Articles Tagged with “drug convictions”

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.

Louisiana passed two medical marijuana laws in 2016 signed by Governor Bell Edwards (D-Louisiana). These two laws were SB 271[1] and SB 180[2] both authored by Sen. Fred Mills (R- District 22). These two bills established Louisiana as the 25th state to establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Louisiana’s history with medical marijuana, however, provides insights into the struggle to reform a medical program once a state has passed it.

First in the Nation

While it is mostly a footnote in history now, Louisiana was actually the first state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana program back in 1978. Passed only eight years after President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, Louisiana’s original medical marijuana program, authored by Sen. Tony Guarisco (D-Morgan City) and signed by Governor Edwin Edwards (D-Louisiana) allowed patients suffering from glaucoma and cancer to use medical marijuana.

iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmallOn May 16th, 2016, the Texas GOP signaled a profound change of stance with regard to marijuana laws in Texas. Thanks to the dedicated work of many activists within the Republican Party, the State GOP adopted two resolutions with profound implications for the future of marijuana law in the Lone Star State.

Hemp

The first resolution is the most straightforward, and the least controversial step in marijuana law reform. The plank was adopted with 71% of those in favor. The resolution reads as such:

iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall.jpgA strong majority of Texans support marijuana legalization according to public policy polling, which revealed Texan support at 58%. With some grass roots indications that Texas is ready to legalize marijuana, many question how legalization could affect the overall public heath of Texas residents. With alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences remaining a major issue in Texas, some people worry marijuana could add to the problem. Researchers have long been trying to figure out whether marijuana legalization would lead to more alcohol consumption (if the drugs are complementary) or if legalization would actually reduce alcohol use (if marijuana is a substitute for alcohol). Finally, there seems to be an answer. It is thought that marijuana use usually replaces alcohol use, and since marijuana is far safer than alcohol, marijuana legalization would lead to a net gain in public health benefits due to less alcohol consumption.

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iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmall.jpgPresident Obama thinks marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and is less dangerous in terms of its impact on consumers. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president compared marijuana to other vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, stating “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

While the president doesn’t find the use of marijuana alarming, he is very bothered by the fact that minorities, especially minority youth, have a radically disproportionate rate of arrest and imprisonment. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties…we should not be locking up individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” A new study released this month supports the president’s concerns, finding that nearly half of all black males are arrested by the time they reach the age of 23.

What is even more surprising is that notoriously conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has also shown a recent liberalized attitude towards marijuana. Perry, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, defended Colorado and Washington state’s vote to legalize the drug, saying it is a matter of states’ rights. Although Perry sidestepped questions of whether he supported the decriminalization of marijuana, he promoted Texas’ drug courts, which offer treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders, as an example to other states and nations.

CYMERA_20130829_142314.jpgAn investigation by Reuters revealed that a secretive unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using information gathered by Intelligence Agencies to facilitate criminal investigations of US residents. The information gathered by intelligence agencies, including the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security, are supposed to be used for national security and counter-terrorism purposes. Instead, the DEA unit is using intelligence information to go after individuals who are not connected to terrorism. This DEA unit, named the Special Operations Division (SOD) was created in 1994 to target Latin American drug cartels, but since then has warped into a domestic spying operation utilizing unconstitutional powers and procedures.

Examples of the unconstitutional procedures used by SOD include “parallel construction.” The practice of “parallel construction” was exposed by documents reviewed by Reuters. “Parallel construction” is where law enforcement officers, once they begin an investigation based on information from SOD, reconstruct the investigative trail to cover up the information’s origins, and thus deceive the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney, along with prosecutors and judges involved in the criminal case. The documents also reveal that federal agents and local police are specifically instructed to “omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony.” Experts, including Harvard law professor and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, believe that this practice violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney are not aware of how the investigation began, they cannot know how best to explore potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that may reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. Speaking to Reuters, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. criticized SOD’s powers, saying “you can’t game the system, you can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases.”

US law enforcement has imprisoned millions of people on drug-war convictions over the last 20 years. Due to their authorized yet unconstitutional deception caused by “parallel construction,” the number of those drug cases which resulted from evidence collected by spy agencies will never be known. The Reuters article, which broke this story, quotes DEA officials as saying that the DEA has utilized the “parallel construction” procedure “virtually every day since the 1990s.” The amount of phone data the DEA has collected now surpasses the amount of data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA).

criminal background check.jpgWhen the Government charges a defendant with a crime, the defendant has a right to a fair trial. What defines a fair trial is a rather extensive topic that is subject to rigorous debate. Discovery, which is the part of the trial where evidence is examined and exchanged between the government and defense attorney, is a key element to a fair trial. Most often discovery can result in a plea bargain or the case being dismissed altogether. In a criminal case, discovery mostly imposes duties to disclose information upon the Government. There is very little the defense has to tell the government; for example, the defense may be required to disclose the use of expert witnesses or the use of an insanity defense.

When the defense cannot fully access or discover evidence, serious due process problems arise. Currently, the government sometimes employs a trial method that completely disguises and conceals critical evidence in drug cases. Across the Country, a secretive U.S. DEA unit is using intercepted phone calls, wirtetaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to help prosecutors and law enforcement allegedly catch drug dealers. This unit is called the Special Operations Division (SOD) and it operates in a thick cloak of secrecy. The heightened confidentiality that SOD information receives is creating problematic situations that undermine the rights that a criminal defendant has to a fair trial.

When the prosecutor or other government officials receive SOD documents, they are marked with “Law Enforcement Sensitive”. This categorization keeps the documents confidential and prevents the defense attorneys from knowing that they exist. In fact, sometimes the prosecutor does not even know that SOD documents were used in the trial that he or she is prosecuting. Law enforcement covers up SOD documents with a process called “Parallel Construction”, and the following example will demonstrate how this works: a police officer receives a SOD document detailing when and where a drug transaction will occur. It lists the people involved and describes how they look and what they will be driving. But, the document notes that the police officers cannot make any mention of the received information, so the officers are supposed to monitor the situation and create other reasons to stop the suspects.

iStock_000005542834XSmall (2).jpgUnmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) revolutionized the War in Afghanistan. These drones allowed the military to perform a variety of operations while reducing the threat of injury to human soldiers. In the battlefield, it may be somewhat easy to rationalize the use of UAVs, especially against a foreign terrorist threat. Your feelings might dramatically change when you think about your local police force using UAVs to fight crime. This idea may seem a little bizarre and unrealistic. However, there are Texas counties currently allowing Law Enforcement to use UAVs and others who are engaging in UAV pilot programs.

UAVs enable the police to conduct unmanned surveillance over public and private areas. The main focus of UAV surveillance is to monitor or observe criminal behavior. While monitoring public areas is seemingly reasonable, the invasion of privacy UAVs present is cause for concern. For example, the Austin police department used a UAV in 2009. The Austin police department was executing a search warrant on a suspect’s house. The suspect was a drug trafficker and was believed to be heavily armed and dangerously. The police were concerned that the suspect was capable of shooting down a helicopter, so they conducted a sweep of the property with a UAV before executing the search warrant. This UAV, called the Wasp, was particularly special because it was the size of a small bird, which would be undetectable to the unwary eye.

Feelings about drones differ amongst Texas counties. Currently, Harris County does not to take part in UAV pilot programs. It initially participated in a UAV program, but it withdrew its participation in 2007. On the other hand, Montgomery County has a $300,000 Shadowhawk helicopter drone (developed from Vanguard Industries). It is a 50 pound helicopter with an extremely powerful camera mounted in the front with infrared capabilities. Assigned to man this drone are Sgt. Melvin Franklin, a licensed pilot, and Lt. Damon Hall, who is head of the department’s crime lab and crime scene unit. Montgomery County paid with this money with a homeland security grant. This drone is intended “to assist the County in a number of critical operations to include emergency management, search & rescue, and S.W.A.T. operations.”

nursing certification.jpgOften well-meaning but misinformed opponents of marijuana law reform suggest that certain statistics imply marijuana is the cause for huge numbers of emergency room visits. One example of such an opponent is a former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Scott Burns. The deputy director cited that patients reported marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits at a rate that rose 176 percent since 1994. Further, to support the view that marijuana should remain illegal, Burns points to the fact that marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits now surpasses heroin. More recently, Deni Carise, a substance abuse clinician, used the fact that in 2011 marijuana “was involved” in 455,668 emergency room visits nationally to argue against marijuana legalization.

Such statistics seem to highlight good reasons for the government to maintain the status quo of marijuana prohibition. A meaningful look, however, into the data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the source for such emergency room statistics, reveals the full picture. A fuller understanding about the role marijuana plays in emergency room visits demonstrates marijuana is not actually a major cause for emergency room visits.

While statistics from DAWN do indicate increasing numbers of people mention marijuana when visiting an emergency room, such a mention of marijuana only means the patient reported he or she had previously used marijuana, not that the marijuana use led to the emergency room visit. In interests of fully disclosing all past drug use, harmful or not, to the health care provider, patients routinely share such information. A notable increase of marijuana use reports in emergency rooms is not unique to the substance of marijuana. Since the late 1980s, and because of improved federal reporting methods, the overall amount of drug use mentions has risen significantly in emergency room visits.

iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn 2007 Jennifer Boatwright, a Houston resident, was traveling up I-59 with her boyfriend and two small children to visit family when she was pulled over in the tiny Texas town of Tenaha. Cops searched Boatwright’s car and, after finding over $6,000 she had placed in the car’s console so that she could purchase a used car on her trip, accused her of a being a drug runner. Tenaha officials then gave Boatwright two options: face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case she would go to jail and her children would be turned over to CPS. Or sign the cash over to the city of Tenaha under a process known as asset forfeiture, and get back on the road with no charges. Fearing for her children, Boatwright signed away her hard-earned cash.

In another equally upsetting example from Philadelphia, an elderly couple’s breakfast was interrupted by a knock on the door: it was the police, telling them that their home had been seized and that they had ten minutes to gather five decades worth of belongings and get out. Police auctioned off their home because the couple’s grandson had allegedly made several marijuana deals on their front porch.

The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is this: cash or property gained through illegal means, such as drug money or stolen property, does not rightfully belong to the owner and therefore authorities are entitled to confiscate the items and direct the proceeds toward fighting crime. State and federal laws allow asset forfeiture in instances as diverse as white collar fraud, illegal gambling, prostitution, cockfighting, poaching, drug dealing, gang activity and drag racing. Under most laws, you don’t have to be proven guilty or even arrested in order for asset forfeiture to occur. Once a victim is coerced into asset forfeiture, getting their assets back is an unlikely venture involving complex proceedings and high attorney costs, with the defendant often bearing the burden of proving their innocence.