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Law Enforcement: Illegal Search Kills Prosecution in Largest Heroin Bust in California History

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #497)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Two Mexican brothers arrested in the largest heroin seizure in California history walked free this week after federal prosecutors in San Diego dropped the charges against them. Prosecutors had little choice because a federal judge ruled last month that police had violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on warrantless searches and threw out the evidence against them. Two others arrested in the case have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

At the time of the Valentine's Day bust, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nearly dislocated their shoulders patting themselves on the back for uncovering what they described as a major heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana trafficking operation. But their eagerness to search and make arrests eventually cost them the case.

It all started when ICE agents at the San Ysidro border crossing found a car with nearly 12 kilos of Mexican heroin hidden inside. The driver was allowed to continue to his destination in Anaheim under ICE surveillance. The driver met with another man, then drove to an Anaheim house and pulled into the garage. Without waiting for a search warrant, ICE agents entered and searched the house, arresting six people and seizing 121 pounds of heroin, 34 pounds of marijuana, and 3 pounds of methamphetamine, along with about $3,500 in cash.

Attorneys for the two Mexicans argued in court papers the men had been staying at the Anaheim home and had a "reasonable expectation to privacy" guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. They also argued that there was no threat to officer safety or that the evidence would be destroyed if ICE waited to get a search warrant.

Federal prosecutors argued that agents had no time to obtain a search warrant and that the drugs and the driver who led agents to the house were at risk, but US District Court Judge James Selna wasn't buying it. He instead ruled for the defense, holding that the search was unconstitutional and that the evidence derived from that search -- the seized drugs -- could not be admitted in court.

"To me, the issue is a rule of law and it won," said attorney Joel Levine, who represented one of the brothers.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Now, now... we mustn't gloat because that makes them even angrier, and nastier to the next poor soul they target.
I swear, in the wisdom of my old age, there are THEM and US, and we are two completely different species.
THEY don't care about even lip service to justice for all, universal health care or Christian values such as loving OUR enemies, caring for the poor and easing the pins of the afflicted, and WE are pushed out of the mainstream if WE dare to care .
I DARE TO CARE! You can too.

Sun, 08/12/2007 - 5:12pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

i guess i'll be hittin up the dope man

Sun, 08/19/2007 - 8:58pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Well.. the constitution was written for the people by the people and laws are laws, rules are rules and team ICE failed to follow the rules they should have already known needed to be followed.. so they failed for not listening and looked like a bunch of dumbasses.. cause they got too carried away on trying to put away a few smart mexicans... who knew their rights and simply reminded the judge about his rights.. so at the end of this team ICE needs new members who follow directions and dont jump the gun for reconition..


Thu, 11/08/2007 - 1:16pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hmmmm... Why on earth has the legalization movement gotten nowhere? What could POSSIBLY be wrong with this arguement? Certainly the screaming children crying out for the right to hit the bong while driving can't be off-putting to the voting public? No, that can't be it...

Sat, 02/23/2008 - 4:10pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Well, I guess these so called supercops need a few more lessons in regards to the law. Wanting all the credit for a large bust led this case to be thrown out, not to mention their stupidity.

Thank God for the Fourth Ammendment.

Wed, 04/02/2008 - 5:37am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I knew knew we would all go free. I was in this bust they only held us for two weeks and then let us go because they didnt have evidence against us. I knew my cousins would follow. You cant mess with the best!

Wed, 10/22/2008 - 11:29pm Permalink
Michael j fox (not verified)

You know they have these show about worst criminals they need one for law enforcement too!!!!

Tue, 03/09/2010 - 5:34pm Permalink

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