Vice Squad
Friday, May 07, 2004
How Probable is Probable? Search Warrants as a Tool to Combat Drug Sales

To procure a search warrant against purported drug sellers, investigators must demonstrate probable cause that drug dealing is taking place. So one might suspect that most or almost all search warrants aimed at drug distributors would result in drug sale charges.

Well, not in Columbia, Missouri. Here is the beginning of a story from the Columbia Missourian, accessed via MAP:

"The search warrant is a frequently deployed weapon in the Columbia Police Department's war on drugs. Since January 2003, officers have searched 120 residences using a tool that, according to one police commander, is designed to target people who sell narcotics.

Yet police rarely find enough evidence during those searches to make the case for drug dealing. Court records say that in 2003, police searched 84 residences and found evidence of drug distribution in 12 of them; six of those cases were eventually reduced to possession charges. Through this April, police have exercised 36 search warrants and have netted seven distribution charges.

Of the 120 search warrants served in the past 16 months, distribution charges have held up in court against 13 suspects. Cases involving 45 of the 120 search warrants have been sealed. Those cases are considered confidential, according to the Boone County circuit clerk's office, because charges were never filed or the defendants pleaded guilty to a charge they weren't originally charged with."

So it looks as if the clues that provide probable cause in Columbia are every bit as reliable as drug dogs in Illinois, or high electricity bills.

Here's a 60 Minutes story detailing some drug dog deficiencies (or maybe it is their trainers and handlers who are deficient); I alerted to this story thanks to a co-blogger.

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