Drug crimes are some of the most common type of crimes that defense attorneys have to deal with. Usually, the criminals are small-time dealers, or normal people who got arrested for possession of a substance. Very rarely are kingpins and the Pablo Escobars of the drug world caught and prosecute – after all, Walter White was a fictional character, and even he got away with it (mostly). But, recently, the U.S. Marshalls arrested the last member of a legendary drug ring – the Cocaine Cowboys.
Gustavo Falcon was arrested on April 12, 2017 – 26 years to the day he was indicted with several others on drug-smuggling chargers. Their group is alleged to have imported and distributed around 75 tons of cocaine in the country. For 26 years, he was thought to have disappeared entirely from the country, believing he was now living in Colombia or Mexico. It turns out that he had actually been hiding in plain sight, under an assumed identity in Orlando, Florida with his wife and two kids. The big break came when Falcon was in a traffic accident and used a fake license, where agents tracked Falcon to his actual home, placed him under surveillance and could thus confirm his identity.
Falcon, his brother, and several other associates, were largely responsible for creating the notoriously deadly areas of South Florida while trafficking drugs nearly thirty years ago. Yes – their work inspired Miami Vice, believe it or not. They would use their speedboats to grab Colombian cocaine from the coasts of Caribbean islands directly to the shores of South Florida in the 1980s. While his associates were arrested and prosecuted in the mid-90s, they were acquitted, largely due to bribing a juror and threatening witnesses. Eventually, they were convicted after getting a retrial, with Falcon’s brother accepting a plea deal meaning he could be released from prison this summer, just as his brother starts his own journey behind bars.
Some major issues, of course, with prosecuting Gustavo is going to be time. Of course, with plenty of his associates already in state’s custody, they could turn state’s witness and be crucial evidence to convict Gustavo. Any other witnesses, however, might be hard to find, if they are even still alive. The chain of custody with evidence and its credibility after 26 years will also be an issue facing the prosecution. Defense attorneys may have a fairly good chance of defending Mr. Falcon, poking holes in any arguments by pointing to the length of time that has passed since the commission of his crimes and now. There may also be an argument about the fact that Mr. Falcon is actually rehabilitated, which should mitigate any sentencing upon conviction. If he has lived a quiet, responsible life, raised two good children, that might play well to a pool of jurors. However, the state does not like being made to look foolish, and his 26 years on the lam under the nose of law enforcement will not be ignored by the state. Another complication to the case is selecting a jury that has not been tainted by knowledge of the matter. Given the notoriety of the case, the fact that at least 3 documentaries have been created from the story of the Cocaine Cowboys, and the well-known culture of the drug wars in South Florida, could make it difficult to select enough jurors who do not have their own opinions on the guilt or innocence of Falcon. Regardless, a good defense attorney should try to get a decent plea bargain out of the state before risking any trial – at least in this case.