The Straight Dope on Controlled Buys

Sometimes, an addiction drives people to do things they normally wouldn’t. Someone with an addiction to alcohol may drive drunk repeatedly. Someone who becomes addicted to prescription pain killers or heroin may find dealers throughout their area to buy from.

If you begin buying or dealing drugs to feed an addiction, you can face serious consequences if police catch you. In Wisconsin, police may ask you to become part of a controlled buy as a confidential informant if they arrest you for drug possession. In fact, in 2019, a confidential informant helped Racine County police arrest a 27-year-old man dealing drugs near a youth center through two controlled buys. As a result, police charged the man with nine drug offenses, including dealing marijuana and cocaine and drug trafficking.

We offer free consultations. Before agreeing to anything, you have the right to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

What is a controlled buy?

A controlled buy is when, at the direction of a governmental agency, an individual purchases drugs – whether it is cocaine, heroin, meth, crack or THC – from someone who sells drugs. The individual who makes the purchase may be a law enforcement officer, but more frequently it is an individual who has recently been arrested or charged with a crime. The buy is called “controlled” because the purchaser is under law enforcement’s control and monitoring during the buy.

How does a controlled buy work?

A controlled buy has slight variations, but typically works as follows. The buyer meets the seller to purchase drugs. Prior to the buyer purchasing the drugs, he is searched by law enforcement officers to make sure he has no drugs already on his person. He is then given the buy money.

Buy money is money provided by law enforcement officers to purchase the drugs in question. Prior to the money being provided to the buyer, the serial number of each individual bill is logged, in order to prove that the seller in fact accepted these bills in exchange for drugs. Often, the buyer is equipped with a recording device.

Directly after the transaction, the buyer meets with the law enforcement officers, who take control of the drugs, as well as conduct another search of the buyer’s person to make sure he has no other drugs, currency or weapons. In some cases, the buyer then gives a statement to the police, detailing how the transaction occurred.

In some situations undercover officers will conduct the controlled buy themselves, or they will accompany the buyer during the transaction. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  • The officer may not fully trust the buyer.
  • The officer may want to see if evidence of any other criminal activity is visible.
  • There could be concern about discovery of the cooperation.

Why do police orchestrate controlled buys?

Controlled buys are done to help prosecute drug dealers. The government has a very solid case against a dealer if:

  • An individual is on a recording making a drug deal.
  • The drugs from this deal are taken by the police
  • The dealer is found with the bills that were provided by the police.

In some situations, this may lead to prosecution; however, often times the government will be willing to dismiss or reduce its charges in exchange for information that the drug dealer knows. This could be something as simple as explaining what his supplier’s network looks like, or it could entail doing controlled buys himself.

Not all controlled buys are done with people that are known to the buyer. Sometimes they are introduced to dealers they have never met through third parties for the purpose of purchasing drugs. The exact circumstances of a controlled buy will vary from situation to situation.

Does an arrest occur immediately after a controlled buy?

Most people assume that if a controlled buy occurred, the seller would be immediately arrested, but that is not the case. The statue of limitations on distribution charges can extend for years, so there is no rush for the state or federal government to prosecute an individual immediately. In some cases, the government may even prefer to wait to charge a dealer, because the buyer could buy from several individuals in the same organization, thus incriminating and crippling a large portion of it.

What should I know about participating in a controlled buy?

If police in the Madison area ask you to participate in controlled buy after an arrest, you want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. In some cases, participating in a controlled buy can have little effect on your case, and you want to structure a deal to have the maximum benefit. If you have been the victim of a controlled buy and are currently facing charges, you should contact our office immediately for a free consultation. There may be suppression issues that could nullify the evidence that was collected against you, or there may be other ways to defend yourself in court.

Because Madison is a college town with many younger people more likely to experiment with drugs, police likely often are looking to orchestrate controlled buys. They want to do all they can to crack down on drug trafficking and other crime that may occur because of it.