Iowa State Basketball Star Bryce Dejean-Jones Charged with Drug House Violation

According to multiple media outlets, KCCI, Des Moines Register & WHO, Iowa State Basketball star Bryce Dejean-Jones was charged early Thursday December 11, 2014 by Ames, Iowa police with a drug charge.  It is also being reported by these medial outlets that the charge has now been dismissed based on a lack of probable cause in the criminal complaint.  I checked Iowa Courts Online to determine the precise charge and am unable to find the case.  This is unsurprising given the charges were brought early this morning.

Apparently, Ames Police received a noise complaint late last night and responded to Mr. Dejean-Jones apartment.  When they knocked and the door was opened, police allegedly smelled the odor of burnt marijuana.  This caused police to obtain a search warrant for the premises.  Upon searching, Ames Police found Mr. Dejean-Jones and several other people as well as a small amount of burned marijuana.  They then arrested Mr. Dejean-Jones (the status of the other occupants is unknown) and charged him with a drug charge as well as nuisance and noise violations.

I believe there are probably two potential Iowa Code violations with which Mr. Dejean-Jones could have been charged.  The first is a “Prohibited Acts” charge in violation of Iowa Code Section 124.402(1)(e):

1. It is unlawful for any person:

e. Knowingly to keep or permit the keeping or to maintain any premises, store shop, warehouse, dwelling, temporary, or permanent building, vehicle, boat, aircraft, or other temporary or permanent structure or place, which is resorted to by persons using controlled substances in violation of this chapter for the purpose of using these substances, or which is used for keeping, possessing or selling them in violation of this chapter.

The second charge is a “Gatherings” charge which is a violation of Iowa Code Section 124.407:

It is unlawful for any person to sponsor, promote, or aid, or assist in the sponsoring or promoting of a meeting, gathering, or assemblage with the knowledge or intent that a controlled substance be there distributed, used or possessed, in violation of this chapter.

Any person who violates this section and where the controlled substances is any one other than marijuana is guilty of a class “D” felony.

Any person who violates this section, and where the controlled substance is marijuana only, is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.

The media has been reporting all along that this is a serious misdemeanor so I am guessing Ames police charged Dejean-Jones with the “Gatherings” charge because the “Prohibited Acts” drug charge is an aggravated misdemeanor.  That being the case, it is also wholly unsurprising that the charge was dropped for lack of probable cause.  In the complaint Ames Police filed, there had to have been some evidence that Mr. Dejean-Jones actually sponsored, promoted or assisted in the sponsoring or promotion of a gathering knowing or intending that controlled substances were going to be distributed, used or possessed at that gathering.  In layman’s terms, there had to be some evidence that he gathered a group of people to use drugs.  That a group of people were together and drugs were used is not sufficient basis on which to establish probable cause for this charge.  There must have been some evidence of an act on the part of Mr. Dejean-Jones to gather the people in the apartment knowing drug were going to be used or intending drugs were going to be used.

One might also question why he would not have been charged with possession of marijuana if it was found in his apartment.  I am speculating, but I would guess it was all found in a common area of the apartment which multiple people had access to.  If that is the case, it would be very difficult to prove to whom the marijuana belonged.  This is often why the police opt for charges like the “Prohibited Acts” or “Gatherings” charge when they do not believe they can prove a  possession offense.

Even with the charge dismissed, however, Coach Hoiberg still has a conundrum on his hands.  One of his star players, at the very least, permitted someone to smoke marijuana in his apartment.  There is a news conference scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. so we will see what Coach Hoiberg decides to do.

Do You Need An Attorney For Methamphetamine Charges?

Every once in a while I have to show up personally for a client’s “first appearance” in court.  This is where the Defendant is informed of the charges against him or her.  Generally, most Defendant’s who show up at “first appearance” don’t yet have a lawyer.  The Court or Court attendant asks whether they would like to represent themselves, apply for the public defender or hire a private lawyer.  First appearance court covers the gamut of charges from simple misdemeanors to serious felonies.  When I was practicing law in Florida, and now practicing in Iowa, I continually see people facing serious crimes choose to represent themselves.  I am a lawyer so I am surely biased but it baffles my mind when people choose to represent themselves in very serious situations.  In particular, on more serious and often complicated charges such as drug trafficking offenses.

In Iowa, manufacture, delivery, possession with the intent to deliver, and conspiracy to do all of those things with reference to methamphetamine are just the type of serious charges that I believe it is advisable to obtain an attorney for, whether private or public (public defenders are in fact attorneys).  Why you ask?  Well the Iowa Code contains a number of special penalties for trafficking in meth.  For example Iowa Code Section 124.401E sets out the following “Certain penalties for manufacturing or delivery of amphetamine or methamphetamine”:

1. If a court sentences a person for the person’s first conviction for delivery or possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance under section 124.401, subsection 1, paragraph “c”, and if the controlled substance is amphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, or methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, the court may suspend the sentence, and the court may order the person to complete a drug court program if a drug court has been established in the county in which the person is sentenced or order the person to be assigned to a community- based correctional facility for a period of one year or until maximum benefits are achieved, whichever is earlier.
2. If a court sentences a person for a conviction of manufacturing of a controlled substance under section 124.401, subsection 1, paragraph “c”, and if the controlled substance is amphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, or methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, the court may suspend the sentence, and the court may order the person to complete a drug court program if a drug court has been established in the county in which the person is sentenced, or order the person to be assigned to a community-based correctional facility for a period of one year or until maximum benefits are achieved, whichever is earlier.
3. If a court sentences a person for the person’s second or subsequent conviction for delivery or possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance under section 124.401, subsection 1, and the controlled substance is amphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, or methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, the court, in addition to any other authorized penalties, shall sentence the person to imprisonment in accordance with section 124.401, subsection 1, and the person shall serve the minimum period of confinement as required by section 124.413.
Especially important is paragraph 3 because a second conviction results in mandatory imprisonment.  Additional sections of Iowa law which include enhanced penalties for methamphetamine offenses include but are not limited to: Iowa Code Section 124.401C “Manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of minors” and Iowa Code Section 124.401D “Conspiracy to manufacture for delivery or delivery or intent or conspiracy to deliver amphetamine or methamphetamine to a minor”.

Methamphetamine charges are not something to take lightly, even if it is your first offense.  Most end up as “B” felonies which carry a 25 year prison sentence.  Good, quality representation can make a difference in the outcome of the case.

The IRS, A Mexican Restaurant and A Seized Bank Account

Last week the New York Times (followed by the Des Moines Register) ran a story about Carole Hinders and her 38 year-old Mexican restaurant, Mrs. Lady’s, in Arnolds Park, Iowa.  In May of 2013 Hinders was visited by two IRS agents who had apparently been snooping on her business bank account since April of 2012.  The agents visit was simply to inform Hinders that they had seized bank account; value about $33,000.00.  The seizure occurred because between April of 2012 and February of 2013 Hinders made some 37 deposits into her account which totaled anywhere between $5,000.00 and $9,500.00.

What’s wrong with that you ask?

Under federal law, anytime a person deposits cash $10,000.00 or more in cash, they are required to fill out an accompanying Currency Transaction Report (CTR).  This report essentially permits law enforcement to track the movements of large amounts of cash in an effort to root out crime including drugs and other organized crime (since most criminal enterprises deal in cash).  It is also illegal for any person to “structure” their deposits in a way which avoids the filing of a CTR.  So if you earn $15,000.00 in cash working a job, you cannot deposit $7,000.oo today and $8,000.00 tomorrow to avoid completing the CTR.  That is called structuring.  The agents in this case apparently believed that because Hinders made so many deposits between $5,000.00 and $9,500.00 she was “structuring”.  So, they seized her bank account and instituted forfeiture proceedings in the Federal District Court  for the Northern District of Iowa, against the money.

Here is the crazy part, or not so crazy part if you are in my line of work, they haven’t even charged her with a crime.  That’s right!  You do not have to be charged with a crime for the government to seize and forfeit your bank accounts or any other property for that matter.  I have a case in Iowa state court where the government has seized my client’s house, bank accounts and vehicles and has not charged him/her with a single crime.  In the Hinders case, my understanding is there has been no allegations made that the money came from illicit sources.  The claim is that she simply deposited the money in violation of the law.  Instead of charging her with a crime, the police have simply opted to take her money instead.  There’s probably a pretty good reason for it too.  In civil forfeitures, the burden of proof, “a preponderance of the evidence”, is much lower than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.  If the government does not think they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hinders was “structuring” when she deposited the money, they just opt to take her money civilly and hold themselves to a lower burden.

In fact, in my view this leads to much more nefarious behavior.  At some point, given the low burden, it does not matter whether a person actually committed a crime.  If the government can make a colorable claim to the money or property, it is often so costly for the owner to fight for it that they don’t.  I’m not saying that these agents thought this, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to make that case.  Nothing in the articles suggest the police ever interviewed Ms. Hinders or any other employee of her business nor conducted any other investigation other than monitoring her bank account.  Is this how federal criminal investigations are now carried out?  Or, is this simply how civil forfeiture cases are made?  What do you think?

DEA and Local Police Raid Pot Shops in Denver, Colorado

On October 28, 2013, the Denver Police Department in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office conducted multiple raids on marijuana grow operations in and around the Denver area.  Apparently, and completely unsurprisingly, because merely arresting people is woefully insufficient and yields no tangible benefit to law enforcement, the police are said to have seized cash, cars and marijuana plants in addition to making arrests.  A police raid on a drug manufacturing and distribution operation is a rather mundane news story considering that where most of us live this occurs almost daily.  In Denver, however, raiding a marijuana grow operation happens well, almost never.

In 2012, the citizens of Colorado passed Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution.  Amendment 64 legalized the general possession and sale of marijuana.  So, pot is legal in Denver; sort of.  Pot may be legal in Colorado, but in the United States of America it is illegal.  Although, the Colorado Constitution legalizes marijuana under state law, the citizens of Colorado must obey all state and federal laws.  Federally, pot is still considered a controlled substance which is illegal to manufacture, distribute and possess.  Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper infamously noted this on election night 2012 by issuing a statement to the effect of “federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly.” Hickenlooper cheetos and goldfish

The Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General of the United States, has discretion to decide which federal laws it will enforce.   In 2013, the Justice Department distributed a memorandum to its local prosecutors (the U.S. Attorneys) regarding the enforcement of federal drug laws in all states in light of the legalization of marijuana under state law in Colorado and Washington.  That memorandum sets forth the conditions under which the U.S. Attorneys offices should enforce federal drug laws related to the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana.  Those conditions include:

  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Since the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, the feds have largely permitted the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana as regulated by the State of Colorado. However, businesses engaged in the marijuana business that run afoul of the the conditions set forth in the 2013 memorandum are subject to DEA and Department of Justice enforcement of federal drug law.  Such is allegedly the case with the businesses that the police raided yesterday in and around Denver.  As lawyers who routinely handle federal drugs charges, we know they are serious business.  The individuals and businesses who were raided will need very good legal representation as they will face substantial prison time and monetary penalties. This story is a good reminder that while pot may be legal in Colorado, federally it is not legal in the United States of America.

Washington Post Investigates Civil Seizures and Drug Interdiction

From the Washington Post Series at washingtonpost.com

Highway interdiction and civil forfeiture are not new practices.  A quick google search is all that is needed to learn that fact.  Among the myriad of news stories about new drug and cash seizures are older results like this 1996 article from The Freeman, called “Seizure Fever” The War on Property Rights”.  Recently, however, the Washington Post ran a four part in-depth series on interstate interdiction and civil forfeiture.  The series details the history of the current practice of highway interdiction, tracing its roots from 9/11, to the growth of the private interdiction training industry, to the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program and finally exposing how law enforcement are using their loot to fund and equip their departments.  There are personal stories the victims of these traffic stops; people who have had thousands of dollars and other property seized and forfeited.  There are videos from these stops and statistics detailing the millions of dollars police have literally robbed from citizens traveling on U.S. interstates.  The Washington Post does an excellent job exposing the real nature and problems with these stops in way which is understandable to the non-lawyer reader.  This is a link to the series which I strongly encourage you to read.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/

It should come as no surprise that much of what is discussed in the Washington Post series also occurs here in Iowa.  We have been on the front lines fighting this battle.  In the last several years the number of interstate traffic stop cases, or as we refer to them in the business “interdiction cases”, and civil forfeiture cases has risen dramatically.  And not all of the cases are traffic stop cases.  We now see Iowa’s civil forfeiture laws being used to take cars, bank accounts and even homes, which the police claim have some connection, often tenuous at best, to illegal activity.  At this law firm we are in the process of litigating cases to get our clients’ money, cars, homes and bank accounts back.  We have been successful as a firm in getting literally hundreds of thousands of dollars back for our clients.  We have also successfully won back clients’ vehicles and other property like computers and phones.  Law enforcement cannot be permitted to continue to use and abuse the civil forfeiture laws as a substitute for revenue generation.  There are times when forfeiture is appropriate.  As it stands now however, the process is being abused.  There are lawyers willing to take on these battles.  We are willing to take on this battle.  If you find yourself the victim of such abuse do not hesitate to contact us today.

Stowers & Sarcone PLC – 515.224.7446

Lee County Iowa Narcotics Task Force on Ebay?

I recently came across a two articles alleging the Lee County Narcotics Task Force is selling property it has seized (and presumably forfeited) on ebay.  These links are here and here. Lee County is a small county in the far south east corner of Iowa.  It is home to the City of Keokuk (not to be mistaken with Keokuk County).  I used to get speeding tickets in Lee County on Highway 27/218 “The Avenue of the Saints” driving back from college in St. Louis.  Anyway, Lee County, with a population of about 35,000 people, has it’s own dedicated narcotics task force.  It seems, at least according to the articles, that the narcotics task force is seizing private citizen’s property to sell on ebay to cover county budget shortfalls.  It doesn’t strike me as particularly odd that drug officers would be seizing and selling private property to cover budget shortfalls.  However, publicly selling these items on ebay isn’t something I’ve ever seen before.  So, like any good defense attorney, I did a little investigation.  Sure enough, the Lee County Narcotics Task Force has an ebay page. Looks like business is slow right now as they are only selling one item.  I have to say even I’m a little surprised, but only a little.  What do you think?  Leave your comments below.

Lee County Selling Its Loot on ebay
Lee County Selling Its Loot on ebay

What is Criminal Interdiction? Part II:

In my first post I started off with a definition of criminal interdiction but I didn’t really elaborate much beyond that definition.  That’s in part because it’s not a topic that lends itself to a short explanation.  On the Iowa Criminal Defense Blog I have posted written descriptions (here and here) of what typically happens during an interdiction stop.  Instead of simply blogging about what happens during a criminal interdiction stop, I thought I’d show you one.  The video below was shot in Illinois by an amateur film maker.  It is humorous and disconcerting.  I will break down the officer’s actions in subsequent posts.  For now watch the video and let me know what you think.