Articles Tagged with warrant

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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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_000006746569XSmall.jpgUnlike federal law, which more broadly allows officers to make warrantless arrests based on probable cause, Texas laws specify the circumstances when officers can make arrests without a warrant. Understanding these circumstances may better help Texas residents understand the limitations of their rights in police encounters. Knowing the scope of police power can also help Texas residents make smarter choices in their day-to-day actions to avoid undue arrest and imprisonment. There are seven primary types of arrests not requiring an arrest warrant.

On View Arrests: An officer can arrest an individual if the officer views that individual committing any crime in the officer’s presence or within the officer’s view. For an officer to use this type of arrest, the officer must view some part of the crime and play some role in the arrest.

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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.

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.”

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.

iStock_000006746569XSmall.jpgBy their very title, the role of law enforcement officials has traditionally been limited to enforcing the laws handed down by our popularly elected officials. However, a letter jointly written by several national law enforcement agencies makes it clear that the majority of law enforcement agents feel they should be able to determine what policies and laws to follow. The letter, written in response to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s August announcement that the federal government would not challenge laws passed by Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana, was signed by the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers Associations’ Coalition, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. “It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations — whose members will be directly impacted — for meaningful input ahead of this important decision,” the letter read. “Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter. Simply ‘checking the box’ by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion.” Even though scientists have debunked the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug, the letter cited the gateway drug theory to oppose marijuana reform. Interestingly, the letter failed to address the fact that marijuana prohibition has not reduced marijuana usage among US residents, even while law enforcement has dramatically increased the number of jailed drug offenders.

One would think law enforcement officials would welcome eliminating a major revenue source for foreign and domestic organized criminals, however to the contrary, they have been staunch opponents of legalizing marijuana for personal or medicinal use because, while it remains contraband, marijuana is a major source of funding for law enforcement. Police departments are often able to keep a large portion of the assets they seize during drug raids, even if charges are never brought. And federal grants for drug war operations make up a sizable portion of local law enforcement funding. It is obvious that Law Enforcement has a financial incentive to maintain the “War on Drugs” and that they are willing to utilize unfounded data to support their anti-marijuana reform claims.

In addition, law enforcement officials seem to have entirely missed Holder’s emphasis on allowing Washington and Colorado a trial period during which the Justice Department will be very closely monitoring any negative effect to public safety, public health and other community interests. Coupled with Holder’s announcement was a memo issued to U.S. attorneys across the country by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Cole’s letter stated that the administration’s decision rests on its expectation that the states would maintain strong and effective regulation and enforcement systems to address any threat to public safety and health.

iStock_000007992706XSmall.jpgA conservative political activist and mother, Jessica Peck, co-founded the Women’s Marijuana Movement (WMM), an organization dedicated to changing the harmful laws of marijuana prohibition. As a primary goal, the organization seeks to inform others that marijuana use is a much safer recreational activity than alcohol consumption. Members of WMM include parents driven in the conviction that marijuana reform will create a safer environment for their children and young professionals that have grown weary with a system that permits, and even encourages, dangerous use of alcohol but criminally punishes the comparatively less harmful usage of marijuana. Women are increasingly moving in favor of marijuana reform, overcoming a historical gender gap on the issue.

Historically, males have favored marijuana reform more so than females have. For example, in 2010, national Gallup poll revealed that 51 percent of males favored marijuana legalization while only 41 percent of females were in favor. Even in Marijuana-friendly states, in the recent past women have shown much less support, as seen by a 2011 poll of Washington State voters where 56 percent of males support legalization, but a significantly smaller 37 percent of females believed in marijuana legalization.

However, much of the gender gap has closed, if not disappeared, regarding marijuana reform support. A 2013 poll shows 48 percent of women nationally now support marijuana legalization, a notable increase from the 41 percent of support in 2010. Women’s support in favor of ending marijuana prohibition was pivotal to the marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington State. In polls leading up to the Colorado vote to legalize, 49 percent of women voiced their support for Amendment 64. Confirming the drastic shift of marijuana views of women, exit polls of the Colorado marijuana vote showed 53 percent of women voters supported the legalization measure. This result was very different from the failed 2006 Colorado vote to legalize, where the majority of women voted in favor of maintaining marijuana prohibition. Joining Colorado’s 2012 marijuana victory, the majority of women voters in Washington State also voted favorably to legalize marijuana.