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Controversy in Major Heroin Bust

Late September brought the biggest heroin seizure in Ohio's history -- 20 kilos. Here's a little math to put that in perspective: 100mg per "stamp", a single dose; 10 stamps to a gram; that's 200,000 doses, enough for the entire population of Dayton with left-overs.

Getting that much heroin off the streets of Cleveland is a big deal, and no one is disputing the results of the federal investigation. What might be a problem though is the use of "delayed notification warrants". This is a tool created in wake of 911 and meant to address terrorist issues. The difference between a regular and a delayed warrant comes down to what law enforcement can do, and when.

A regular warrant is served by informing the subject of the warrant at the time action is taken. If a search warrant is issued, the property owner gets a copy and the search proceeds. With a delayed notification type, law enforcement takes action without telling the subject they are doing so. This might be a secret search or other activity -- very useful in an ongoing investigation.

In the above case, federal authorities broke into one location, took a pound of heroin and other items, then concealed their activity by making it look like a burglary. No arrests were made at the time.

According to investigators these "sneak and peek" warrants were used to confirm what wiretaps had already revealed. The wiretaps were used to justify the secret warrants. (More here.) So what is the concern? Well, normally these warrants will be an opportunity to get in, take pictures, and then make an arrest. No one really envisioned the "fake burglary" scenario where evidence is taken and no arrest is made until much later on. Much later on, in this case, means four years later.

If the prosecution of this case goes bad because the warrant is ruled invalid or defective, there will be a huge outcry, and rightly so. Did the police wait four years just to allow more crimes to be committed? At what point should law enforcement be compelled to act? How can they guarantee that in the intervening four years, no other crimes were committed?

It's troubling. And it's hard to believe that the criminals didn't keep selling heroin after the fake burglary.


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