Morris County Drug Bust Raises Search and Seizure Questions

Law enforcement officials in high-level investigations are under pressure to demonstrate results, both to their supervisors and to the public whose tax dollars fund their activities. Therefore, Morristown residents are used to announcements like the one made recently about a drug bust involving multiple defendants accused of trafficking drugs across multiple states. Unfortunately, such proclamations all too often drown out the voice of reason and prudence, which notes that none of these defendants have been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

The latest big bust was apparently triggered by the arrest of a man in his mid-forties in whose car police claim to have discovered a large quantity of marijuana. Six additional arrests were made the following day in what officials now describe as an operation that shipped drugs all the way from the West coast to a number of Morris County sites. Charges filed against the alleged ring members include drug distribution, drug possession and money laundering.

Conspicuously absent from reporting on the arrests is what probable cause officers had to search the initial defendant’s car, where they purportedly found the marijuana. There is no mention of a search warrant being issued. This raises concerns because a search and seizure cannot simply be conducted on a whim — officers must have some legal rationale for searching a defendant’s vehicle. Even evidence like a large quantity of marijuana can be suppressed if the defense can show that an illegal search was conducted in violation of the defendant’s legal rights.

It is troublesome when Morris County officials seek to portray defendants in the media as guilty before they have had the opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. Legal defense professionals, however, can help defendants protect their freedom and their reputations by fighting back in court.

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