On Oct. 31st, 2016 at 11 p.m., seven heavily armed Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agents and a drug dog arrived at my client Mario’s Pontiac home for a “knock and talk.”
They did not have a search warrant, but they had a suspicion there were large amounts of controlled substances being stashed at this home, according to information from another large drug trafficking investigation. They did not know who or how many people lived there despite this home being under suspicion for the past several months.
The Illegal Search and Seizure
When they arrived with their assault rifles pointed directly at the home through the windows, they surrounded the one story house and banged on both front and side doors to wake the residents. Mario was awake at the time and he woke his wife. Their three children remained asleep. When the door was opened, five agents barged their way in, without permission and sought consent to search the home.
After 30+ minutes of coercion, the client allowed a search of the home and of particular interest of the agents, the garage. Their initial search found nothing but when the drug dog was used the agents discovered seven (7) kilograms of heroin and one (1) kilogram of cocaine hidden in a workbench secret compartment.
Mario was indicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan with one count of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. If convicted he would serve a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years. Additionally, Mario was not a United States citizen and therefore, following his sentence, would be deported to Mexico.
Broken Strategy With Court Appointed Attorney
Mario started with a another retained attorney. As is common, the Assistant United States Attorney strongly suggested a proffer, which is basically a confession in exchange for a slightly lighter sentence. There was also a threat that Mario may be charged with additional counts related to the other drug case.
Mario and his wife did not feel comfortable with that strategy. They believed that the search of their home was unlawful and wanted to litigate that issue, which is why they replaced their first lawyer and chose to hire me.
The Assistant United States Attorney still attempted to coerce cooperation, asserting that if we did not, there would never be any plea offer. After much thought, we ignored his threats and filed a motion to suppress the evidence based upon the DEA’s coerced consent to search the home.
The Evidentiary Hearing
The case was assigned to Judge Arthur Tarnow in the Eastern District of Michigan. An evidentiary hearing was conducted before him on Mar. 24th, 2017. At the hearing, three different DEA agents testified that everything was cool when they came in, there was no coercion and that consent was unequivocal, freely and voluntary.
However, Mario’s wife, Maria, testified to a completely different story. She forcefully and credibly testified that the agents used threats of deportation to coerce consent. Despite being told to leave, she testified, the agents refused. They pretended like they had a warrant but in reality, it was a consent form in which they refused to sign.
The agents were there for over thirty minutes, at which point Mario felt like he had no choice but to allow a brief search. He did this because he felt they were not going to leave otherwise. Next thing he knew, a drug dog was in the garage, which was something that exceeded his limited consent to search.
Within minutes, the drugs were found. Mario was then arrested and because he was an illegal immigrant, he has not been released since.
Six weeks later, Judge Tarnow granted our Motion to Suppress ruling, which stated exactly what we had argued; that the DEA’s knock and talk was unreasonable, and the circumstances in which they came coerced consent. Therefore, it was unlawful. The government was forced to dismiss the case.
Mario is still facing deportation proceedings, but without any criminal conviction. The fact that he has been in this country for so long, worked hard and raised a family should hopefully be enough to gain his release so that he can continue to work on obtaining legal residency and eventually citizenship.
Mario loves baseball. When he gets out, we plan on going to a Detroit Tiger’s game together.
Attorney Morris has enjoyed a very successful and distinguished career as a trial lawyer providing high quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for 20 years. He is known for his trial preparation by fellow attorneys, judges and clients alike. As a trial attorney, he is dedicated to attaining justice in every case, and is prepared to take on complex legal issues with success. Barton and his law firm pride themselves on obtaining results for their clients that other attorneys cannot.
Not only does Barton Morris have extensive experience, he also engages in continuing legal education to provide the highest quality legal services. Barton has received specialized scientific training through the American Chemical Society. He attended the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and serves on its Alumni Association Board of Directors. Barton Morris is also a board member of several distinguished legal associations including the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, and the DUI Defense Lawyer’s Association Justice Foundation. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and has also graduated from their National Criminal Defense Trial College in Macon, Georgia.
Barton Morris was chosen as a Top Lawyer of Metro Detroit for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020 for DUI/DWI and criminal defense by DBusiness Magazine and Hour Magazine. Barton Morris was also chosen as a Super Lawyer in Criminal Defense for 2014-2020 and Barton Morris is the only Lawyer in Michigan designated by the American Chemical Society as a “Forensic Lawyer-Scientist”