Articles Posted in Convictions

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Ohio v. Robinette[1]. Ohio v. Robinette[2] stands for the simple proposition that the 4th amendment does not require police officers to inform drivers in a traffic stop that they are free to go before asking questions unrelated to the purpose of the traffic stop.

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The Case[3]

The case behind Ohio v. Robinette is relatively mundane. On a stretch of I70 near Dayton Ohio, Robert D. Robinette was pulled over for a traffic stop on August 3, 1993. Mr. Robinette was issued a warning for speeding. The officer then asked “One more question before you get gone: Are you carrying any illegal contraband in your car? Any Weapons of any kind, drugs, anything like that?”. Mr. Robertte responded “no”. The officer then asked if he could search the car, which Mr. Robinette consented to. The officer subsequently found a small amount of marijuana, and a single pill of ecstasy. Mr. Robinette was arrested and charged for possession of controlled substance.

Today marks the 98th anniversary of the controversial case of Abrams v. United States[1]. In Abrams[2], the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of five defendants under the Espionage Act of 1917. The Court expressly rejected the defendant’s argument that their first amendment rights had been violated by the Espionage Act. This case is particularly noteworthy because revered Justice Oliver Wendell Homes[3]; the author of the opinions which had originally upheld the Constitutionality of criminalizing free speech against the war effort in three prior Court cases, dissented against the majority.

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The Case

The case behind Abrams was a product of a different time in American culture and history. On August 12, 1918, just three months before the end of fighting in WWI, Hyman Rosansky was arrested for throwing flyers out of the 4th floor of a hat factory. The flyers, one in English and one in Yiddish called for a general strike by workers, a reduction in the production of munitions being sent to aid White Army soldiers fighting Soviet forces in the Russian Revolution. Police arrested Mr. Rosansky for violating the Sedition Act of 1917, which criminalized the “willfully utter, print, write, or publish, any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States, or willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production of things necessary to the war efforts.”. Police interrogated Mr. Rosansky for weeks. With Mr. Rosansky’s help, police also arrested Mollie Steimer[4], Jacob Abrams, Hyman Lachowsky, Jacob Schwartz, Gabriel Prober, and Samuel Lipman. The group was all Russian, Jewish immigrants to America and avowed anarchist.

Today marks the 109th anniversary of the devastating Supreme Court case of Twining v. New Jersey[1]. Twining[2] was a landmark case which established a clear path of incorporating Constitutional rights against the state via the 14th amendment, while simultaneously rejecting the incorporation of the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination.

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The Case[3]

The case behind this landmark decision was sadly all to common in this era of criminal justice. Mr. Albert C. Twining and Mr. David C. Cornell bank directors of the Monmouth Trust & Safe Deposit Company were both indicted on charges of bank fraud. At trial both men chose to not take the stand at trial. At that time in New Jersey the law allowed for a jury instruction which allowed the jury to make an adverse inference form a defendant choosing not to testify at trial[4]. This effectively meant that juries were instructed to find guilt from a defendant exercising their 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. New Jersey was one of the few states that didn’t have a state constitution that allowed for the right against self-incrimination. Both men were found guilty and both men appealed arguing their 5th amendment right against self-incrimination had been violated by the New Jersey law.

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Leocal v. Ashcroft[1]. Leocal[2] stands for the proposition that DWI crimes which lack mens rea, or only require proving negligence are not “crimes of violence” which trigger deportation.

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The Case

The case behind Leocal is relatively mundane. Josue Leocal a citizen of Haiti and lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1987 was arrested in November of 2000 for felony Driving Under the Influence (DUI)[3] and causing serious bodily injury. Mr. Leocal plead not guilty to both counts, but was found guilty of both offense and sentenced to two and a half years in jail. While in jail, in October 2001, Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings began under section 237(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The judge held that Mr. Leocal’s DUI was a “crime of violence”, and thus an aggravated felony which opened Mr. Leocal to deportation, denied Mr. Leocal’s application for relief, and ordered him deported to Haiti. Mr. Leocal appealed the ruling, and in August 2002 the Board of Immigration Appeals sustained the judge’s ruling and ordered Mr. Leocal deported. In November 2002, Mr. Leocal was deported to Haiti. From Hatit, Mr. Leocal appealed the ruling. However, in a 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion had held that a DUI was an aggravated felony, and as such the court had no jurisdiction to review the lawfulness of the deportation order. The Supreme Court granted cert in 2004.

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Powell v. Alabama[1]. Powell[2] is one of the cases in which the Supreme Court laid out the basic due process requirements of a fair trial in state courts including right to effective appointed counsel in capital offenses, fair time to prepare for trial, and fair hearing. This case proved to be a monumental move for the Supreme Court, which signaled a progressive shift to expanding constitutional rights for defendants in criminal trials.

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The Case[3]

The case behind the monumental decision of the Supreme Court required a monumental remedy. On March 25th, 1931, a fight broke out aboard a freight train between a group of poor black and white youth who both had not paid for the ride. All but one of the white youths was thrown from the train just over the Alabama state line, and these boys promptly reported the incident to local law enforcement. The nine-black youths Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson[4], Andrew (Andy) Wright, Leroy (Roy) Wright and Eugene Williams were detained when they reached the town of Scottsboro Alabama[5].

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The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

The consequences of a conviction have both short and long term collateral consequences for those arrested depending on the nature of the crime, the age at which the crime occurred, and whether it is a repeat offense. The long-term repercussions of a conviction, or guilty plea are difficult to foresee, and underscore the need for experienced and zealous legal representation, as well as a basic understanding of your rights.

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The Short Term Legal Repercussions of a Conviction

              The short-term repercussions of a conviction vary depending upon the age at which the offense was committed, whether the crime is a repeat offense, and the nature of the crime committed. The short-term repercussions result from operation of state and federal statutes, and vary in length.

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  • 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana
  • 6 states have decriminalized marijuana possession laws
  • 2 states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana
  • The last three Presidents of the United States have admitted to using marijuana
  • Dozens of politicians from both parties have stated they have smoked marijuana
  • And even 1 Supreme Court Justice has admitted to repeated marijuana use

So why is it that in Montgomery County, Texas there are 20-30 marijuana arrests every week? This means there are approximately 1,350 new marijuana cases filed in just Montgomery County every year. According to the FBI, nationwide there were 757,969 persons arrested for marijuana violations in 2011, with 86% of those being arrested for simple possession. That means that in 2011 there was 1 marijuana arrest every 42 seconds!
Aside from the devastating consequences a marijuana arrest can cause to an individual’s life, the aggressive enforcement of drug laws that no longer reflect public opinion hurts everyone, as taxpayers are the ones that end up footing the bill to keep these non-violent offenders in jail. Currently, U.S. taxpayers spend more than $51 billion annually in the war on drugs. Of this amount, about $7 billion is spent annually to prosecute marijuana cases, which amounts to a cost of about $10,400 for every marijuana arrest. You must then figure in general court costs of $853 million and prison costs of $3.1 billion annually in taxpayer money that goes to prosecute marijuana cases. The gross amount of arrests made in the war on drugs means that U.S. taxpayers now spend more money on state prisons than we do on our public universities. However, it is estimated that if illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those currently placed on alcohol and tobacco, drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually. These estimates are backed by history: according to California’s Department of Justice, the state saved nearly $1 billion during the time it decriminalized personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from 1976 to 1985.
In our current economic state and social climate, it makes no sense to continue to throw billions in taxpayer dollars away prosecuting and imprisoning vast numbers of non-violent marijuana offenders. Even while presidents, politicians, television personalities and athletes coming forward to admit that they too have used marijuana, everyday citizens are harassed, humiliated, beaten, shackled, fined, and imprisoned over marijuana use. A government in which a prohibition remains on the books, with enforcement depending on police discretion, should be particularly frightening…a law should apply equally to all.
For more information on marijuana use and legalization in the rest of the country:
Medical Marijuana
Politicians Admit Marijuana Use
Video
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iStock_000002161278XSmall.jpg Instead of automatically being arrested, Texas counties may allow police to issue citations to adults caught with less than four ounces of marijuana. Though possession is still a crime, the citation law was a definitely a step taken by the Republican-controlled 2007 Texas Legislature to alleviate the punishments associated with marijuana possession and perhaps lay the groundwork for decriminalization of the substance. In the current legislative session, where Republicans are again in control, another law has been proposed by State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. that would improve Texas drug policy by reducing possession of one ounce of Marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor which could include a $500 dollar fine.
Such a step away from full criminalization would be an improvement in drug policy because a sharp reduction in the prosecution and incarceration of the estimated 75,000 people arrested for marijuana yearly in Texas (with more than 90% of those arrests for possession only) would translate into time and money better spent for courts, prosecutors, and police departments and a much-needed reduction of overcrowding in jails. Rep. Dutton is a member of the Texas Democratic party which as a part their official platform have endorsed the total decriminalization of marijuana and have, in my view, increased in popularity since the endorsement as seen by Democrats being elected in to the current Texas Legislature in numbers which ended the Republican super-majority in the House of Representatives. Apart from politicians supporting Marijuana law reform, Texas voters have also shown support for rethinking marijuana policy at the ballot box, as demonstrated not only by support for pro-legalization Ron Paul, but also by the election of Beto O’Rourke. In 2012 voters chose O’Rourke, a proponent of marijuana legalization, over an eight-term incumbent and opponent of legalization, Silvestre Reyes for Texas’s 16th congressional district.
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student loan.jpgUnder federal law, a marijuana conviction would automatically bar a student from receiving federal student loans, grants and work assistance. President Barack Obama, along with numerous United States presidents, has admitted using marijuana for recreational purposes. He has also stated that he took advantage of student loans to fund his education which was crucial to his ascension to the presidency. As a younger individual, the president was fortunate enough not to be caught with the substance. However, like millions of Americans, if the president was caught and convicted for possession of a drug classified as a controlled substance, under current law he would have likely lost his eligibility to receive student loans. Such a loss may have stifled his opportunity to receive a Harvard education and would have been detrimental to becoming a United States President. One cannot help but wonder how many Americans, who did not have the good fortune to elude prosecution and conviction, have been deprived of their opportunity to receive a highly beneficial education.
An exceptional opportunity has presented itself to correct this flawed policy of punishing individuals for the use of a substance that is less destructive than alcohol or tobacco. With 18 states and the District of Colombia having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, 14 states having decriminalized non-medical marijuana in small amounts, and two states having legalized recreational marijuana, the momentum to stimulate substantial drug law reform is nearly unstoppable. Support for change in marijuana policy has also arisen from the medical community as highlighted by the American Medical Association which has called for rescheduling marijuana as a non-Schedule I drug. Further strengthening the push to rethink marijuana use illegality is public opinion in favor of legalization, which according to a Rasmussen Poll has reached 56% in favor of regulation of the substance. Prominent members of the legal community, such as the prolific Judge Richard Posner, have also voiced their support for legalization of the substance. Acclaimed civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the ACLU have advocated for marijuana decriminalization to help combat racially disproportionate punishment for illegal drug possession. Social and political conservatism has had a modest but noticeable history of supporting marijuana reform as shown by thinkers like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater. On almost a regular basis, more contemporary social and political conservatives are coming out in favor of marijuana legalization, such as Pat Robertson and Tom Tancredo.
Recently, Barbara Walters asked the president whether he thinks marijuana should be legalized. His response was that, though he would not go as far as to favor legalization, he does recognize that the voters in Washington and Colorado have spoken on this issue. Moreover, the president noted how nonsensical it would be for the federal government to prosecute individuals in states where the substance is legal. By implying a federal allowance, or at least tolerance, for states that have legalized marijuana, the president has sparked hope in the minds of many proponents of drug law reform that desire a true change in federal policy. Perhaps as a result of reformed federal drug policy, students who have been caught with the substance, which the president once used, will be not be deprived of their opportunity to attain the academic and professional highs that come with an education.
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