State prosecutors improperly offered a man accused of drug violations a deal whereby they would drop charges if he did not demand compensation for his detention, the Justice Ministry says. The only evidence tying B. to the case — a drug deal — was the tracing of his cellphone location more than 300 yards away.
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Prosecutors even threatened him that if he rejected their offer they would add to their indictment — which was filed in July — older charges that he had not been prosecuted for.
The 28-year-old, who has only been identified as B., was first detained for two weeks on suspicion of drug dealing, after which he was put under house arrest for 10 months. But the Justice Ministry official responsible for oversight, David Rozen, has ruled that the prosecutors’ approach was improper, while a suit filed by B.’s attorney was justified.
The indictment against B. was filed at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. He was accused of involvement in a drug deal arranged by an acquaintance that included the sale of 20 grams of MDMA — Ecstasy — to a person who turned out to be an undercover police agent.
A police spotter noticed a man on B.’s motorcycle at the site where the deal allegedly took place. State prosecutors surmised that it was B. collecting the drugs for an acquaintance.
But the police agent buying the drugs did not see B., and the acquaintance denied that B. had delivered drugs to him.
The only evidence tying B. directly to the incident was the tracing of his cellphone location. This showed that he was within 300 meters (328 yards) of the site of the deal. In a hearing on extending B.’s detention, Judge Shamai Becker ruled that there was reasonable doubt regarding his guilt and released him on bail to house arrest.
In a complaint submitted to Rozen, B.’s attorney Menachem Rubinstein criticized the option given by state prosecutors to the accused. “In all my years as an attorney I’ve never encountered such an offer. It’s unthinkable that the state would make such a proposition. It was an offer one can’t refuse,” he wrote.
“The state took advantage of the accused’s situation as he was facing criminal charges. He was released with restrictions and wanted to put an end to it, having no previous criminal record. The state conditioned this on his forgoing a legitimate right to sue for the days he was detained, in which he could not work, all because of a indictment that never should have been filed. The state threatened him with adding other charges if he did not agree.”
Following Rozen’s ruling, the Tel Aviv branch of the State Prosecutor’s Office told Rubinstein that the state would compensate B. for the days he was detained and pay his legal fees “as an exception, and despite his earlier statement that he had no further claims against the state.” Rubinstein estimated the amount owed to his client at 145,000 shekels ($41,680). No final decision has been made on this issue.
For its part, the state prosecution said that, based on Rozen’s decision, it had clarified its position to the judge.
“In contrast to what was claimed, Rozen accepted the position so that in future cases there may be instances where prosecutors condition retracting their charges on an accused person’s commitment not to seek recompense from the state,” the state prosecution said.
“This will involve specific cases in which there is evidence of culpability, thus obviating any claim for compensation, but in which wider public interests allow the retraction of an indictment. In each case the accused may refuse such offers and go to trial. If he is exonerated he can sue the state in any manner he chooses. This applies to exceptional cases with suitable circumstances,” the prosecution added.
“In this case there was evidence for convicting the accused on two charges of drug dealing, but after weighing all the circumstances the prosecution believed that public interest allowed the retraction of the indictment. It was believed justifiable to make this contingent on his agreement not to sue the state, to which he and his attorney consented.”