East Town High School has a long-standing reputation for excellence. Its students routinely score very high on state standardized tests and its athletic teams are some of the best in the state. Over the past few years, however, there has been an alarming increase in marijuana use among even the best students. Fearful that East Town High’s reputation might be diminished and that a ring of drug dealers, known as the East Town Gang, might be behind the criminal activity, concerned parents demanded that school administrators "do something." The principal and other administrators turned to local law enforcement authorities.
After an initial investigation, local police authorities had reason to believe that the gang was supplying significant amounts of marijuana to a few East Town students who, in turn, were selling to other students. Some estimates put the number of students routinely using at more than 25%. Feeling that they were not properly equipped to handle a drug problem of this magnitude, local law enforcement sought the assistance of federal authorities, most notably, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI conducted its own investigation, and concluded that the suspicions of the local police department had merit. Relying upon their information, the FBI obtained arrest warrants for several individuals whom they believed were drug dealers and members of the East Town Gang. One individual, John Ellwood, a recently convicted gang member and drug dealer, agreed to cooperate with the FBI prior to his sentencing in return for the promise of a reduced sentence.
As part of his plea bargain, Ellwood agreed to provide the names of student dealers at East Town High School. Surprisingly, however, he said that there was only one student dealer -- a Daniel McPherson -- an 18-year-old senior at East High who was a member of the Honor Society, ran track, and played basketball. Daniel also was very popular.
At first, the FBI did not believe John Ellwood about Daniel involvement, but they continued to investigate. Soon, the FBI realized that Daniel was consistently wearing very expensive clothes and had recently added expensive, high-performance components to his car. They saw a steady stream of students coming and going from his house after school when his parents were at work. Following up on a lead from John Ellwood, the FBI obtained a search warrant for Daniel’s bank account and found funds in excess of $20,000. Since Daniel only worked part time, and his parents were not independently wealthy, the FBI concluded that John Ellwood’s story was worth pursuing on the theory that the funds were drug money and that Daniel was a dealer. Armed with this information, the FBI went to a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of (provide name) to obtain a search warrant for Daniel’s house; specifically his room, computer files, and car. The Court granted the warrant, and Agents Lisa Donald and Ryan Smith were assigned to execute the warrant.
They arrived at Daniel’s house around 1:00 p.m. on Friday, April 28, 2006. Upon approaching the House, the agents heard a lot of noise, as though a party were in progress. As Agent Donald was about to knock on the door, someone inside yelled: "Cops! Hide the weed!" A second voice could be heard shouting: "Ditch the beer!" At this moment, Agents Donald and Smith opened the door, rushed into the living room, and ordered everyone to freeze. Although a few individuals managed to exit, most stayed where they were.
After asking whose house it was, Daniel McPherson identified himself and said that it was his house. He replied that his parents were out of town for the weekend so he figured he would throw a party, especially since the students were off that Friday due to a teacher in-service at the school.
At this time, Agents Donald and Ryan informed everyone that they had a search warrant. They also called the local police to cite some of the students for alcohol violations. Three individuals, who were smoking marijuana when Agents Donald and Smith entered, also were charged with criminal possession of marijuana.
The subsequent search of Daniel McPherson’s room, computer, and car, resulted in a find of seven kilograms of marijuana, more than $2,500 in cash, a computerized financial ledger recording a bank balance of $20,000 marked "Business" with John Ellwood’s name and number inside the front cover. Daniel was arrested for possession and distribution of marijuana. Due to his age and the relatively small amount of the drug that he possessed, the Assistant U.S. District Attorney decided to charge him under Title 21, United States Code, Section 841 (a)(1). S 841. Prohibited Acts.
SS 841. Prohibited Acts
- Unlawful acts. Except as authorized by this title, it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally—
- to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or
- to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.
- Penalties. Except as otherwise provided in . . . [sections deleted], any person who violated subsection (a) of this section shall be sentenced as follows:
(D) In the case of less than 50 kilograms of marijuana, except in the case of 50 or more marijuana plants regardless of weight . . . shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than 5 years, a fine not to exceed the greater of that authorized in accordance with the provisions of title 18, United States Code, or $250,000 if the defendant is an individual or $1,000,000 if the defendant is other than an individual, or both.
At his arraignment, Daniel pleaded "not guilty." With his lawyer, he pursued two legal strategies:
First, he argued that since the FBI agents failed to "knock and announce" their entry before executing the warrant, their entry and the subsequent search, were unconstitutional and the evidence should be suppressed. The presiding judge has scheduled a motion hearing for arguments on the admissibility of evidence based upon this claim.
Second, Daniel intends to prove his innocence at trial using the following arguments: 1) The evidence against him is circumstantial. The marijuana was found in common areas of the house that the police charged into, not in his room. It could have belonged to someone else; 2) The money in Daniel’s bank account was not drug money, but funds he saved from working at an auto-repair shop during the past year and from the $10,000 his grandmother left him for college when she died; 3) The main witness against him (John Ellwood) is an admitted drug dealer who pleaded guilty in a deal with the government for a lighter sentence in exchange for providing the names of student drug dealers.
If there is time in the program, there will be a brief motion hearing argued by two volunteer attorneys on the admissibility of the evidence. If there is not time for this demonstration, the affidavits provided will be reviewed quickly for the students by a lawyer. The witness examination role play will be presided over by a judge in a courtroom. The student jury will deliberate and deliver a verdict during the event.