This Friday, in a decision that gave heart to criminal defense attorneys across Florida, investigators with the Office of Internal Affairs at the Orlando Police Department reported their findings that an Orlando officer violated department protocols when he administered a mouth swab at a traffic stop without the legal authority to do so. The mouth swab was conducted to determine the presence of drugs on the man driving the car. Criminal defense attorneys take special notice on occasions such as this, when police misconduct appears in drug-crime related situations. Personally, my years of work as a Miami criminal defense lawyer have shown me that there are many drug cases that are not conducted according to the books.
The incident in question occurred at roughly 10 p.m. on January 5th, earlier this year, when Officer Stanaland stopped Adolph Hobbs’ vehicle at the intersection of North Orange Blossom Trail and Country Club Drive. Stanaland has said that he stopped Hobbs’ car after he seeing him talk to supposed drug dealers and suspecting him of having purchased cocaine. Stanaland was not only acting without the proper legal authority to conduct such a search, but also violated department policy when he failed to conduct the swab in a sanitary manner. This nature of treatment stands out to a well-versed criminal defense attorney as a potentially unconstitutional search.
The Orlando Police Department requires that officers wear latex gloves and use issued equipment while conducting swab tests. Stanaland wore no gloves and used Q-Tips he had purchased himself. Fortunately, Mr. Hobbs was not found in possession of any illegal substances, but had he been the manner in which he was treated would severely weaken a prosecutor’s case. In such a case, an experienced criminal defense attorney would have his work cut out for him.
The report shows that Hobbs allowed Stanaland to search his car because he had “nothing to hide”. Hobbs reported that after searching the car, Stanaland approached him saying, “open your mouth”, whereupon he conducted the swab test. Asking what it was for, Hobbs was told by Stanaland that he just wanted “to make sure you didn’t eat any drugs”. Hobbs has said that Officer Stanaland never asked for his permission to conduct the test, another occurrence that would stand out to a criminal defense lawyer. The issue was brought to the attention of Internal Affairs when Hobbs filed a complaint several days later. Experience as a Miami criminal defense attorney has led me to recognize all the signs of apparent police misconduct, especially in such arenas so sensitive and potentially destructive as drug cases.