Drug trafficking case dismissed over prosecutor error during trial
A reported prosecutor error involving identifying a suspect during a trial led to a judge dismissing a drug trafficking case in Marion County.
Charles Lee Allen Feliciano was facing a second degree felony charge of drug trafficking after police say they found a large amount of drugs during a search of his home. A tip in to the ABC 6 newsroom revealed Judge Bill Finnegan dismissed the trial at the close of the prosecutor's case, before the defense attorney even had the opportunity to present a defense.
Feliciano was arrested during the execution of a search warrant inside his home.
"Charles Feliciano was somebody who was sought by the drug task force as somebody that we believed to be a significant problem in our community," Marion County Police Major Jay McDonald said.
Feliciano's lawyer, David Lowther, believes the home became a target because of an informant.
"So this confidential informant set up this drug transaction; the person they were targeting went to this home then came out with the drugs and gave it to the confidential informant," Lowther said.
During the search of the home, Feliciano was inside, reportedly in the vicinity of a shoebox, which contained a large amount of drugs. He was then arrested.
At trial, the prosecution must establish the person accused of the crime is the same person who committed the crime.
"Identification of any defence is an element of the offense...characteristically it's 'do you see that person in the courtroom, can you point to him' and then the prosecutor would say 'let the record reflect they've identified the defendant," Lowther said. "It just didn't happen."
The prosecutor who tried the case, Bill Owen, showed the witness a photo of Feliciano that was taken during the execution of the search warrant. However, Owen never asked the witness to look around the courtroom and point to the perpetrator. Feliciano was also wearing glasses at the time of the trial, while the person in the picture shown to the witness was not wearing glasses.
"We believe we proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt and the judge just did not believe we did," Marion County prosecutor Ray Grogan said.
Grogan, who called Judge Finnegan an "oustanding jurist" says he respects the court even though he disagrees with the ruling, and wants to learn from the case dismissal. He immediately implemented changes to the country's trial protocol.
"Administratively, I made the decision that any case, any trial, that is held in Marion, two assistant prosecutors or me and one of my assistant prosecutors will be trying cases together," Grogan said.
As for Feliciano, who has a criminal record and another open drug trafficking case - also in front of Judge Finnegan – he has been released on bond. He had been facing mandatory prison and a possible sentence of eight years.
A final plot twist to the case: There’s another Charles Feliciano that currently has an open case in front of none other than Judge Finnegan.