Drug offences are treated very seriously by the legal system in England and Wales, as evidenced by the severe penalties attached to such crimes. A key player in a large-scale drugs operation could face life imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The law governing drug offences not only targets those that produce, import, possess or supply controlled drugs but any person who enters into an agreement to take part in such offences. Conspiracy to sell drugs, even where the supply has not occurred, is taken very seriously by the criminal justice system.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in charges for drugs conspiracies. This is largely due to the fact that enforcement agencies are making regular use of one of the most powerful investigative tools at their disposal: evidence from telephones, particularly mobile phones. These days, information gained from phone records and cell site analysis (explained further below) is commonplace in cases involving a drugs conspiracy. The prosecution often use this evidence to support their case, for example by placing a suspect at a particular location or connecting two or more suspects.
This article gives a brief introduction to the law on conspiracy and drug offences, and goes into more detail about how evidence gathered from phones is used in these cases. An overview of how a defence is developed where mobile phone data is relied upon by the prosecution will also be provided.
Harris Solicitors routinely represents clients in cases involving allegations of drugs conspiracies, including conspiracy to sell and import drugs. Building a successful defence in these cases requires expertise in analysing and interpreting evidence gathered from defendants’ phones. This is an area where our firm has seen considerable success, securing a number of acquittals and reducing penalties in many high profile, complex cases. If you are under investigation for a drugs conspiracy, or you know someone who is, the sooner legal advice is sought the better. Our solicitors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help.
One of the main purposes of the law on conspiracy is to prosecute all those who are party to a criminal operation, not just the main players. In a drug offence case, this would mean those with a minor level of involvement, like couriers, could also be convicted.
For a conspiracy to have taken place, the prosecution must show that the defendant was party to an agreement with one person or more, to commit a criminal offence. For example, he or she was party to an agreement to produce, import or sell controlled drugs. For a finding of conspiracy, it is not necessary that the defendant has completed the offence. The agreement is the offence. However, it must be shown that the defendant knew of the planned criminal conduct and intended to be involved in some way with that activity.
It won’t usually be easy for the prosecution to prove there has been an agreement to commit an offence. However, evidence will be put forward in order to infer an agreement between the defendants. It is at this point that the prosecution often rely on phone evidence, for example regular calls and text messages between two or more suspects that suggests a relationship exists.
When the police seize a mobile phone from a suspect or their property, they will thoroughly examine the device for evidence. At a basic level, police experts can check the list of contacts, incoming and outgoing calls, text messages and emails. Digging a little deeper, they can decipher codes in messages and access deleted text messages. Telephone records obtained from a defendant’s network provider also provide important information like particular numbers contacted, the timing of such communications and how regularly they were made.
At a much more sophisticated level, investigators can discover the approximate location where phone calls and text messages were made or received. When calls and messages are made and received, radio wave transmissions are picked up by the nearest aerial (cell site). Cell site analysis is a tool regularly used by the authorities in drugs conspiracies where network providers supply information on which of their cell sites were used during specific mobile communications. This evidence may be presented by the prosecution to show that a defendant was present at a particular location or made a specific journey.
Many defendants may be intimidated by the prosecution’s interpretation of the phone evidence involved. However, it’s important to remember that it is only the prosecution’s version of events and there may well be other explanations for certain calls, messages or locations. The defence team will scrutinise the prosecution’s evidence, with the assistance of forensic telephone experts, in order to identify issues and raise a more reasonable interpretation.
A particular area where concerns are often raised by the defence is with telephone attribution. Where ownership or responsibility of a phone or phone number is not clear cut, the prosecution will be required to produce evidence to support their claim that the phone belongs to a specific person (known as telephone attribution). Such evidence can include phone records which show regular communication with known contacts or family members. Where the prosecution have inferred the phone belongs to the defendant, the defence solicitors will analyse the strength of the telephone attribution and aim to convince the judge that such evidence is too weak to be considered going forward.
But it’s not always about disproving phone evidence. Such evidence can also be the component of a strong defence. For example, a telephone call made at a particular time, in a distant location could mean that it is impossible that the defendant was present at the scene.
Our solicitors have been involved in many large-scale drugs conspiracy cases, including R v Ahmed, Operation Alamos and Operation Mach. In drug offence cases, we work closely with reputable independent experts who assist with the highly complex nature of cell site and telephone attribution evidence.
We take a robust approach, digging beyond the surface of the evidence presented and aggressively challenging the prosecution’s version of events. Allegations of drug offences are serious and can have a huge and long-lasting impact on defendants and their families. We protect our client’s best interests and make every effort to get them the best result possible.
It is important to seek legal advice for drugs conspiracy cases at an early stage. The team at Harris Solicitors are available every day to provide reliable advice and sensitive support. Contact us on 01274 392 177 or call our 24 hour emergency numbers (07872835267 or 07590289197).
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