Attorney urges reduction in pot trafficking sentencing

Emilio de la Cal

Technicalities that release suspects in marijuana grow house arrests will continue to polarize legal prosecutors and defense lawyers in Miami-Dade County, according to a 37-year veteran of the county’s criminal justice system.

Reducing a mandatory three-year sentence for first-time offenders convicted of trafficking in marijuana is one way to reform the system, Attorney Emilio de la Cal told a West Kendall audience during a personal review of legal client defense on July 25.

“While still a crime, a marijuana offense isn’t the same as someone wielding a knife,” he remarked during an explanation of his criminal defense activity before the Hammocks Police District Citizens Advisory Committee.

“Differences in sentencing occur for many reasons,” said Maj. Hernan M. Organvidez, Miami-Dade Police Hammock District Commander, after de la Cal’s presentation.

“In some Northwest Florida counties around Tallahassee, a trafficking conviction can bring a sentence of six or seven years, depending upon circumstances,” he noted, adding the size of Miami-Dade’s population and extent of criminal activity in drug-related cases today largely determines length of sentences.

“That’s why we constantly train our new officers in the details of evidence preparation,” he said.

The department has been faced with increasing reports of marijuana growth house in private residences in West Kendall and other sections of southwest Miami Dade during the past two years.

A southwest Miami- Dade case in Aug. 26, 2011 resulted in location of 50 plants that were deemed insufficient to charge the accused growers with trafficking, requiring a minimum evidence of 25 pounds or 300 plants. The accused were charged instead with cultivation and attempted trafficking.

Cases like those often result from search warrants open to question once the legal process goes to court, said de la Cal who earlier recounted his successful defense of an accused marijuana grower when an officer’s deposition testifying to seeing grown weed on a neighboring property was suppressed during a prosecution.

“It is the duty of a criminal defense attorney to present the best defense possible, including the questioning of evidence and the methods by which it was obtained,” he said in explaining the lengths of defending clients.

The fact of the matter is that thoroughness of police officers also forces the defense counsel to do the best job possible in seeking justice for his client,” he concluded.

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