A drug case is just like any other criminal case in a fundamental respect. As always, the State has the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant, on or near his person or in his control, had a specific substance, and the possession or use of the specific substance was illegal or unlawful. Typically this is done by the appropriate officer appearing in court, with the contraband seized, and stating it was found on or near the defendant, coupled with the testimony, or other evidence from a qualified technician that the item seized is indeed a controlled, dangerous substance, and therefore illegal.
If the State cannot introduce the CDS or drugs taken from or near the defendant, or the testimony of the technician that the items are contraband and illegal, the State cannot prove their case.
There may or may not be several technical, or evidentiary, reasons why a court would not accept the evidence. However, when the drugs or CDS or contraband are found and seized as the result of police conduct that runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defense attorney may successfully argue this evidence should not be admitted into evidence at the ultimate trial of an accused. Our Courts have interpreted the Constitution to require that in the instances where law enforcement violates the rights of a citizen, the penalty for that illegal police conduct is to exclude any evidence taken as a result from use at trial. The remedy is called suppression.
Obviously, if that State cannot prove what, if anything, the defendant possessed, and the charge is possession of a controlled dangerous substance [CDS] the State cannot prove that charge.
The process by which otherwise relevant, and indeed, potentially damning evidence is excluded from use at trial is not legal legerdemain, or the product of sophistry. Rather, it is the bulwark of the Fourth Amendment that guarantees that all Americans are “secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects” and protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Courts have determined that any search conducted without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. There may be other circumstances in which law enforcement conduct is determined to be so extreme that it is deemed unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. If a search is constitutionally unreasonable and conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of an accused, then any items later sought to be used as evidence – and any evidence that is uncovered as a direct result of that unconstitutional search- are to be excluded from evidence, and cannot be used against the accused. That general rule that warrantless searches are presumed to be unreasonable has been riddled with exceptions, but still retains vitality. A seasoned defense attorney may be able to successfully challenge the admission of any drugs, CDS or paraphernalia seized as the result of warrantless, or otherwise illegal, search.