package cases would be complete without a review of the seven factors known as the “drug package profile”, which you can find here.