This post isn't really about profiling, but really just another discussion of how Fairfax handles Marijuana cases and why too many folks are willing to take the “251 dismissal” for first offenders.
A very common scenario for marijuana possession charges in Fairfax County looks like this:
- Two or Three guys, parked in a car.
- Race is not an issue; black or white, but very often 2 to 4 white guys, age 18 to 25.
- These kids are part of a whole generation who live at home longer because they aren't ready to pay $2,000/month for an apartment in Fairfax County.
- Cops come along, and they don't have to pull anybody over because the car is parked.
- No 4th amendment issues arise at first, because anybody can walk up and talk to a parked car.
- Very often, the clients are parked in a residential area, but sometimes a retail center, but often “away” from the McDonalds or other cars.
- Sometimes, it will be a routine traffic stop for minor violations, and the rest unfolds the same from there.
- Cops may smell some weed, which gives them PC for a search of the car.
- Even if they don't smell it, they can ask for consent for a search (Note: this is where some of the defense fights begin).
- After a search, if they find some weed in the car, they may charge one or perhaps ALL of the occupants of the car.
- This may depend on who makes admissions, whether they were actually smoking in the car, and where the weed is found.
- The police may not actually have enough evidence to prove guilt against all those charged, but it may not matter.
- Plenty of people walk into Court and plead guilty to the charge long before anybody inquires whether there is sufficient evidence in the case.
- On the first Court date, if a person has no prior record, they will be offered a “251 dismissal”.
- In simple terms, they are told that the case can be dismissed if they “complete a program”.
- At first, they aren't always told that they are expected to “plead guilty” in order to move along towards their dismissal.
- A guilty plea is usually required in order to enter the 251 program.
- A sample of the form 251 program order, with the Guilty Plea language, can be found at This Link. Note the highlighted portion at the top.
- The bottom line is that “251 Dismissal is a dismissal for folks who are guilty of possession”.
- This isn't a dismissal for innocent people, and it doesn't look like one when it is over.
So, I'm not saying that there is anything inherently wrong in how the Fairfax Police approach these cases. On the contrary, they are very clever and try to keep their searches within allowable laws. What I am saying is that it is important to have the facts of the case reviewed by competent counsel here in Fairfax.