A pound of flesh
It's not unusual to have a criminal case where the police officer's pursuit of the case approaches the level of a vendetta. I've got one now.
Short version is that my guy -- let's call him Leon -- had some run-ins with the North Olmsted police, and one officer in particular -- we'll call him Ralph -- developed a particular dislike for him. So one day some guy's girlfriend gets in trouble, and the guy tells Ralph that he can set up a buy of marijuana from Leon if the case against his girlfriend goes away. A friendship is formed, the guy supposedly sets up a controlled buy with Leon, and the police do a raid on the house right afterwards, in the company of the SWAT team. The amount of marijuana that requires this paramilitary effort? Sixty bucks worth.
Leon winds up charged with about seven drug counts, and the cops find three guns, so there are some firearm specs and a weapons under disability charges stemming from a 12-year-old felony drug possession conviction. Leon happens to be a militia-man type: he files 70-some pro se motions in the trial court, demanding various forms of relief, most of them based on, shall we say, novel views of the Constitution and Ohio statutes. He winds up representing himself, gets convicted of everything, and the judge maxes him out and runs it all consecutive. Doesn't even merge the firearm specs; Leon winds up with a 15-year sentence. Over sixty bucks of marijuana.
That's where I enter the picture. The judge calls me over, says he wants to assign me the appeal, says he might have "gone a little overboard in the sentencing." Ya think? I find out that he didn't do what he was supposed to do to have an effective waiver of counsel, the court of appeals reverses, and we're back in the trial court.
The prosecutor demands a bond of $50,000. Prior to the last trial, Leon was on a $1500 personal bond. Fifty-thousand is kinda whack, I say, but the prosecutor insists Leon is a Really Bad Guy, the cops told the prosecutor he might want to think of wearing a bullet-proof vest during trial. Honest to God. The even weirder thing is that the prosecutor seriously considered it. Leon, by the way, is 52, and other than that drug possession case the only other conviction he has is for aggravated assault, when he was half that age.
The judge, who's actually a real good guy under normal circumstances, recuses himself, and the new judge sets a more reasonable $7,500 bond. Then we do the hearing on the motion to suppress, and that's where things get really funky.
During the first trial, Ralph had testified that he'd gotten the search warrant for the raid after the controlled buy had gone down. That didn't make a lot of sense to me; there was only about a ten-minute time lag between the two. I figured that they'd started the raid while Ralph went to get the warrant.
Turns out that didn't happen; Ralph got the warrant ten hours before the controlled buy and the raid took place. Problem was that the affidavit submitted to get the warrant said that the controlled buy had already taken place: it recited in detail exactly how the informant was searched prior to the buy, how he was sent in, how the buy was monitored by the police, how they searched him again after he came out of the house, and found contraband. None of which, of course, had happened at the time Ralph submitted the affidavit to a municipal judge claiming that it had.
The judge tosses out all the evidence, and I'm left to hope that the state will appeal: as I've mentioned, the 8th District is very good on search cases, and I'd almost pay money to hear a panel rip into a prosecutor who tried to claim that a search should be upheld, even though the cop lied in the affidavit used to procure it.
That doesn't happen. Instead, a week later I get a call from the prosecutor, telling me he's got the file marked: they'll allow Leon to plead to a count of sale of marijuana, because they don't need any of the evidence which was thrown out to prove that charge.
Frankly, this is beyond my understanding. Sale of marijuana in that amount is a 5th degree felony, the maximum punishment is 12 months in prison, and Leon's already done 15 months. The sale wasn't in fact monitored, so there's nothing to prove that Leon actually sold anybody anything except for the word of the informant and the word of the cop.
Ralph claimed at the suppression hearing that he told the municipal judge that the buy hadn't gone down at the time he got the warrant, but I don't buy it; I have a hard time envisioning Ralph going in, telling the judge that the only thing that gave probable cause hadn't actually happened yet, even though it was referred to in the past tense, and the judge saying, "Hey, no problem." I'm going to find out when I talk to the judge later this week. I'm betting that her story isn't the same as Ralph's.
So I have to prepare for a trial in a couple of weeks in which Leon has absolutely nothing to lose, and Ralph has to decide whether he's going to perjure himself yet again. And that's ignoring the fact that he's already committed the third-degree felony of tampering with records.
After the case is over with, some of those things might have to be addressed. And I don't think it's Leon that's going to be paying that pound of flesh.