Berry Law Firm’s Nebraska criminal defense attorneys often get inquiries
from people who say, “I’m in possession of something illegal.
What do I do with it?” The military has a simple solution for this
type of problem: In the Army, if someone fails to turn in ammunition after
firing a weapon at the range, he or she can put the ammunition into an
amnesty box, no questions asked. In other words, the Army had the foresight
to assume that people may make the honest mistake of failing to turn in
ammunition or might find it and want to dispose of it. The Army has put
together similar programs in countries like Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and
Afghanistan, where civilians can turn in weapons and ammunition to the
U.S. Military with no questions asked as to whether those weapons came
from organizations that oppose the United States. The bottom line is this:
The Department of Defense took the position that it’s more important
to keep contraband and dangerous items away from the public than it is
to prosecute people for possessing them. The net result was that the military
received huge caches of machine guns, land mines, artillery shells, and
other explosive devices that may have otherwise ended up in the hands
of the enemy.
Unfortunately, there is no such amnesty box for illegal drugs, child pornography,
or other contraband in civilian life.
There are several scenarios in which innocent people come across contraband
and don’t know the correct action to take. On one hand, they know
it is illegal to possess the contraband, but on the other hand, they do
not want to destroy evidence, as that can lead to criminal charges like
obstruction of justice. No one wants to tamper with evidence that could
be used in a criminal prosecution.
There are no easy solutions to this dilemma. You cannot possess illegal
contraband, but will you be prosecuted if you turn it over to the police?
One Nebraska criminal defense attorney who learned that his client was
in possession of contraband had the client put the contraband in his conference
room and then called the police. The attorney told the authorities that
he had contraband in his conference room, but due to the attorney-client
privilege, he could not disclose any further information.
Fortunately for the lawyer, the police seized the contraband without asking
questions. However, a sneaky prosecutor could argue that the attorney
was in violation of the law for knowingly possessing the contraband in
his office even though he was attempting to turn it over to law enforcement.
Criminal defense attorneys generally do not want their clients to bring
contraband into their office because it creates all sorts of problems.
A criminal defense lawyer cannot destroy evidence, nor can he or she advise
a client to destroy evidence. Furthermore, an attorney does not want to
have the responsibility of safeguarding the client’s property, especially
if that property is illegal to possess. In short, the attorney does not
want the liability associated with safeguarding illegal contraband or
legitimate personal property.
On occasion, someone affected by contraband is wholly innocent of the crime,
but has a relative who left contraband at his or her home. For example,
an elderly couple allows their son to live in their spare bedroom for
several months. When he leaves, they find a bag filled with a powdery
substance hidden under a loose floorboard. What do they do? They suspect
the substance is drugs, and they know it is against the law to possess
it, but they fear that it would be against the law to destroy or discard
the bag, as it may be evidence of a crime. Furthermore, the couple is
placed in a moral dilemma because while they believe the powdery substance
belongs to their son, they don’t want to turn him in for a crime.
They don’t want to see him face criminal charges. They simply do
not know what to do.
In another instance, a woman learns that her ex-husband has been arrested
for possession of child pornography. She still has the computer that he
used when they were married. She is concerned that there may be child
pornography on the computer, but she does not want the government to take
it because the hard drive contains her financial records and family photos.
She’s afraid to look through the computer for child pornography
because she simply does not want to know. She is also afraid because she
doesn’t want to be in violation of the law for possessing it. She
wonders if she could take the computer to her local computer store and
have them delete anything that could possibly be child pornography, but
she knows that doing so might be destroying evidence.
In both of the instances above, there are no easy answers. Often, different
criminal defense attorneys throughout Nebraska will give different answers
as to what may or may not be legal and ethical under these fact patterns.
The simple solution to these problems would be an amnesty box just like
those provided by the Army, where people can dispose of contraband with
no questions asked. An amnesty box would prevent people from possessing
things they’re not supposed to possess without the fear of being
prosecuted or getting someone else prosecuted for turning it in.
For better or for worse, most people who find themselves in possession
of illegal contraband contact criminal defense attorneys and hope the
defense attorney will act as an amnesty box. While most criminal defense
attorneys do not want to take possession of any contraband, they may sometimes
contact the prosecutor or investigator and explain the situation without
revealing the client’s identity.
In short, there is no clear solution to the unintended possession of contraband
problem. Each matter must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The best
solution is to avoid putting yourself in a position where you are going
to be in the vicinity of any illegal contraband, but sometimes things
happen beyond our control. In those cases, contacting a criminal defense
lawyer can be useful in determining the best course of action to take.
While most people think about calling a criminal defense lawyer after they
or a loved one has been arrested, it’s possible to avoid stress
and frustration by paying a criminal defense attorney to worry for them
and figure out how to best proceed in these kinds of tenuous situations
in which the line between legal and illegal is crossed by someone else.
If you or a loved one is in trouble with the law for possession of illegal
call the Berry Law Firm
at 402.466.8444 for a free consultation. Our experienced team of lawyers
is ready to help you.