Criminal Justice

RSS Feed for this category

Indiana Man Pursued By DEA Kills Self, Huge Stash Found

An Indiana man being pursued by the DEA and local police led law enforcement on a high-speed chase before crashing and then shooting himself Tuesday. Omar Eduardo Proano-Montano, 24, becomes the 38th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Indianapolis Star, citing law enforcement sources, Indianapolis police and DEA agents doing a drug investigation attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Proano-Montano, but he fled, leading police on a high-speed chase.

The chase ended when Proano-Montano crashed into a tree. After a short standoff, police heard a gunshot from within the cab of Proano-Montano's vehicle. They found him dead from a self-inflicted wound.

After Proano-Montano's death, agents executed a series of searches and traffic stops at locations linked to him and found cash, guns, and drugs. In his truck, they found nine pounds of crystal meth and three pounds of cocaine. At other locations, they also seized $9,000 in cash, five fully loaded military grade semi-automatic rifles with 1,000-plus rounds of ammunition, one shotgun, eight handguns, a ballistic vest and a Cadillac, police said.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama on DC Pot Laws, WI "Cocaine Moms" Law Challenged, No More 'Shrooms in Bali, More (12/12/14)

The president weighs in on congressional moves to block DC marijuana legalization, Oklahoma could be joining the cannabis oil medical marijuana club, a Wisconsin woman sues over the "cocaine moms" law, the ACLU is looking to sue a Connecticut housing agency over mandatory drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Indonesian police will begin enforcing the ban on magic mushrooms next month. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Thinks Congress Should Not Interfere With DC Pot Laws. As the battle continues over whether Congress has managed or not to block the District of Columbia's Measure 71 legalization initiative, President Obama has weighed in. In a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did "not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the citizens of District of Columbia." Asked specifically about Measure 71, Earnest noted that the measure had been approved by the voters and that, "on principle," that Congress shouldn't interfere with home rule. But Earnest also noted that Obama supports passing the omnibus spending bill that would, some say, overturn the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Oil Bill Should Be Filed Today in Oklahoma. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he plans to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill today. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Public Housing Agency Under Fire for Suspicionless Drug Testing of Applicants. The Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) requires mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of people applying to live there, and the ACLU of Connecticut is looking for people who want to sue the agency over the issue. "We urge you to repeal this policy because this suspicionless drug testing violates guarantees in the United States and Connecticut constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures," wrote ACLU staff attorney David McGuire in a December 2013 letter to the Authority. "We would like to hear from any potential tenant who objects to the suspicionless drug test so that we can consider legal action," McGuire said Wednesday. To make matters worse, the NHA is the only housing authority in the country to drug test using hair follicles, which unlike urine or blood samples, can reveal drug use going back weeks or even months.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Judge Convicted of Planting Drugs on Woman. A woman accused a judge of propositioning her when she appeared before him to seek warrants against people who had assaulted her, so he conspired with some local cops to plant methamphetamine in her vehicle and have her arrested. Now, former Magistrate Court Judge Bryant Cochran has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, violating the civil rights of a court employee by sexually assaulting her, and witness tampering. He's looking at almost certain federal prison time when he is sentenced in February.

Pregnancy

Lawsuit Will Challenge Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" Law. A woman who was jailed after admitting past drug use while seeking a pregnancy test and medical help for depression is filing suit to have the state's "cocaine mom" law thrown out. That law allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol use. Tammy Loertscher of Medford is filing the suit with the assistance of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which says the Wisconsin "fetal protection" law is one of the most sweeping in the nation.

International

Hungary's Prime Minister Wants Drug Tests for Journalists and Politicians. Hungary's rightist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make the country a "non-liberal" state, called today for mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians. "The government decided that it will rid Hungary of the drug mafia in this term," Orban said. "Politicians, journalists and those filling positions of public trust have to be included (in the drug tests) because it is clear that those who consume drugs cannot be relied on in the fight against drugs." Orban's statement isn't sitting well with journalists and civil libertarians, with the Association of Independent Journalists calling his proposal "legally and morally deeply outrageous." Earlier this week, the mayor Budapest calling for drug testing teens as well, but that proposal appears have been dropped.

Just a Reminder: Magic Mushrooms Are Now Illegal in Indonesia.Magic mushrooms had long been excluded from Indonesian drug laws, and were openly sold and used, especially in the popular tourist destination of Bali, but that's no longer the case. They are now considered a Type 1 narcotic since the law was revised earlier this year, and police are on a campaign to let people know. "All people who consume and trade in magic mushrooms are violating the Narcotics Law," Denpasar Police drug section head Comr. I Gede Ganefo said recently. "Many people do not yet know that magic mushrooms are illegal and they could face a prison term if they sell or consume them. They think it is all right as they grow naturally in manure," Ganefo said. Police said the informational campaign will become an enforcement campaign starting January 1. "Next month [Jan. 2015], there will be no more tolerance. If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them. They could face the same charges as those using marijuana and other drugs, a minimum four-year and maximum 12-year prison term," Ganefo said.

Chronicle AM: DC Marijuana Muddle, Feds OK Pot Growing on the Rez, More (12/11/14)

There are conflicting views on the fate of DC's legalization initiative, the Justice Department okays marijuana growing on Indian reservations, Spaniards now support marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

A New Mexico Indian reservation. There could be a new cash crop coming. (wikipedia.org)
DC Legalization Still Alive? Democrats Think So. Despite the language Republicans managed to include in the "CRomnibus" federal spending bill interfering with the District of Columbia's right to set its own marijuana policies, several leading Democrats say that the Initiative 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative is still alive. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, who represents DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds D.C.; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the D.C. rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The D.C. government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

DC Legalization Still Alive? Republicans Just Say No. While Democrats argue that marijuana legalization was "enacted" by the voters on November 4 and thus will prevail, Republicans beg to differ. They argue that because the initiative has not been transmitted to Congress or passed congressional review, it has not been enacted. "It's pretty clear," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) who led the charge against decriminalizing pot in DC with a rider that was not included in the final bill. "You can't enact anything once the rider's passed. The legalization is not enacted." We probably haven't heard the final word on this just yet.

Justice Department Okays Indian Tribes Growing, Selling Marijuana. In new guidance to US Attorneys, the Justice Department is telling them not to prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states that have not legalized it. It is unclear how many tribes will take up the offer; while some see pot sales as a source of potential revenue, others are strongly opposed to the use or sale of marijuana on their lands. The Justice Department will generally not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws on tribes that choose to allow it, as long as they meet eight federal guidelines, including that marijuana not be sold to minors and not be transported to areas that prohibit it.

Drug Testing

Michigan Welfare Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A two-bill package that would impose suspicion-based drug testing on some welfare recipients has passed the legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The bills would create a pilot drug testing program to begin by next October. Under the bills, welfare applicants would be screened, and if the screening suggests "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs, a drug test would be required. Although Republican sponsors said they were concerned about children, Republicans defeated a move to allow an appointed adult to receive funds for children if their parents are disqualified because of drug use.

International

Poll Finds a Majority of Spaniards Say Legalize Weed. Some 52% of Spaniards are ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new poll from the Foundation for Aid Against Drug Addiction. That's well above previous surveys from the same group conducted in 1999 and 2004. "There has been a development around the image of this drug, which could have contributed to an increase of a more cannabis-friendly population," the foundation noted.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

NYPD officers are involved in two out of three of our corrupt cop reports this week, and a pair of thieving San Francisco cops round out the rogues' gallery. Let's get to it:

In Sunrise City, Florida, an NYPD officer was arrested last Tuesday while trying to buy 10 pounds of cocaine. Officer Philip LeRoy, a former Queens precinct "Cop of the Year," now faces charges of felony weapon possession, cocaine trafficking, and conspiracy to traffic cocaine. Sunrise is notorious for its asset forfeiture-driven drug stings. At last report, Le Roy was still in jail awaiting extradition.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Friday for driving a drug dealer around, warning a cocaine dealer that police action was coming, and offering to arrange a heroin deal. Officer Merlin Alston allegedly told one cocaine supplier to "ghost" and "be gone" from a corner when police were coming, helped another dealer deliver cocaine, and offered to help the latter deal score some heroin. He is charged with official misconduct and conspiracy.

In San Francisco, two San Francisco police officers were convicted last Friday of stealing thousands of dollars worth of cash and other property from suspected drug dealers. Officer Edmond Robles and Sgt. Ian Furminger were found guilty by a federal jury of five and four counts respectively. There could be more guilty verdicts or plea bargains to come in this scandal, which began Public Defender Jeff Adachi released surveillance videos showing officers walking out of cheap SRO hotels with bags of residents' possessions.

Chronicle AM: Budget Bill Would Block DC Legalization, Also Blocks Federal MedMJ Enforcement, More (12/10/14)

With the budget bill, Congress moves to block DC's voter-approved pot legalization, but also to block federal enforcement actions against medical marijuana where it is legal, a DC protest on the legalization move is set for this afternoon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Congressional Budget Deal Seeks to Block DC Legalization. The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

DC Protest Against Congressional Interference Set For Tonight. The DC Cannabis Campaign, sponsors of the DC legalization initiative, has announced a march on the US Capitol tonight to protest Congress's move to override the voters' decision to legalize marijuana in the District. Marchers will gather at the Justice Department at 9th and Pennsylvania NW at 5:00pm, then march to the Capitol at 6:00pm.

Anti-Marijuana Speakers Heckled at DC Heritage Foundation Event. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the budget bill amendment attempting to block legalization in DC, along with Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), another strong opponent of letting the District set its own marijuana laws, were greeted by hecklers at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday. "I don't want to listen to these lies," shouted one heckler as Harris took the podium. "The people voted," a second shouted. Harris laughed when asked about the heckler, then proceeded to claim that legalizing marijuana would lead to increased teen drug use -- a claim that has not been borne out so far in states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Blocks Federal Interference in Medical Marijuana States. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor's Drug Testing Crusade Costing State's Taxpayers. The state has racked up at least $307,000 in legal fees and court costs as it tried in vain to defend Gov. Rick Scott's (R) unconstitutional law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants. And taxpayers are likely to shell out even more -- in legal fees to the ACLU of Florida, which took the state to federal court over the law. The bill could rise even higher if Scott decides to appeal the four federal court decisions that have found the law unconstitutional.

International

Isle of Jersey Rejects Islander's Requests to Use Medical Marijuana. Jersey's drug law allows the health minister to issue license for possess marijuana for "special purposes," but the island's parliament has voted against allowing three residents to use medical marijuana products. "It is unlikely that 'special purpose' was ever intended to cover medicinal use," said one senator. "While the law allows for the minister for health and social services to issue a licence for research and special purposes it does not provide for the minister to step into the shoes of a doctor and, in effect, take clinical decisions in respect of an individual case."

Indonesian President to Ban Clemency for Drug Offenders Facing Execution. President Joko Widodo said Tuesday that he plans to enforce the death penalty for people convicted of drug crimes. There are currently 64 drug offenders on death row, and he said he would reject clemency requests for them. "They are not on my table yet. But I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who committed narcotics-related crimes," Jokowi said. The government's insistence on implementing the death penalty has drawn criticism from human rights defenders in the country.

India Cops Do "Workarounds" to Bust Mephedrone Sellers. The synthetic psychedelic stimulant drug mephedrone is not illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, and police are resorting to workarounds to "curb the menace." Mumbai police have instructed officers to arrest sellers under the penal code's offense of selling poison. And some police have even arrested sellers by charging them with selling methamphetamine, which mephedrone is not.

Chronicle AM: NV Marijuana Init Qualifies for 2016, Iran Meth Up, SE Asia Poppy Production Up, More (12/9/14)

A Nevada legalization initiative is the first to qualify for the 2016 ballot, a new poll identifies an amorphous "marijuana middle," meth is on the rise in Iran, and so are poppies in the Golden Triangle, and more. Let's get to it:

In Burmese fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

"Marijuana Middle" Identified in Third Way Poll. A new national poll from the centrist think-tank Third Way finds Americans almost even split on legalization (50% yes, 47% no), but with a broad and deep "marijuana middle" that may not support legalization in its own state, but does support federal action to allow states that have legalized it a "safe haven." Two-thirds said Congress should pass a "safe haven" law, while 60% said legalization should be up to the states, not the federal government. The poll also examined the demographics of the "marijuana middle." Click on the link for all the details.

JAMA on the Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Monday published "The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado." (Click the title link to read the article.) The authors found an increase in reports of emergency room visits for marijuana intoxication, as well as problems related to the production of new marijuana products, ranging from burns caused by exploding hash-oil labs to problems associated with the overindulgence in edibles. But the authors also found that legalization was increasing access to marijuana for medical reasons, including pain control, where it is much safer than opiates.

Anchorage Assembly to Hold Hearing on Banning Pot Businesses. At the behest of Assembly member Amy Demboski, the Anchorage Assembly will hold a hearing on her proposal to ban licensed pot businesses in the city one week from today. Supporters of legalization are looking for people to show up. Click on the link for more information.

Illinois Appeals Court Rules Worker's Admission of Off-Duty Marijuana Use Not Sufficient to Deny Unemployment Benefits. A worker who was fired from his job after admitting smoking marijuana when confronted with a random drug test (which he passed) cannot be denied unemployment benefits, the state's 5th District appellate court has ruled. The case is Eastham v. The Housing Authority of Jefferson County.

It's Official -- Nevada Initiative Qualifies for 2016 Ballot. Nevada is first out of the blocks to legalize marijuana via an initiative in 2016. Secretary of State Ross Miller Monday certified that the initiative had qualified for the ballot. Now, voters will have the opportunity to legalize it in the 2016 elections -- unless the state legislature acts first to approve the measure.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors Are Cutting Back on Prescriptions for Pain Relievers. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers report that half of primary care physicians are reducing their prescribing of opiate pain relievers compared to last year and that 85% of doctors believe they are overprescribed. The doctors reported concerns about addiction, overdoses, and traffic accidents. But an even greater number -- 90% -- were confident in their own ability to correctly prescribe opiates.

International

Meth in Iran. Reuters has a report on the increase of methamphetamine use in the Islamic Republic. The news agency notes that meth seizures more than doubled between 2008 and 2012 and that last year alone, the government seized 3.6 tons of speed. The report cites experts as saying the rise of meth is being driven by increased development in the country and a more complicated and faster-paced lifestyle.

Opium Production Thriving in the Golden Triangle, UN Reports. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle has increased for the eighth straight year, the UN said Sunday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014. The acreage under cultivation increased slightly, giving the region to ability to produce about 76 tons of heroin. Myanmar accounts for most of the Golden Triangle production, and the Shan State accounts for most of Myanmar's production. The Golden Triangle is the world's second largest opium production region, behind Afghanistan, but only produces about one-fifth the amount Afghanistan does.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Battle Unsettled, Federal Racial Profiling Ban, Budapest Drug Testing, More (12/8/14):

DC's marijuana reforms remain under threat from congressional Republicans, Washington state's pot-sellers are feeling burdened by taxes, California doctors reject denying transplants to medical marijuana patients, the Justice Department issued racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Nancy Pelosi Pledges Support for DC Autonomy as Possible Battle Over Marijuana Reforms Looms. At a press conference last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. "I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation." Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for pot law reforms, and the Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee wants to see Harris's amendment included in the appropriations bill. Stay tuned.

Tax Issues Fueling Concerns Among Washington State Pot Retailers. The state's 25% excise tax and the federal government's refusal to let pot businesses to deduct legitimate business expenses -- such as state taxes -- is putting the squeeze on the state's fledgling retail industry. That's helping to contribute to retail marijuana prices that are higher than black market prices, but still not enough to be profitable under the weight of the state and federal taxes. There could be a fix coming in the state legislature; efforts are also underway to change the federal tax code to recognize legal pot businesses.

Medical Marijuana

California Doctors Reject Denying Organ Transplants to Medical Marijuana Patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use. "I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices," said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Unveils Racial Profiling Ban for Federal Law Enforcers. The Justice Department today issued guidelines that will ban federal law enforcement agents from profiling on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics. The guidelines cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on joint task forces alongside federal agents. The new guidelines will not apply to security screeners in airports and at border checkpoints, nor are they binding on state and local police forces.

International

Budapest Mayor Wants Mandatory Drug Tests for Teenagers, More. Mayor Mate Kocsis wants mandatory annual drug testing for city teenagers, as well as for elected officials and journalists. He said the idea was to target "those most at risk, decision-makers and opinion-formers." Kocsis is a member of the governing Fidesz Party, whose parliamentary group will discuss his proposal today. In August, Kocsis managed to get a needle exchange program for injection drug users shut down. He has also introduced legislation to ban picking through garbage and sleeping on the streets.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Governor's Bid to Drug Test Welfare Applicants [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Florida Governor Rick Scott's (R) drug testing crusade hit yet another roadblock Wednesday as a federal appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that his plan to make welfare applicants submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests was unconstitutional.

As other Republican governors -- most notably Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Paul LePage in Maine -- did in this year's election campaign, Rick Scott made drug testing a key campaign promise in his 2010 election campaign. The following year, the Republican-dominated state legislature acceded to Scott's request and passed a welfare drug testing law.

Welfare applicants weren't the only target of Scott's drug testing push. He also sought to impose random, suspicionless drug testing on state employees through an executive order. But that was struck down by the federal courts as violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. The US Supreme Court denied his appeal of that ruling in August.

And now, the second prong of Scott's drug testing thrust has been struck down. The decision came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families, in which Navy veteran, college student, and single father Luis Lebron filed for food stamp assistance, but was denied after he refused to undergo a drug test. Supported by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, Lebron sued to have the law overturned.

Citing a lengthy history of federal court precedents, Lebron's legal team argued that like the random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers, the mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. US District Court Judge Mary Scriven agreed, ruling in 2011 that the policy was unconstitutional.

The never-say-die Scott appealed that decision. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta held a hearing on the case on November 20. It then took less than two weeks to reach its decision.

The bipartisan panel of federal judges ruled unanimously that the state of Florida had failed to provide any evidence that there was a strong government need to strip welfare applicants of constitutional protections.

"We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the court. "The State has presented no evidence demonstrating that drug testing saves a significant portion of TANF funds that could otherwise be spent on drugs," he added, pointing to a 2000 state study that found welfare applicants were less likely to use drugs than the general population and noting that in the three months the drug testing program was in effect, only 2.76% of applicants tested positive.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gets shot down again on drug testing (florida.gov)
"In the final analysis, the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment. On this record, the State has not demonstrated a substantial special need to carry out the suspicionless search -- we see no concrete danger, only generalized public interests," Marcus wrote.

Marcus also noted that "citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance" and that "by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy." Having to urinate in a cup in front of another person "intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable," he added.

Nor were the judges buying the state's argument that welfare applicants effectively waived their constitutional rights by consenting to drug tests as a condition of receiving benefits or that the state had a "special need" to protect the children of drug-using welfare applicants.

"[T]he State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis," the court held. "We respect the State's overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that [the welfare drug testing law] crosses the constitutional line."

While, given a solid line of federal court setbacks for the law, the 11th Circuit's decision was not exactly a surprise, advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"The 11th Circuit has affirmed that the 4th Amendment applies to everyone, even those applying for government assistance, said Florida Justice Institute executive director Randall Berg. "The same rationale for requiring suspicionless drug tests of TANF recipients could be used to require suspicionless searches for any kind of government benefit, whether it is social security, farm subsidies, or student scholarships. Today, the court has rejected that rationale, drawing a clear line that will keep us from going down that slippery slope."

"We are very pleased by the Court's opinion, which once again makes clear that the US Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches," said ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan.

"This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects -- that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike," she continued. "The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they've asked the State for temporary assistance."

While the federal courts have been clear that, with limited exceptions, mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Constitution, Republican governors and legislators in other states have responded by passing public benefits drug testing laws that can pass constitutional muster by first establishing some sort of "reasonable suspicion" before requiring drug testing. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, at least 11 states have done so.

The results have not been particularly impressive. In Kansas, only 20 people have been tested in the first four months the law has been in effect; four failed the drug test. Next door in Missouri, the state is spending $336,000 a year on its welfare drug testing. It has tested 655 people; 69 failed the drug test. But 711 others refused to take it. In Utah, a year after it passed a 2012 welfare drug testing law, the state had spent $30,000 to drug test applicants, but only came up with 12 who tested positive. In Tennessee, where a similar law went into effect this year, the state has tested 800 applicants, with only one person testing positive.

But whether public benefits drug testing programs actually either save states money by reducing welfare rolls or help families by encouraging recipients to go straight is probably not as important to politicians as the political calculus behind them. With its coded appeal to racial and class hostilities wrapped in a guise of caring and fiscal responsibility, it's a red meat issue for the Republican base.

Atlanta, GA
United States

White Phoenix Cop Shoots, Kills Unarmed Black Man in Attempted Drug Bust

A Phoenix police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man while responding to reports of a drug deal taking place Tuesday night. Rumain Brisbon, 34, becomes the 37th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Unlike most drug war deaths, and undoubtedly because of the context of police officers escaping criminal charges in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this one led to angry protests.

An estimated 200 people rallied Thursday night in Phoenix to protest the killing. At press time, they were planning on marching to police headquarters to demand answers, including the name of the officer who shot and killed Brisbon.

According to KPHO TV News, citing police accounts, the unnamed Phoenix police officer had been on a burglary investigation when he learned that the driver of an SUV was allegedly selling drugs at a nearby 7-Eleven. After obtaining a description of the suspect and the license number of the vehicle, they officer get the address of the vehicle's owner and went to the apartment complex listed.

When he got to the apartment complex, someone told him the occupants of the SUV were selling drugs. When he approached the vehicle, the driver, later identified as Brisbon, got out, opened a rear door, and reached into the back seat. As Brisbon then closed the door, the officer ordered him to show his hands, but Brisbon instead placed one or both of them near his waistband.

The officer then drew his weapon. Brisbon fled into a corridor, where the officer caught up with him, and a struggle ensued. Brisbon put his left hand into his pocket, and the officer grabbed his hand, while telling him to keep his hand in his pocket. The officer wrote in his report that he believed he felt the handle of a gun while holding Brisbon's hand in his pocket.

The officer was not able to maintain his hold on Brisbon's hand and, fearing he had a gun, fired twice, striking Brisbon in the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police didn't find a gun in Brisbon's pocket. Instead, they found a bottle of oxycodone tablets. Police did find a gun in the vehicle, along with a jar containing marijuana.

The officer was not injured.

Brisbon's criminal record included a DUI, two aggravated DUIs, driving with a suspended license, and two separate counts of "marijuana use and possession and failure to pay a fine."

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School