As the old saying goes, police work is only easy in a police state. Assuming this to be true, detectives in Iran need only an 8th grade education to jump to conclusions and imprison their citizens. The reverse is supposed to be true here in America. We have freedom. Freedom causes police work to be more difficult. And, we do have some of the best police in the world as a result, though I suspect some of them know the law “too well” (which, we’ll get into later). Every now and then, I sense we are inching closer to a police state, and this movement finds its genesis in court decisions dealing with evidentiary issues. For those of you unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, the easier it is to prove a crime, the closer we become to a police state. It’s real easy in China. Yes, I know this sounds a bit extreme, and the term “police state” is boring and abused. But I feel like that clichéd old frog that never jumps out of the boiling water because the temperature increases are so subtle. So, let’s talk about one of those subtle temperature increases, found in the case of Jennings v. State, 124 So. 3d 257 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2013).
Jennings was driving a car with two other occupants when it was stopped for a traffic violation. Jennings exited the car and walked up to the officer with his license in hand, acting “very, very nervous.” As the officer and Jennings were talking, the backseat passenger took off running, but was caught by a back-up officer. To make matters even more suspicious, the front seat passenger then attempted to flee, but he too was caught. And, as you might expect, the reason why these folks were running is that, lying on the front passenger floorboard, there was a gym bag full of two kilos of cocaine, and over $30,000 in cash. Jennings was charged with trafficking in cocaine, and the jury found him guilty of a lesser offense of attempted trafficking in cocaine. The officers testified that, allegedly, the cocaine was in plain view, open for everyone to see–including driver Jennings.
Now, I have a bit of internal conflict about this officer’s testimony that two kilos of cocaine were in plain view, due to the duffel bag being open for all to see. After defending criminal cases for over 20 years, it never ceases to amaze me that drug traffickers don’t bother to hide their drugs. Zipping up a duffel bag, not that hard, right? You mean to tell me that, when this car was being pulled over, Jennings and the passengers just left two kilos wide open for everyone to see? Am I supposed to believe that? Yet, the internal conflict arises from the fact that, yes, some criminals are simply that dumb. The stupidity cannot be denied. So, it’s a tough call, but the officer’s testimony that the cocaine was “in plain view” is the one statement that sent Jennings to prison. The “in plain view” statement keeps this case from being thrown out of court. If the officer testified that the duffel bag full of two kilos of cocaine was zipped up, and its contents were unknown, this case would have been thrown out of court under the proof requirements of constructive possession.