Constitutional Law

Defense lawyers abuzz about judge who found a drug-case defendant more credible than a cop


Criminal defense lawyers in Pinellas County, Florida, are talking about an unusual ruling earlier this month by a judge in a drug case.

Perhaps even rarer than a “Perry Mason” moment in which a police officer’s testimony is contradicted by video evidence, it resulted from a St. Petersburg police officer’s testimony that he had searched a suspect’s car, after a traffic stop, because he smelled a faint odor of marijuana. Circuit Judge Michael Andrews didn’t believe him and ruled for the defense, calling the officer’s testimony “incredible,” the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The newspaper article doesn’t explain the nature of the motion or the judge’s specific ruling, but it appears that Andrews granted a defense motion to suppress evidence. After the judge’s ruling, prosecutors dismissed the drug case against Emanuel Bell. The search of his vehicle hadn’t turned up any marijuana, but police said they found cocaine behind a seat of his Ford Escape. He had refused consent when police asked to search it.

“I have never, in 5½ years of practice, seen a judge do this,” attorney Jordan Tawil, who represented Bell, told the newspaper, adding: “When it comes to narcotics, some officers are willing to take that extra step. If that’s a cowboy mentality, then I think that’s what you have there.”

The local criminal defense bar is abuzz over the unusual ruling.

“When something like this happens, word travels pretty fast,” said attorney Jason Mayberry. Once he heard about the dismissal in Bell’s case, Mayberry checked to see whether any of his clients had cases in which the same St. Petersburg police officer had conducted a search, the newspaper reports, but they didn’t.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Man whose case was dismissed after ‘Perry Mason’ moment in court sues 5 police officers over arrest”

ABAJournal.com: “Off-site security video saves woman from felony charge, is now evidence in federal civil rights case”

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