Articles Tagged with Police

In April of 2010, Mr. Cornell had his home raided by police where 1/16th of an ounce of marijuana had been found – not enough to roll a joint. None of the potential jurors called for the case where willing to consider convicting someone for possessing a very small amount of marijuana.[1]

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November 16th 2010, Touray Cornell from Montana, breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as Judge “Dusty” Deschamps convened his court to report that out of all the potential jurors who had been called, not one would be willing to convict Mr. Cornell. Dumbfounded by the jurors’ decision, the District Attorney quickly spoke to Mr. Cornell’s defense counsel and an immediate plea deal was made. Mr. Cornell walked out free without admitting guilt and without probation.

Mr. Cornell witnessed the power of Jury Nullification, a show of citizen’s power through the legal system have a long and storied history in America. it is the power of Jury nullification and Mr. Cornell saw a version of that power first hand.

Fotolia_69031331_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgEvery American citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This Constitutional protection applies to many aspects of modern life. It extends over things such as a person’s house, car, and telephone. However, the government can get past this shield of privacy. Law enforcement and the judicial branch work hand in hand to acquire warrants to get past a person’s right of privacy. If the government believes a person is committing criminal behavior, then it will try to stop whatever that person is doing by piercing his privacy. In this regard, one of the government’s most powerful tools is wiretapping.

A wiretap is a government interception of electronic communications. Typically speaking, a wiretap catches phone calls, but it can be extended now to get other modes of real-time communications made over the internet, such as Skype calls. Different law enforcement agencies conduct wiretaps for different reasons. For example, the DEA will conduct a wiretap for the purpose of preventing drug trafficking.

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iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn December of 2013, a 54-year-old Texas woman was traveling back from spending the Christmas holiday with a family friend in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico when she was stopped by federal agents at the Cordova Bridge border crossing in El Paso, Texas. As the unnamed woman was passing through the checkpoint, a police drug dog allegedly alerted on her, prompting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to select her for additional screening. The woman was quickly stripped searched and forced to undergo several body cavity searches at the crossing checkpoint, but the agents failed to turn up absolutely any evidence of drugs.

Regardless of this fact, the agents were determined to find some evidence of drugs and proceeded to transport the woman, handcuffed and against her will, to the University Medical Center of El Paso. At the hospital, doctors subjected the woman to an observed bowel movement, an expensive total body CT scan and numerous body cavity probes in a desperate attempt to find some trace of drugs. However, after enduring over six hours of demeaning and highly invasive searches, the agents were forced to admit the woman had committed no crime and released her with no charges. However, to add insult to injury, the woman soon received a $5,000 bill from the hospital for the exams she was wrongly forced to undergo.

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iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgSurpassing all other countries in the world on modernization of marijuana laws, legislators in Uruguay passed a bill in December of 2013 to legalize and regulate marijuana nation-wide. Uruguay’s president voiced strong support for the bill, noting a legalized market would reduce illicit drug trade, and signed the bill into law. Uruguayans over the age of 18 may legally grow six marijuana plants, form smoking clubs of 15-45 members with a production limit of 99 plants a year, and buy up to 40 grams or 1.4 ounces each month from government-regulated retail shops. See Uruguay’s New Marijuana Laws here.

Other Latin American countries are not far behind in the movement to reform drug laws away from ineffective criminalization and toward sensible regulations. In Ecuador, lawmakers have debated a bill that would lessen the penalties associated with marijuana. The head of Argentina’s counter-narcotics agency, Juan Carlos Molina, supports debating whether Argentina should follow its neighbor Uruguay’s example.

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dreamstime_xs_22155154.jpgDespite a relatively low crime rate during the last decade, between 1970 and 2010, Texas’ prison population increased by 995%, even though the state’s population only increased by 124% during that same time period. However, Texas’ record-setting incarceration rates are not accidental–meaning this trend can still be reversed. Critics of excessive legislation and prosecutorial strategies such as mandatory minimum sentences stress that our excessive prison population is a direct result of the Texas Legislature constantly criminalizing new acts. Over the last decade, the Legislature has created an average of 40 new felonies during each legislative session while simultaneously increasing penalties for existing crimes. At present, Texas recognizes over 2,500 felony crimes.

Another prime contributor to Texas’ prison population explosion is unarguably the U.S.’s failed war on drugs. At this point, we can all agree that “prison therapy” is hugely ineffective in helping defendants cope with addiction. Considering the fact that over 70,000 people both enter and leave Texas state prisons every year, only 22% of which have been convicted of a violent crime. It should be imperative that we are taking steps to treat and reform inmates during their served time, rather than hoping that imprisonment itself is enough to deter addiction and future bad behavior. Treating a public health problem as a criminal problem is not going to end substance addiction, especially when past imprisonment keeps a person disenfranchised within their community, often without the ability to find a job or place to live. And all too often, the communities that are most impacted by this injustice are young minorities, with a new study finding that by age 23, 49% of black males and 44% of Hispanic males have been arrested, compared with only 38% of white males.

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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.

iStock_000001725183XSmall.jpgA recent report by the Partnership at Drug Free, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug Free America, found a solid majority of those polled by the organization itself, 52 percent, favor marijuana decriminalization and a vast majority, 70 percent, favor medical marijuana. The Partnership interviewed 1,603 adults. The majority of these adults (1,200) are parents of children who are between 10 and 19 years old. The report found 72 percent of mothers and 67 percent of fathers support medical marijuana.

One may be surprised that an organization focused on combating teenage drug use is publicizing report results showing favorable parental views on marijuana law reform. A deeper look into the results of marijuana law reform reveals that marijuana reform could help combat teenage marijuana use and thus align with the goals of the Partnership. For example, since Colorado passed marijuana laws, marijuana usage among Colorado teenagers has gone down. Colorado, probably the most marijuana friendly state in the nation, has a teenage marijuana use rate that is below the national average. Despite the beliefs of marijuana reform opponents that claim pro-marijuana laws will increase adolescent marijuana use, a recent report revealed there is no visible link between states legalizing medical marijuana and children increasing marijuana consumption.

The Partnership has had a noticeable history of focusing especially on the dangers of marijuana, even though the harms caused by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals far outweigh the harms of marijuana use. Past funding sources of the Partnership may explain the lack of particular focus on drugs more destructive than marijuana. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the Partnership has accepted funding from numerous tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical companies. These companies include the Budweiser, Michelob, Busch Beer Company: Anheuser Busch, the Marlboro and Virginia Slims company: Philip Morris, the Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes company: R.J. Reynolds, as well as firms associated with pharmaceuticals like Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company, and Proctor & Gamble. The Partnership reportedly ceased accepting alcohol and tobacco funding, but continues to receive support from major pharmaceutical firms, despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs cause the most overdose deaths compared to all other drugs.

iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgIn Texas, Marijuana is an illegal substance that is subject to forfeiture by the state. While this may be of no surprise, you may not be familiar with the forfeiture process and how it works. The government has different modes and methods of dealing with controlled substances. Some of these processes do not even require a court order, they occur automatically due to statutory regulation. This article discusses and describes the process the government implements after it seizes controlled substances, such as marijuana.

Let’s look at a hypothetical traffic stop situation. A driver gets pulled over and the officer looks in his back seat and sees a sizable amount of marijuana. After the driver gets arrested, the officer seizes the marijuana and seals it in an evidence bag. It is at this point that the seized marijuana is put into the custody of the police. This entire process, from seizure, to storage, record keeping, court, and then finally destruction is called the “Chain of Custody” (COC). There are very detailed and strict rules regulating how the police can handle evidence while it is in their custody. If they break one of these rules, the “chain” of custody is broken and the compromised evidence becomes subject to objection and scrutiny.

Assuming the COC is maintained, the case will end with a verdict. The seized marijuana is then subject to “summary destruction”. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.154 . Summary destruction is a process that differs among departments, but there are three certain rules that process must follow: “(1) more than one person to witness the destruction of the property or plants; (2) the preparation of an inventory of the property or plants destroyed; and (3) the preparation of a statement that contains the names of the persons who witness the destruction and the details of the destruction.” Id. After the seized marijuana is destroyed, “a document prepared under a rule adopted under this section must be completed, retained, and made available for inspection by the director.” Id. With this document, the seized marijuana is recorded and properly disposed of per statute.

2014-01-12 15.06.54.jpgThere is no question that the major tobacco industries for a time were grossly irresponsible in their promotions and commercial sales of tobacco products. Tobacco industries misled the public on the harmful effects of tobacco use, marketed the product to adolescents, and even persuaded physicians into endorsing cigarettes as medicine. A concern of many individuals regarding the legalization of marijuana is that the marijuana industry will become another incarnation of the tobacco industry, bringing with it more corporate greed rather than public good. As major investors, such as a former Microsoft manager, plan to pour millions of dollars into the legal marijuana market, and as investor groups predict marijuana to become America’s next great industry, the concern of the possible emergence of “Big Marijuana” akin to “Big Tobacco” seems well warranted. “Big Marijuana” already exists in the form of drug cartels. Well-drafted regulations could prevent gross irresponsibility in the legal marijuana industry.

Mexico’s biggest agricultural import is marijuana, annually creating billions of dollars of revenue for drug cartels. Estimates from Mexico’s Attorney General’s office reveals that the profits from the marijuana exported in the US make up about half of drug cartels’ overall revenues. Not only are drug cartels producing illicit marijuana in Mexico, they are growing marijuana in national parks inside the U.S., through sophisticated networks designed to avoid the difficulty of smuggling drugs across the border. Notorious for their brutality and criminal infestations of all elements of Mexican society, as well as rampant encroachments into the U.S., the state of the marijuana market as it exits under marijuana prohibition only fuels organized crime to grow to powerful sizes. As a result of marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington state, estimates reveal that drug cartel profits could be substantially reduced. Even if marijuana legalization nationwide somehow creates greedy profit-seeking corporations, such corporate-control will nonetheless be a much better alternative to our current system of cartel-run markets. Marijuana legalization could create a tobacco-type industry for cannabis conglomerates, however stringent regulations imposed on emerging marijuana markets may control this problem.

For instance, Washington State mandates that only 334 marijuana stores can operate across the state. An individual can only own up to three retail marijuana licenses. When an individual does hold multiple licenses, he cannot have more than 33% of the licenses in a county. Retail license holders cannot be licensed to produce marijuana. Regarding advertising and labeling, ads or product labels cannot be misleading, encourage over-consumption, claim that there are therapeutic benefits, or show children, toys, child-like cartoons, or any such imagery which is meant to encourage child marijuana use. Marijuana stores are not able to advertise within 1,000 feet of schools, on buses, or on public property, and all advertising shall have health and safety warnings. Such strong restrictions on the marijuana industry should prevent the dangerous concentration of corporate power of the kind once wielded by the tobacco industry.

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.