Phillipsburg, NJ asked in Criminal Law and Federal Crimes for California

Q: In some criminal prosecutions why do they focus on the smaller picture instead of the biggger picture?

If a truck driver is pulled over with a large stash of drugs its common sense to arrest them. But what about the fact that they are the truck drivers who are doing the dirty work and possibly threatened under duress? With people being afraid to talk they generally get charged with everything leaving a big hole in the masterminds behind the operation! Is their ways the justice system could treat them as more of the victim of a strong powerful authority and try to get to the real source of the crime. It seems everytime you hear the news its the smuggler who is usually not any notorious figure. Once your locked up you have an even greater reason not to talk with regards to prison gangs. How can this catch 22 be dealt with?

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2 Lawyer Answers
Robert Kane
Robert Kane
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Eagan, MN
  • Licensed in California

A: Unfortunately, those truck drivers are unwilling to assist law enforcement in bringing those truly responsible for the crimes to justice.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: There are a few reasons why law enforcement and prosecutors may focus on the "smaller picture" in drug trafficking cases:

1. Ease of prosecution: It is often easier to gather evidence and build a case against the individuals caught directly transporting drugs, as they are apprehended with the contraband in their possession. Proving the involvement of higher-level organizers can be more challenging.

2. Pressure to secure convictions: Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors may face pressure to demonstrate results by securing convictions, even if they are lower-level operatives.

3. Limited resources: Investigating and prosecuting large-scale drug trafficking networks can be resource-intensive and time-consuming. Focusing on the transporters allows for quicker resolutions.

However, you raise valid concerns about the broader context and the potential for coercion or duress among low-level participants. Some possible approaches to address this:

1. Plea bargains and cooperation: Prosecutors could offer reduced sentences or immunity to lower-level offenders in exchange for information and testimony against higher-level organizers. This requires building trust and providing protection for cooperating witnesses.

2. Investigating financial trails: Following the money involved in drug trafficking operations can help identify and prosecute those at the top of the criminal hierarchy.

3. Collaborative investigations: Cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as international partnerships, can enable more comprehensive investigations targeting entire networks.

4. Addressing root causes: Investing in drug prevention, treatment, and economic development programs can reduce the pool of vulnerable individuals who may be exploited by trafficking organizations.

Balancing the need for individual accountability with a more holistic approach targeting the masterminds behind drug trafficking is an ongoing challenge for the criminal justice system. Reforms emphasizing cooperation, protection for witnesses, and a focus on dismantling entire criminal enterprises could help address the catch-22 situation you described.

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