The everyday items that play a part in drug crimes are very important to law enforcement officials. Because of this, they are legally allowed to confiscate items such as cars, homes, and cash that could have been used in the drug crimes.
If an item like a phone is used, not only will that item be confiscated… it will also add more criminal charges to the individual’s record. How does this work?
Charges in Colorado Drug Trafficking Bust Include Cell Phone Usage
Earlier this month, over 52 individuals were arrested and/or indicted for their involvement in a large drug trafficking ring in Denver. Reports say that this was one of the largest federal drug busts in years, which may not be surprising if you consider the fact that the amount of drugs being trafficked in Colorado has steadily increased over the past few years.
The ring was found transporting cocaine and crack cocaine throughout the city. Members of the ring, including members of the East Side Crips, allegedly sold these drugs in the open, near parks and public transportation.
With so many people involved, the charges against each individual vary widely, but most people are looking at decades behind bars. Some of the people involved could even face a life sentence for their crimes.
When the individuals were arrested, police seized over $80,000 in cash, guns, nine ounces of powdered cocaine, and two cars. Also involved in the cash were cell phones.
Because of this, multiple defendants are facing charges of using a telephone to commit a drug trafficking offense. While it may seem odd that a cell phone could lead to additional charges, the history of this charge goes back 20 years.
United States v. Mueller
In 1995, William Mueller was arrested and charged for facilitating the growth of marijuana plants on his former property. He paid the then-owner $25 an hour to care for and harvest the plants, and sometimes came to check in on them.
All told, he was found to be responsible for over 1,000 marijuana plants, and was also accused of money laundering tens of thousands of dollars in cash. When he was brought to prison, he pleaded guilty to five criminal charges, including using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense.
At the time, Mueller and his lawyer did not expect this crime to be a controlled substance charge, and were displeased with the sentence given to Mueller. (The sentence for his “use of a telephone” counts added 48 months – four years! – to Mueller’s sentence.)
Mueller appealed the sentence, arguing that the telephone charges were not a controlled substance crime. He lost the appeal, however, and had to serve 84 months in prison for his crimes. A bit of quick math should tell you that means more than half of the time he spent behind bars was due to the fact that he used his phone in the commission of his crimes.
Adding insult to injury, the federal jury at the Court of Appeals noted that while the phone was used to facilitate drug crimes (Mueller consistently called the person who was being paid to water his plants on it), the charges would not have been brought up if other controlled substance crimes weren’t involved: “A defendant cannot be convicted of using a telephone to facilitate a drug offense unless the defendant also aids or abets, or attempts to commit, the drug offense itself.” Basically, it was just used as a way to further punish him for something he was already being punished for.
What Does This Mean For You?
Keep in mind what the federal court of appeals said about the crime. You cannot be charged solely for using a cell phone.
In other words, prosecutors will have to prove that you were committing a controlled substance crime like distributing or trafficking in the first place if they want to pursue cell phone charges. If those charges are dropped, your cell phone charges will have to be dropped as well.
Because of this, the wisest strategy to pursue may be to ignore the phone charges and focus on casting doubt on their assertions that you engaged in distributing or trafficking in the first place. Alternatively, you might be able to craft a plea deal where you admit guilt to distribution or trafficking charges in exchange for prosecutors dropping your phone charges.
Every situation is different. To know which strategy is right in your specific circumstances, the best thing to do is to consult with an experienced Denver drug crimes lawyer.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.