Arizona Court of Appeals Marijuana Trafficking Case Study: Part II of II – Suspects 40 Minute Detention for K-9 Drug Unit Not Unreasonable.

Your Rights at a Stop; 10 Defenses for Drug Charges; Mitigating Sentencing; Drug Trafficking Laws; Penalties.

This is Part 2 of our Case Study on a recent Arizona Court of Appeals ruling involving Marijuana Trafficking charges.

If you’re just joining us, here’s a quick summary of the case: Recently, an Arizona Superior Court granted suppression of the Marijuana evidence that led to the State’s dismissal of the charges. The State promptly appealed arguing that the lower court erred in dismissing the Marijuana evidence found in the vehicle the suspect was driving.   The state argued on Appeal that the detention of the suspect for 40 minutes while awaiting the drug K-9 unit was not unreasonable.

The Appeals Court agreed, and overturned the lower court’s ruling, based on totality of the circumstances at the time.   The factors that the Appellate Court considered were the police officers extensive knowledge and experience in drug trafficking detection; prior drug crimes history of the suspect; voluntary statements made by the suspect at the time of the stop; and the suspect’s consent to search the vehicle he was driving.

In this discussion we focus on criminal rights at a stop, common defenses for drug crimes, laws, and drug trafficking penalties in Arizona.

Criminal Rights at a Police Stop

In the case study, the police used the suspect’s inconsistent statement about his destination to police which were used against him. The suspect also agreed to a search of his vehicle, which led to the discovery of the boxes of Marijuana in the trunk of his rental car.

Under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution a person is afforded protection from self-incrimination. A person has the right to remain silent upon questioning by police, except to answer routine identification or procedural question during an investigative stop. But a suspect does not have to answer questions about where they were, or where they were going at an investigative stop.

At a police stop, a person has the right remain silent, including the right to refrain from answering questions about where we are going.  A person also has the right to refuse a search of their vehicle. There are a few exceptions to this including police having a valid warrant, or what is known as exigent circumstances. A person has these rights under state and federal laws, whether the Miranda warning is read to them or not. It is critical to invoke these rights. Failure to do so may result in arrest and prosecution.

In this case, the statements offered by the suspect were seemingly innocent, and had nothing to do with the illegal drugs that were in the trunk of the vehicle.  However, the officer testified that he found the suspect’s statements “perplexing” and “confusing”, which raised the officer’s suspicions of the suspect’s potential criminal activity.

Alone, the suspect’s statements may not have been sufficient to raise suspicion of criminal involvement. But the officer took into account other factors he observed, when he decided to further detain the suspect. So the seemingly innocent statements made by the suspect, were used by police against him in this case. When this happens it constitutes a form of self-incrimination.

Under the 4th Amendment, a person is protected against unlawful search and seizures. If a person consents to the search, the officer may search their vehicle without a valid search warrant. In this case the suspect consented to a search of the vehicle. But he refused to extend his consent to the contents of an unmarked, taped box in the trunk. At this point the police requested the K-9 unit to investigate the boxes with the suspicion that the boxes contained illegal drugs. It was the original consent however of the vehicle that led the discovery of the suspicious boxes in the trunk of the vehicle.

10 Common Drug Crimes Defenses

A number of defenses can be used to challenge drug charges. Which defenses your attorney uses to challenge the charges will be heavily based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. There are also, different types of defenses that made be used pre-trial or during trial. Below is a sample of 10 defenses commonly used by experienced drug crime defense lawyers:

• Reason for the stop:
• Unlawful search and seizure rights;
• Violations of Miranda Rights;
• Unlawful detention;
• Police procedural violations;
• No probable cause for arrest;
• Other constitutional violations;
• The drugs belonged to someone else;
• Entrapment;
• The suspect was unaware that they were in possession of the drugs:

Note: It is not a valid defense for someone to be unaware of the laws in Arizona regarding the legality of Marijuana. But rather, it would be a valid defense if the accused was reasonably unaware that they possessed illegal drugs, or that the vehicle they are driving contained them.

5 Sentencing Diversion or Reduction Factors

If a person is found guilty or pleads guilty to a drug crime there are multiple factors the court takes into consideration.   The general rules are that crimes involving repeat drug convictions, and higher quantities call for the most severe of penalties under the Arizona criminal justice system.

Below are some common alternatives that can be used to reduce the severity of  penalties or help a defendant avoid incarceration:

  • Successful completion of substance abuse program, (TASC) in place of incarceration for qualified first time offenders with no criminal history;
  • Amount of illegal drugs involved was below the Statutory “Threshold Amount” or lower than the person had been originally accused of possessing;
  • No weapons were involved No other aggravated circumstances were involved;
  • No prior criminal records;
  • Felony charges reclassified to allow which serve to reduce sentencing and penalties.

Arizona Marijuana Transportation Laws

In Arizona it is unlawful to possess, use, sell, transport or distribute Marijuana, outside of the scope of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) A.R.S. 36 – Chapter 28.1 recreational use of Marijuana is not lawful in any form.

A person may be guilty of violating A.R.S. 13-3405 (A) (4) if they knowingly transport for sale, import into the state; offer to transport for sale, or import into this state; or transfer marijuana in Arizona.

Marijuana Trafficking Penalties

The penalties below apply to non-dangerous, non-violent, non-multiple, non-repetitive offenses:

If a person is found guilty of illegally transporting an amount of less than two pounds of Marijuana they will be convicted of a Class 3 felony. Penalties for this offense range from 2 years Mitigated to 8.75 years Aggravated; 3.5 Presumptive prison sentencing.

If a person is found guilty of illegally transporting a weight of two pounds, the Statutory Threshold Amount, under A.R.S. 13-3405 (C) or more of Marijuana, they will be convicted of a Class 2 felony.  Penalties for this offense range from 3 years Mitigated to 12.5 years Aggravated; 5 years Presumptive prison sentencing;  ineligible for probation.

Fines not less than $750.00 or three times the value of the marijuana whichever is greater up to $150,000 per charge per person or 1, 000,000 per charge per enterprise; other fines, fees, costs, and assessments; supervised probation or parole if eligible; Felony Criminal Record; Community Service or Restitution; Completion of Drug Rehabilitation or Substance Abuse Program; Loss of civil rights to vote and possess arms; Other penalties ordered by the court.

Felony Drug Defense Attorney

In Arizona, all Marijuana drug sales and trafficking convictions call for serious punishment. It is possible that a person convicted of drug sales or trafficking, could spend the the rest of their life in prison. If you face any felony drug charge, it is important that you consult an experienced felony drug defense attorney to discuss your options for defense.

James Novak, DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney is an experienced and highly skilled drug defense lawyer. As a former prosecutor he has a vast amount of litigation experience in drug charges. The Law Office of James Novak, PLLC  is exclusively limited to DUI, and criminal defense.  If retained, James Novak, Attorney will protect your rights, defend your charges, and work hard to resolve your case for the most favorable outcome possible.  Some outcomes may include dismissal, reduction of charges and  sentencing, avoidance of incarceration, and other mitigation in sentencing.

James Novak provides a free initial consultation for active charges, in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert,  and Scottsdale Arizona.   You can call by phone or send a contact form thought the website to get a return call to confidentially discuss your matter and defense options.


“You have the right remain silent, and refrain from answering questions about where you are going. You also have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle, in absence of a valid search warrant.  You have these rights whether they are read to you or not”. 

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