Not Guilty on 83lbs of Marijuana and Still No Justice
Marc J. Victor
On July 2,
2012, the jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY in favor of my client
who transported 83lbs of marijuana in her mini-van from Douglas,
Arizona to the Phoenix area. She was relieved and overjoyed. I was
overjoyed too, but left wondering how many like her are living in
cages for unknowingly driving a relatively harmless plant destined
for adults who want it. The outrageous aspects of this case are
too numerous to describe in one article. However, one point is clear;
so long as the Drug War persists, no person is safe.
On July 19,
2010, fifty-three year old Maria Carillo-Tremillo was traveling
with her autistic daughter from Douglas, Arizona to Phoenix. She
was expecting to meet a woman who would assist her in purchasing
used clothing from various locations to resell in Mexico at a modest
profit. Her mini-van was pulled over by an officer for allegedly
following too closely. Maria disputed this allegation. The officer
did not see or detect any odor of marijuana. After issuing Maria
a warning, the officer commenced a conversation with Maria in English
despite knowing Spanish was her primary language. Maria is not literate
in English. Both a bi-lingual officer and a phone application to
interpret were readily available but not offered. After advising
her of her right to refuse, the officer asked and immediately received
unrestricted consent from Maria to search her mini-van.
A drug interdiction
dog was immediately deployed. The officer claims the dog alerted.
However, drug dog "alerts" are almost always subjective.
Any skilled handler can easily manipulate a dog to "alert."
In any case, illegal drugs are only located less than 50% of the
time after an "alert" from this dog in an uncontrolled
setting. The use of drug dogs is a huge threat to our liberty and
can legally justify a full search of virtually any person, vehicle
or place anytime without a search warrant.
marijuana was found, Maria and her daughter were arrested and transported
to the police station while her vehicle was towed for inspection.
After lifting the vehicle with a hydraulic lift, a hidden compartment
underneath the vehicle was discovered and torn open without a search
warrant. Eighty three pounds of marijuana were located in the hidden
There was no
investigation. No fingerprints were requested, and no investigation
into Mariaís cell phone or bank records was conducted. There was
no investigation into her lifestyle or her reasonable explanation
for her trip. She explained how she received the mini-van a few
days before the trip from a man who offered to have it "fixed"
for her in Mexico. She explained how that same man arranged the
trip to Phoenix for her and orchestrated the details of her trip.
She had the manís phone number and information as well as the woman
she was instructed to meet. There was no interest and no attempt
to investigate Mariaís claims of innocence. She was instantly and
conclusively presumed guilty.
said was immediately and absolutely disbelieved. Maria was charged
with a mandatory prison version of Possession of Marijuana for Sale.
Despite having no criminal record whatsoever, Maria was presented
a plea offer for prison and given a public defender who advised
her to accept the plea and go to prison rather than risk additional
prison time by going to trial.
29, 2011, Maria came into my office seeking legal representation.
She brought the police report with her for us to review. After a
review of the police report and a discussion with Maria, it appeared
to me the officer was planning to fill in with opinions, exaggerations
or lies what he was lacking in evidence; namely that Maria knew
the marijuana was present. After assessing the case, we decided
Maria was indeed innocent. Even had she been factually guilty, I
would still consider her a victim of the drug war. Although she
could not afford to hire us to represent her, we refused to turn
her away and arrived at a modest arrangement. It simply wasnít in
me to turn her away.
the case, the officer and the prosecutor repeatedly asserted Maria
knew about the marijuana and was guilty. Their conclusion was based
on a laundry list of mostly meaningless observations such as the
following: Maria looked at the officer using her driverís side mirror
prior to the stop, she decreased her vehicle speed when the officer
pulled behind her, the mini-van was on I-17 which allegedly is a
known drug corridor, the mini-van was registered in Douglas which
allegedly is a known drug area, recent vehicle registration, recent
vehicle insurance, Maria was traveling with her autistic daughter,
Maria appeared nervous during the traffic stop, Maria put her hair
up, Maria allegedly had a high pulse rate as she stood outside her
vehicle in July at approximately 2:00pm in Phoenix. Maria states
the officer never took her pulse at all. She also denied being nervous.
The officer also stated Maria couldnít provide him with her friendís
name, but Maria repeatedly said she indeed told the officer her
name. This was the evidence.
and filed several motions to suppress evidence based on various
issues related to the stop, the search, and the drug dog. After
hard fought evidentiary hearings, all our motions were eventually
denied. With no choice but prison, the case proceeded to a jury
trial. The jury selection process commenced with the usual state
efforts to weed out anyone who would judge the law or not in some
way absolutely agree to follow the law as directed by the judge.
Soon thereafter, it was our task to weed out all the people who
could not be fair to the defense. This generally includes people
who absolutely believe police officers or simply canít be fair to
the defense because marijuana will be mentioned during the trial.
Indeed, several people were struck from the jury pool for both reasons.
the officer testified to his laundry list of meaningless reasons
why Maria allegedly knew about the marijuana. I had fun on cross
examination. Maria testified as I knew she would. She was honest,
sincere and far from someone who would knowingly transport marijuana.
Through an interpreter, she clearly detailed a reasonable explanation
of what happened and absolutely denied any knowledge of the marijuana
As it became
clear the trial was progressing poorly for the state, the officer
was recalled to the stand. Despite several pretrial hearings where
he previously testified and several pretrial interviews, for the
first time ever the officer testified that, based on his extensive
training and experience, Mariaís autistic daughter was likely a
common tool for drug smugglers called a "distracter."
The officer went on to describe how, despite the glaring absence
of any reference to it in his police report as well as his previous
contradictory statements, the autistic daughter made him very suspicious
at the scene. This was offered as a main reason why the jury should
convict Maria. I believe this was entirely fabricated testimony.
It was the most fun I ever had on cross examination. I was in heaven.
After the judge
summarily denied all four of the defense requests for special jury
instructions, despite the fact that we provided citations to Arizona
Supreme Court case law mandating that the defense is entitled to
jury instructions on the defense theory of the case, it was time
for closing arguments. I explained to the jury about how they are
supposed to be the final check on government tyranny. I attempted
to inspire them by discussing the founding fathers and various concepts
for a full day, the jury got it right. I interviewed the jury afterwards.
They didnít believe the officerís testimony. They realized the stateís
case was based on mere speculation and not evidence. They acquitted
Maria and went home. It was a complete win for the defense.
can assure you Maria doesnít feel like a winner. She was an inch
away from going to prison for several years for absolutely no valid
reason. She had countless sleepless nights and endured torturous
stress. She worried about who would take care of her autistic daughter
if she went to prison. She endured the eight hour round trip from
Douglas to Phoenix many times. She believes the officer lied and
embellished about what happened at the scene. She witnessed a prosecutor
who resolved every inference and speculation against her. She witnessed
a judge deny all defense motions, overrule countless defense objections,
refuse all defense requested special jury instructions and allow
undisclosed last minute state witnesses under the guise of rebuttal
testimony. It doesnít feel like justice to her.
I have said
for years marijuana cases have no victims. I was wrong. This marijuana
case had a victim who suffered immensely. Maria was indeed a victim,
but not as much as she could have been had the state succeeded.
It all makes me wonder how many people like Maria are currently
in prison wasting away because of our immoral drug laws.
of drug smugglers utilizing people who unknowingly transport drugs
is now so prevalent that there are law enforcement created terms
emerging to describe such situations; "Blind Mule" "Goat"
and "Unwitting" are some such terms. All drugs should
be legalized immediately. See my article entitled Legalize
Methamphetamine! for a detailed discussion of why all drugs
should be legalized.
matter was unnecessary. As a criminal defense attorney, I would
have preferred representing someone accused of committing a real
crime involving a real victim. Our laws need to change, and we cannot
be the land of the free until they do. In the meantime, score one
for the good guys!
J. Victor [send him
mail] is an Arizona State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal
Law and can be reached via his
law firm website.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.