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Feature: Federal Sentencing Reform Goes NASCAR

With the federal prison system stuffed to the gills and still growing, pressure for sentencing reform is building. One bill aimed at helping ex-offenders, the Second Chance Act, is moving in Congress and could pass this fall. Coming right behind it is H.R. 3072, a bill that would reintroduce parole into the federal system. And in a novel effort to broaden support for the parole bill, some of its supporters are bringing the issue to the massive NASCAR racing audience.

In the first of series of NASCAR events, on August 23 the Carter 2 Motorsports team will compete in the race at Bristol, Tennessee, using that opportunity to publicize the parole bill, as well as the organizations backing the effort, Federal CURE and FreeFeds. More than 160,000 are expected to attend, with a television audience estimated at 3 million. The effort will also be the focus of a PBS documentary with an audience estimated at between 10 and 14 million viewers when it reaches the air.

"I was a federal prisoner myself," said Carter 2 Motorsports main man Roger Carter II, who served nearly three years for a white collar offense. "I met a lot of wonderful people in prison, nonviolent drug offenders. I was able to go home after a couple of years, but these guys are serving 10, 20, 30 years or more," he told Drug War Chronicle. "Don't get me wrong. I believe people who break the law should be punished, but this is about fair and just punishment. What gets you six months in the state courts can get you six years in the federal system, and that's just not right."

While Carter's effort is relatively recent, he is encouraged by the reaction he is getting. "The support has been overwhelming," he said. "People are really susceptible to this and the press is eating it up. The whole idea is to get this before the public because people need to see where their tax dollars are going. Anyone who looks at H.R. 3072 is pleased to see it is a common sense approach to imprisonment instead of just throwing people away for no reason," he said, adding that he has H.R. 3072 messages painted on his NASCAR truck and stock car, as well as on his web sites and e-mails.

Since Congress abolished parole in the "sentencing reform" of 1986, the federal prison system has grown progressively larger, filled increasingly with nonviolent drug offenders doing lengthy sentences with no chance of more than highly limited early release for good behavior. As of this week, the federal Bureau of Prisons put its prisoner count at more than 191,000, with 54% serving time for drug offenses.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/georgemartorano.jpg
George Martorano (courtesy We Believe Group)
That number includes George Martorano, the man who carries the unlucky distinction of being the longest serving nonviolent offender in federal prison to date, a fate he earned through a first-time marijuana offense. Martorano is now 23 years into a life sentence with no chance of parole. It was Martorano's plight that inspired Florida resident John Flahive to join the fight for sentencing reform.

"I was courting a young lady, and one night when I was at her house, the phone rang with a message. It was a call from a federal inmate," Flahive explained. "It was George, and the young lady was his sister. She told me he was doing life without parole and I asked her how many people he killed," he told the Chronicle. "He didn't kill anybody. He was involved in a deal -- around 2400 pounds of pot. After a while, I went to visit him, and found he was a pretty nice guy -- he writes books and teaches other inmates and has a perfect prison record. We figured we had to help him out somehow, so we created the We Believe Group to try to raise awareness of his plight."

It has been an education, said Flahive. "I started working on this five years ago. Before that, I wasn't involved, I didn't even vote," he explained. "I figured George's case was a screw up, but as I got more involved, I realized there were thousands of Georges rotting away in there." As a result, Flahive has broadened his activism and is now working to get sentencing reform legislation through Congress. He, too, will be heading to the NASCAR tracks along with Carter in an effort to bring the message to the masses of racing fans.

"I'm working with Federal CURE on this," he said. "They've got two motor homes that we will dress up with H.R. 3072 and we'll have lots of literature to hand out. People listen when you tell them if they pay federal taxes they are affected by the cost of the federal prison system. Federal parole could save $4 billion a year," Flahive claimed.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dannydavis.jpg
Rep. Danny Davis
The federal parole has been around for awhile and was originally sponsored by Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI), but since her unexpected death in 2002, Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) has taken up the gauntlet and is now the lead sponsor. Davis was traveling and unavailable for comment this week, but his communications director, Ira Cohen, told the Chronicle the bill could use all the help it can get. "Rep. Davis is proud of all that he has accomplished with the Second Chance Act and the parole bill, and he continues to look for support," said Cohen.

A source close to Davis told the Chronicle that Davis is concentrating this fall on the Second Chance Act as a means of opening the door to a serious discussion of sentencing reform in Congress. "The strategy has always been to press for another bill to pass first, and the Second Chance Act is very close now," the source said. "If it passes, the congressman intends to use that opportunity to have this broader discussion on the parole bill because it will open up the whole issue of broader federal criminal justice reform."

But Flahive, Carter, and 100,000 federal drug war prisoners aren't waiting for Congress to act -- they're pushing it to act. In addition to the Bristol race on the 23rd, Carter and his H.R. 3072 car and truck will be racing NASCAR tracks at New Hampshire, Martinsville, and Homestead and taking the message to the masses. "Like anything else, once this gets some momentum, once politicians see they can benefit from voting for this, it'll be all over. We're here to help the people get the politicians to that point."

In This War, Technology is Key

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Business Week
URL: 
http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/aug2006/tc20060810_900485.htm?chan=top+news_top+news

Don't Go to Indiana

From the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Indiana:
The Vigo County prosecutor’s office, the Terre Haute Police Department and Vigo County Sheriff’s Department will be conducting intermittent driver’s license checks at an undisclosed location in Vigo County.

When I hear that Indiana police are conducting “driver’s license checks”, my constitutional spidey-sense goes off. Afterall, these are the folks who brought us the drug checkpoint. And when that got overruled by the Supreme Court, they came out with the similar, but more sinister “fake drug checkpoint.”

And just when I’m getting ready to connect the dots, the Tribune-Star does it for me:

The checkpoint is also known as a highway interdiction operation, something that has been challenged in courts on the grounds that it may violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure.

So at least we can agree that this is about drug interdiction rather than driver’s licenses. But the Tribune-Star is a bit off on the caselaw. The above quote should read:

The checkpoint is also known as a highway interdiction operation, something that has been overruled by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it does violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure.

Though technically a win for the 4th Amendment, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond has a loophole in that it only prohibits checkpoints implemented for the “primary purpose” of drug interdiction. That’s why police can set up checkpoints on the pretext of checking driver’s licenses, and then proceed to march drug-sniffing dogs around your car in circles as you fumble for your documents.

Thanks to the Court’s recent decision in Illinois v. Caballes, dog-sniffs are impossible to challenge on 4th Amendment grounds if administered during the course of an otherwise legitimate law-enforcement activity, so these thinly-veiled drug checkpoints will be hard to challenge.

For that matter, I’m not sure we should even push this issue given our current Court’s attitude towards the 4th Amendment.

Instead, let’s just stay the hell out of Indiana.

Location: 
United States

Judge deals blow to claim that meth sting targeted South Asians

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/news/politics/15190586.htm

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another sheriff who couldn't resist temptation, another drug-dealing cop, and something smells mighty bad in a Mississippi anti-drug task force. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In Adel, Iowa, the Dallas County sheriff was charged July 28 with stealing $120,000 in seized drug money. According to WHO-TV in nearby Des Moines, Sheriff Brian Gilbert is accused of pilfering one packet of cash in a $900,000 seizure. Gilbert took the cash from the scene and reportedly detoured to his home on the way to the station. When he got there, Deputy Scott Faiferlick noticed one of the packets was missing and told investigators. Sheriff Gilbert maintains his innocence, but now faces charges of first degree theft.

In Henrico, Virginia, a former city police officer is on the lam after police went public with two arrest warrants for him Monday. Former Officer Charles Harpster faces charges of obtaining drugs by fraud and marijuana distribution, Henrico police told WRIC-TV8 in Richmond. Police have released little other information, except to neither confirm nor deny allegations he took drugs from the police evidence room.

In Ellisville, Mississippi, prosecutors have dismissed at least three dozen drug cases because of an ongoing investigation into "questionable activities" by the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task force, according to a July 26 report by WDAM-TV7 in Hattiesburg. Jones County Assistant District Attorney Ronald Parrish told the station a number of other cases will not be presented to a grand jury. No specifics of the alleged police wrongdoing have been made public, but it must be pretty serious if prosecutors are already dismissing cases.

Feature: As Fighting Flares in Southern Afghanistan, Support for Licensed Opium Production Grows

American military commanders in Afghanistan Monday officially turned control of the country's restive, opium-rich south to NATO amid increasing rumblings of concern from European politicians -- concern over both rising coalition casualties and the wisdom of trying to prosecute the war on drugs and the counterinsurgency operation against the Taliban and Al Qaeda at the same time. With some 18,500 troops, it will be the biggest mission in NATO history, and one whose outcome is cloudy at best.

This year has seen an upsurge in fighting in Afghanistan, with some 1,700 people killed in the spreading violence so far. Among them are 65 US troops and 35 NATO troops, including three British soldiers killed Tuesday in an ambush in southern Helmand province and two more killed Wednesday. Last year, the bloodiest year yet for coalition forces, saw 129 US and NATO soldiers killed, but this year looks set to be bloodier yet. In the last three months alone, 58 NATO or American soldiers have been killed, 35 in the south. At the rate things are going, these figures will probably be outdated by the time you read this.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/symposium.jpg
2005 Senlis symposium
It has also, by all accounts, seen an upsurge in opium production, especially in the south. Despite the stirring words of Prime Minister Karzai, who has vowed a holy war against the poppy, eradication efforts are achieving mixed results at best. That is because the Karzai government and its Western backers are confronted by a multitude of factors militating against success.

"The drug fight is continuing, but it is not very effective," said Abdul Raheem Yaseer, assistant director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "The lack of the government's ability to help farmers find markets and the difficulty of transporting goods on the bad roads are very discouraging. And now the area is suffering from drought," he told DRCNet. "People were optimistic at the beginning of the year that they could sell their produce, so they invested their money, and then the drought came. Now, many of them are saying they can't make back the money they spent, so they are shifting back to opium. They speak openly. They say 'We have families to feed, loans to pay, there is no water, there is no improvement in the roads.'"

Yaseer pointed to several factors hindering the eradication effort. "The drug lords have been benefiting for years, and they fight to keep that revenue going," he said. "The high rises going up in Kabul are all built by drug lords. But some of those drug lords are members of the government, which complicates matters even more. Karzai talks very tough about eradication, but the reality on the ground is quite different. The corruption, along with the lack of support within the government and by the West, allows the drug lords to enjoy a relatively peaceful time."

But if British Lt. Gen. David Richards, the new NATO commander in the south, has his way, the drug traffickers are about to feel the wrath of the West. "I'm convinced that much of the violence is only caused by the drugs-related activities in the south," said Richards at a Kabul press conference Saturday. "The opium trade is being threatened by the NATO expansion into the south and they are going to fight very hard to keep what they have got and a lot of what we are seeing has nothing to do with any ideological commitment" to the Taliban, he said. "Essentially for the last four years some very brutal people have been developing their little fiefdoms down there and exporting a lot of opium to the rest of the world. That very evil trade is being threatened by the NATO expansion in the south. This is a very noble cause we're engaged in, and we have to liberate the people from that scourge of those warlords."

"NATO has three objectives," said Yaseer. "Their first priority is to defeat the insurgency, secondly to win hearts and minds, and third to wipe out the opium." But, he conceded, those goals are contradictory, given Afghanistan's huge dependency on the opium economy. According to the United Nations, opium accounts for somewhere between 40% and 50% of the national economy.

And the attempt to prosecute all three objectives at the same time could well led to a more formal alliance between traffickers and insurgents. The major drug traffickers also align themselves with the Taliban and what Yaseer called "intruders" from Pakistan, referring to agents of Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, who he said work to keep Afghanistan from gaining stability. "The drug lords do not want to be controlled by the Afghan government, so they side with the intruders and the Taliban and share profits with them. These intruders from Pakistan are not helping; they are jeopardizing the efforts against smuggling and to eradicate the poppies. As for the Taliban, they might have religious problems with opium, but they like the money and they cooperate with the growers and traffickers."

"The drug lords and smugglers are as strong militarily as the Taliban and Al Qaeda," said Yaseer. "If they really unite together, the coalition forces will face a big strong resistance."

The command turnover from the Americans to NATO, and the rising death toll among NATO soldiers is beginning to focus the minds of European politicians, some of whom are beginning to call for the adoption of a scheme that would allow the licensed production of opium for the legitimate medicinal market. Formally unveiled last October in Kabul, the proposal from the European security and development think tank, The Senlis Council, has so far attracted only limited support from key decision-makers in Kabul and the capitals of the West.

Last week, Drug War Chronicle reported that some British Conservatives had begun to call for adoption of the Senlis proposal. By the time that report appeared, new calls to adopt the licensing scheme came from the Italian government.

"The Italian government will be a promoter both in Europe and in Afghanistan" of a project to "legally purchase the opium produced in Afghanistan and use it for medicinal purposes," said Italian foreign vice minister Ugo Intini last Friday, as he spoke with journalists at the Italian Senate. The aim is to reduce the illicit trafficking of opium and make opioid pain medications more available to poor developing countries, he said. The lack of opioid pain medications in the developing countries is "profoundly unfair," he added.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/plaque.jpg
plaque memorializing journalists murdered by Taliban, at hotel where they stayed in Jalalabad
A British Labor Party politician told DRCNet Thursday that he, too, supported the Senlis proposal. "In Helmand, Britain has stopped destroying poppy crops to concentrate on bombing people into democracy and trying to win hearts and minds by using bombs and bullets," said MP Paul Flynn, a staunch opponent of the drug war. "The $40 million paid to the corrupt Karzai government to compensate farmers for crops previously destroyed never reached the farmers. The only sensible way to make progress is to license the farmers to use their poppy crop to reduce the world-wide morphine shortage."

But the idea that the US, which opposes any relaxation of any drug law anywhere on ideological grounds, or the Afghan government, will embrace the proposal is probably mistaken, said Yaseer. "As soon as you hear 'legalize drugs,' all kinds of religious, traditional, and other resistance pops up. One problem here is that the state is too weak. They can’t control it when it is illegal, and they wouldn’t be able to control it if it were legal. There is plenty of opium already without licensing; in the Afghan context, licensing means freedom to grow more."

Instead, said Yaseer, the Afghan government and the West should subsidize the farmers, seek alternative crops, and enable local government to actually establish control on the ground. But that will not be easy, he conceded. In the meantime, the poppies continue to bloom, the drug lords, both within and without the Karzai government, continue to get rich, and NATO soldiers, American soldiers, Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents, and drug trafficker gunmen all continue to fight and die. And civilian Afghan citizens, most of whom would like nothing more than peace and prosperity, are among the biggest losers as the bullets fly and the bombs drop.

visit: DRCNet in Afghanistan

Smugglers Innovate as Border Tightens

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
USA Today
URL: 
http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060803/a_borderdrugs03.art.htm

Roadside Drug Tests in Two Years (UK)

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Scotsman
URL: 
http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1123982006

Rising Violent Crime in US Sparks a Search For Answers

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Voice of America
URL: 
http://www.voanews.com/english/Crime2006-08-02-voa11.cfm

New "Meth Gun" Not as Cool as it Sounds

Courtesy of Pete Guither at DrugWarRant comes this terrifying story.

From CNET News:

A new "meth gun," in development by Maryland-based CDEX, enables police to use ultraviolet light to detect trace amounts of chemicals left by methamphetamines and other illegal drugs.

Civil libertarians have been concerned for some time that drug war profiteers would begin marketing something like this. Of course, the obvious problem with this type of technology is that it will inevitably be wrong sometimes.

More likely, it will be right way too often. Drug molecules are ubiquitous. Take for example the rumor that 80% of U.S. currency contains cocaine residue. It’s actually true.

So if your lifestyle involves touching money periodically, the "meth gun" might catch you red-handed.

Here's a hilarious example of the uselessness of this technology:

From BBC News last year:
A Welsh assembly member who called for his colleagues to volunteer to try out a new drug detection machine has tested "positive" for cannabis himself. Swabs taken from Conservative AM William Graham's hands at the Welsh assembly building revealed traces of the drug, probably from a door handle.

I think that pretty much says it all. It should be obvious to anyone who isn’t drunk on drug war hysteria that this technology can’t reasonably be used as a means of establishing probable cause to search people.

But alas, it would be foolish to expect that logic will prevail over insanity among those who build and operate creepy drug war machines that spot meth with ultraviolet lasers. Inevitably, police agencies will stock up on "meth guns," and it will be up to the courts to decide whether the device passes constitutional muster.

It might destroy the 4th Amendment forever, but there’s no question the "meth gun" would make a totally sweet membership gift.

Afterthought: remember the "meth rocket"?

Location: 
United States

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