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Criminal defense to drone delivery will depend on the facts

Prisons in Michigan do not allow inmates to possess cell phones. The prohibition creates an extensive underground trade in cell phones within the prison populations. When arrests are made for smuggling cell phones, both those on the outside and the inmates inside must determine whether they have a viable criminal defense that can be raised against the charges.

With the assistance of friends and family on the outside, inmates have engaged in various creative ways to smuggle cell phones into prison. When they are caught, criminal charges are likely to be filed not only against those bringing them into the prison grounds but also against any prisoners found in possession of them. The standard not-so-creative method of getting cell phones, and drugs for that matter, into the prison grounds involves people on the outside simply throwing a package over the prison fence, where it is retrieved by a waiting inmate.

That method has resulted in many arrests of those on the outside and of the inmates involved. Recently, prisoners have come up with the idea of using drones to smuggle drugs and cell phones into the prison premises. In one such incident at the Correctional Facility in Ionia, two packages were dropped in the prison yard by a drone, but the packages were quickly retrieved by corrections officers. The police quickly stopped a vehicle outside the prison and arrested its three occupants.

The contraband was not delivered to any inmates, but prison authorities continue to investigate to identify the intended recipients. The three men arrested on the outside will likely assert the criminal defense under Michigan law that there is insufficient evidence to tie them to the event. Although they were found near the prison, there does not appear to be any contraband that was found in their possession. The case could be a weak prosecution due also to the fact that the drone itself was apparently not found in the possession of the three accused persons.

Source: mlive.com, "Drone drops drugs, cell phone on prison yard, police arrest 3", John Agar, Aug. 17, 2017

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