Police Misconduct in Houston Drug RaidsPublished: Dec 22, 2019 in Criminal Defense
A recent report from the Houston Chronicle has revealed the Houston Police Department’s narcotics division has been trampling the rights of suspects for years. So if you’ve been charged after a Houston drug raid, the best defense strategy may depend on whether the police followed proper investigative and arrest procedures.
Police misconduct can cripple the prosecution’s case, but it usually takes an experienced criminal defense lawyer to raise this issues effectively. Many people who get arrested, even after a police error, end up incriminating themselves before they decide to call a lawyer. But you have the right to remain silent and to request the assistance of a lawyer as soon as you are detained, and doing so can vastly improve the prospects for your case.
Houston Narcotics Cops Have a History of Disregarding Rights
The HPD narcotics division includes around 180 officers divided into 20 squads whose missions’ range from enforcing street level drug crimes to higher-level drug trafficking. The Houston Chronicle report focuses on abuses by a group of officers tasked with street-level offenders, who are arguably the most vulnerable to this kind of police misconduct.
Reportedly, over the last twenty years, at least eight officers may have lied to get warrants and in many other instances officers mishandled evidence.
HPD officers have a record of overusing so-called “no-knock” raids, in which the police forcibly enter the premises while announcing themselves. The raids are reserved for scenarios where the police have reason to believe the occupants have weapons, or are likely quickly destroy evidence. In many Houston cases, the police lied to the judge about these risks while applying for no-knock raids.
One member of the narcotics division, now-retired Officer Goines, obtained almost 100 no-knock warrants in the last 12 years of his career, which he usually obtained by referencing testimony from confidential informants about firearms in the house.
The Chronicle’s review of Goines’ post-raid reports found that he only seized firearms in one instance, so it’s likely that Goines made a habit out of misrepresenting or exaggerating pre-raid evidence of firearms in his warrant applications.
In January 2019, a no-knock raid resulted in the deaths of Houston residents Homeowners Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle. The judge who issued that particular warrant did so on the basis of Goines’ misrepresentations of fact.
In another incident, Goines led a raid against a home and detained one of its innocent residents for hours before releasing him without charges. It turned out that Goines and his team had raided the wrong house.
What If the Police Abused Your Rights in a Drug Raid
When the police abuse their authority, the prosecution’s case will be vulnerable. Prosecutors are not allowed to use evidence that was unlawfully obtained, and as the revelations about the HPD narcotics division show, the police violate suspect rights all the time. But this doesn’t guarantee that your charges will go away. This can only happen after a skilled lawyer submits and argues a series of motions.
If you’ve been accused of a drug crime, your defense’s priority will often be to file a motion to suppress the evidence, which will document the police’s abuse and how it affected on your case. In general, the judge will suppress any evidence that was clearly obtained as a result of the violation of your rights. If the police lied in their warrant application, any evidence obtained as a result of the raid should be suppressed.
After a successful motion to suppress, the prosecution will have less evidence to support the allegations against you. At this point, you have several options. Your lawyer can request the court to dismiss the charges if the remaining evidence is clearly insufficient to show that you are guilty. If a dismissal is not an option, your lawyer can exploit the prosecution’s lack of evidence to obtain a good verdict at trial. Alternatively, a successful motion to suppress will strengthen your bargaining position if negotiating a plea arrangement is the best course of action.
A Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
In exceptional cases, the police’s misconduct may be so glaring that the prosecutors themselves will drop the charges in the interest of justice. But never rely on prosecutors to do the right thing if you want to avoid a criminal conviction. The assistance of a dedicated legal professional is almost essential to achieving a positive outcome.