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70 arrested for marijuana may have strong criminal defense

The police in Cartersville may not be aware of the national trend, including here in Georgia, of treating a small amount of marijuana as a minor offense. Instead, they recently arrested 70 people -- most of them African Americans -- at a party. All 70 of the suspects were arrested and jailed for possession of the same small amount of marijuana that authorities found on the premises. Criminal defense counsel will likely be successful in challenging many of the arrests. 

The police had received a call at about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 regarding shots fired at a home. When they arrived, they allegedly smelled marijuana and observed it in plain view. They say that they recovered a semi-automatic handgun. The Cartersville police reportedly contacted the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force because so many people were at the house and because they perceived widespread evidence of drug usage.

The Drug Task Force arrested all 70 people in attendance for the marijuana because they say that it was "in everyone's reach and control." They also arrested some persons for cocaine and paraphernalia, police claim. The arrests were of persons ranging from 15 to 31 years of age.

The arrest and incarceration of the marijuana suspects was problematic. The unusual procedure interested the NAACP, which is now also investigating what took place. A spokesperson stated that the police could have issued simple citations and released the suspects instead of arrest and imprisonment. The spokesperson also pointed out that 70 people could not all possess the same small amount of marijuana.

The arrest was probably constitutionally infirm under both federal and Georgia laws, at least with respect to those people arrested for marijuana. The vast majority are likely to have had no marijuana in their possession but were arrested simply because the police found it on the premises. That fact indicates a strong criminal defense because the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down precisely the same factual scenarios in the past. Many of the arrests may be dropped by the police after they enter into negotiations and discussions with the civil rights groups that have come forth to complain about the improper police tactics.

Source: Cartersville, GA Patch, "NAACP Investigating Cartersville Drug Arrests", Kristal Dixon, Jan. 3, 2018

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