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Supreme Court Restricts Warrantless Vehicle Searches

The Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Gant today was a pleasant surprise. The Court struck a blow against the deeply flawed search-incident-to-arrest doctrine that has permitted police to perform a vehicle search anytime someone in the car is arrested. For the last 28 years, concerns over officer safety have been held to permit ridiculous numbers of automatic vehicle searches that had more to do with the drug war than officer safety.

My thoughts on the case are over at Flex Your Rights.

Even Cops Are Getting Screwed by Inaccurate Drug Tests

Via Radley Balko, this one is hard to believe:

A decorated ex-cop who claimed he tested positive for cocaine because he ingested the drug during oral sex with his girlfriend can't have his job back, a Manhattan judge has ruled.

Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower last month shot down helicopter pilot Jon Goldin's attempt to overturn his April 2008 dismissal from the NYPD.

Goldin, a 15-year veteran, tested positive for cocaine in October 2006 in a random drug test using hairs from his arm.
Goldin's lawsuit said the cocaine in his system was the product of "passive ingestion" from performing oral sex on girlfriend Coreen McCarthy, who, once he tested positive, admitted to him that she was a regular cocaine user. [New York Daily News]

Needless to say, this cocaine-ingested-through-oral-sex line sounds like the laugh-out-loud lame excuse of the century. I'm highly inclined to doubt that such a thing is even remotely possible, but as to the question of whether or not the officer was actually using cocaine, I don’t know what to think. If his colleagues are to be believed, the story on this guy is that he's well known for not doing drugs. Supposedly, he's an "adherent of the 'straight edge' lifestyle that rejects substance use" and everyone knows he doesn't get high:

More than 70 friends went to bat for the ex-cop, saying they had never seen him take even a sip of coffee and that he abstained at bars while others drank booze.

I don't know these people, but I trust them more than I trust the drug test itself, because drug tests are bullshit. They're just not accurate. If a bunch of people come forward complaining that someone got railroaded by a drug test, I'm going to assume that's exactly what happened. It's happened before.

Notwithstanding the absurdity of the officer's crazy oral sex explanation, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he's the innocent victim of a false positive drug test result. If officer Goldin is telling the truth, then it's worth taking a moment to contemplate the irony that a cop who lives by a vehement anti-drug philosophy ended up getting screwed over by one of the numerous fraudulent technologies designed to ruin the lives of drug users.

I wonder what he thinks of the drug war now, after finding himself on the receiving end of its virtually infinite incompetence.

Flex Your Rights

I've posted a couple new items in the Flex Your Rights blog recently that are worth checking out. We've got an awesome site upgrade coming out soon, so I'm trying to get back into the habit of doing at least a couple posts a week.

The focus is on 4th Amendment and police misconduct issues rather than drug policy specifically, but I'd love to see some of you commenting over there if you're interested.

Feature: "Dangerous" Drug Raids? Not So Much for Police -- Unless They Make Them So

Law enforcement officials justify the frequent use of heavily-armed SWAT teams and no-knock warrants -- police do about 50,000 SWAT raids per year -- as protecting officer safety. The dramatic deaths of two officers, Chesapeake, Virginia's Jarrod Shivers and the FBI's Samuel Hicks, both caused by the choice to use SWAT tactics, suggests the opposite interpretation. So does the small number of officer fatalities relative to the large number of drug arrests across the country each year -- with 1.8 million drug arrests in the US during 2008, a total of seven police officers were killed while doing drug enforcement, according to statistics on police line of duty deaths compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page. Three of the seven were killed doing drug raids. An eighth officer was killed following a traffic chase, not initiated as part of drug enforcement, of a suspect (a former police officer) who was on bail facing a drug possession charge.

[Ed: We originally included a ninth officer in this list, Timothy Scott Abernethy, as a second example of a case in which the drug war appeared to have played a role, despite it not having started as a drug investigation. A colleague of Officer Abernethy criticized our inclusion of his case as having too tenuous of a relation to the drug war if any, and after reviewing it we concluded that our decision to include Officer Abernethy in the listing was erroneous, and we have edited this article accordingly. If you would like to read more about this, click here.]
drug raids -- not as dangerous as they make them
"In the last 10 or 11 years, traffic accidents killed more officers than anything else," said Kevin Morison of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which also compiles a list of line of duty deaths. "When it comes to being killed enforcing the laws, traffic stops and domestic violence seem to be the top two. Serving warrants can also be dangerous," he said.

According to the foundation, 140 officers died in the line of duty last year, 71 of them in traffic accidents. Only 41 officers died of gunshot wounds, the lowest figure since 1956. One police officer was stabbed, one beaten to death, one drowned, one was electrocuted, one died in a train accident, two were blown up by a bomb, three died in aircraft crashes, and 17 died of job-related illnesses. Seventeen officers were struck and killed by other vehicles, typically while directing traffic.

According to historical data provided to the Chronicle by the foundation, last year's low death toll among officers enforcing the drug laws is not a fluke. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, an average of 6.5 officers were killed each year; in the following decade, the number was 6.2; and in the last 10 years, an average of 4.3 officers were killed each year enforcing the drug laws. The single bloodiest year for drug law enforcement was 1988, when 12 officers died.

There are slight differences between figures provided by the foundation and those provided by Officer Down, most likely related to the way each death is coded. The numbers below are based on Officer Down's count, as well as additional investigation done by the Chronicle.

Here is the list of those who gave their lives maintaining drug prohibition:

  • Chesapeake, Virginia, Police Detective Jarrod Brent Shivers was shot and killed while battering down the door of Ryan Frederick on January 17, 2008. Although Frederick was supposedly running a marijuana grow, no grow was found. Frederick was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Alberto Aguilar was run over and killed by Mexican drug smugglers near San Diego on January 19, 2008.
  • Harris County, Texas, Constable's Office Corporal Harry Theilepape died January 26, 2008 of gunshot wounds suffered nearly a month earlier when he arrested a suspect for possessing drugs and illegally possessing a handgun.
  • Grundy County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Deputy Sheriff Anthony Shane was shot and killed June 5, 2008, serving a probation violation arrest warrant for a man on a drug charge. The shooter shot himself as more police closed in, saying, "God just let me die. I don't want to live in this hell anymore."
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Detective Michael Smith Phillips was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy on August 7, 2008.
  • Chicago Police Officer Nathaniel Taylor Jr. was shot and killed while executing a search warrant as part of the gangs and drug squad on September 28, 2008. The shooter had a history of violent and drug offenses.
  • FBI Special Agent Samuel Steele Hicks was shot and killed by a suspect's wife during a no-knock search of a Pennsylvania home on November 19, 2008. The shooter, who claimed she fired in fear for her life, now faces murder charges.
  • Another officer, Texas Highway Patrol Trooper James Scott Burns, was shot and killed following a traffic stop and brief car chase on April 29, 2008. The killer was a former police officer turned drug offender and manufacturer, who was out on bail facing a drug possession charge at the time and who eventually committed suicide. Whether Burns belongs on this list is open to interpretation -- he was not doing drug enforcement, so far as we know, when initiating this traffic stop, but appearances suggest that past drug charges and fear of more may have played a role.

These officers died in a year where there were more than 1.8 million drug arrests, as noted above, meaning police can expect to do 200,000 drug busts for each officer killed. In addition to the three who were killed on drug raids, two died after stopping drivers who had been arrested and imprisoned before on drug charges and were apparently not ready to return to prison, one was killed doing undercover work, one was killed in an encounter with smugglers, one was killed arresting a drug suspect, and one was killed attempting to bring in a probation-violating drug offender.

SWAT raids seem no less hazardous for the occupants of the homes being hit than they are for the police conducting them. (The following information is taken from the police militarization archives at Radley Balko's The Agitator blog. Readers with the stomach for it can find much, much more there as well.)

On January 6, 2008, police in Lima, Ohio, shot and killed a 26-year-old mother of six, Tarika Wilson, during a raid aimed at her boyfriend. The police shooter was eventually found not guilty for killing her.

The following day in North Little Rock, Arkansas, a police SWAT team raided the home of Tracy Ingle. Awakened by a ram battering his door and thinking he was under attack by armed robbers, Ingle grabbed a broken pistol to scare them off. Officers fired multiple shots, wounding him five times. He spent a more than a week in intensive care before police removed him, took him to the police station, and questioned him for five hours. He was charged with running a drug enterprise even though no drugs were found.

In May, Connecticut police raiding an apartment after being informed that people were smoking crack there, shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan, who was unarmed. Police said he charged at them. All they found was a crack pipe.

It's not just people. Dogs also seem to be a favorite target of drug-raiding police. In what is only one case out of the dozens that seem to occur every year, Cheye Calvo, the mayor of the Washington, DC, suburb of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, saw his two dogs shot and killed by a Prince George's County SWAT team that burst into his home after his mother-in-law accepted delivery of a package containing marijuana. Calvo and his family were twice victimized, once by the pot traders who used his address to have their dope sent to, and again by the gung-ho, itchy trigger finger police.

It is unclear how many people were killed by police enforcing the drug laws in general or conducting drug raids in particular. Although in 1999 Congress authorized legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to submit such data, it neglected to fund the program. The incidents mentioned above are only some of the most egregious and well-publicized, but they suggest that even if doing drug raids isn't particularly dangerous for police, it is for their victims.

"Tactically, those SWAT units are quite impressive, but they're vastly overused," said Peter Moskos, an assistant professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, former Baltimore police officer, and author of "Cop in the Hood." "The problem is once you've got those units, you're going to use them. Their goal is to have overwhelming force and have all the cops live, but innocent people die," he said.

Law enforcement can have it both ways, said Balko, author of Overkill: the Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "If not many police are being killed in drug raids, they can say these tactics are working," he said. "If more are being killed, they can say this is why they need to be more aggressive."

Drug squad cops are a special breed, said Moskos. "Many cops never would want to work in one of those units," he said. "Even though the raids are pretty safe, they do more dangerous things like undercover operations. These guys tend to be whiter, more conservative, and guys who like breaking down six doors a day. In the drug squads in particular, they really tear it up. There is a certain vindictiveness; they think 'these people are assholes, they deserve it.'"

"Nobody has to be killed at all if they would just legalize the stuff," said David Doddridge, a 21-year veteran of the LAPD who rose to the rank of narcotics detective before he retired in 1994. "When I first started, we used to go to roll call, and they would tell us who has warrants, and we would drive out there and knock on the door. Then we went to a narcotics bureau, and we worked in teams, with battering rams," he recalled. "More citizens died than police," Doddridge said.

"I spent several years down in South Central kicking in doors and raiding homes, and probably served 50 search warrants," said Doddridge. "We weren't SWAT, just a couple of narcotics detectives with our vests on, and none of us got seriously injured. There was seldom any resistance."

Narcotics could be dangerous, Doddridge said, but not because of the raids. "The raids themselves are not very dangerous, more a danger to civilians," he said. "Doing plain clothes by yourself and buying drugs when nobody knows you're a cop is when it gets dangerous. We had a couple of our officers get beaten up buying drugs undercover on the street."

Things began to change with the introduction of the federal Byrne grant program to state and local law enforcement in the late 1980s, said Doddridge. "Then, with Byrne, we got Velcro vests and holsters, we got Kevlar helmets, all that stuff. Now, there are thousands of SWAT teams across the country. They don't have a lot to do, so they end serving drug warrants now."

It's a fool's errand, said Doddridge, who has, since his retirement, joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "After a year or so of doing those drug busts, I thought it was crazy. We weren't doing any good. And I thought about the looks of the faces on those families, the children crying when we're dragging their Dad or their brother out. I thought to myself what are we doing? -- these weren't real criminals out robbing and attacking people. I started feeling really bad about all that."

Short of legalizing drug use and the drug trade, which would be his preferred option, Moskos said, there are a couple of things that could be done. "One thing we could do is just turn back the clock," he said. "It wasn't until the 1970s that we got all obsessed about drugs. I think we should just treat it like other minor crimes, like back in the 1950s. One problem is the productivity of drug squads is measured by how many doors they knock down. They need to knock down fewer doors."

Eliminating outdoor drug markets would help, too, Moskos said. "If you're worried about the violence there, you have to push it indoors, off the street. Fear of arrest and raids on their homes push dealers into the street, but maybe we could call a truce. Close your blinds, keep the music down, act like a good neighbor, then we could leave you alone."

Pregnancy: Missouri Bill to Criminalize Drug Using Mothers-To-Be Faces Tough Scrutiny, Similar Tennessee Bills Die

A Missouri bill that would criminalize drug use by pregnant woman got a hearing Tuesday, but the reception was not very friendly. A pair of similar bills in Tennessee died on the vine this week.

In Missouri, Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah), author of the bill, SB 459, ran into a skeptical reception at the state Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon) got Lager to agree to an amendment that would block prosecution if the woman was seeking treatment, but that wasn't enough for Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City), who said the bill was unnecessary because there were already remedies for women who harmed their children.

Nor was it good enough for children's, welfare, and civil rights advocates. "We sit here in a room of privilege, but there are those who live in dire circumstances that we are blessed not to understand," said Colleen Coble of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. For the targets of the bill, "the public policy means nothing," Coble said. "What they know is, you go to the doctor, you go to jail."

Also testifying against the bill were the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

But Lager remained determined to forge forward, and a vote could take place as early as next week. "I just believe strongly that this type of action and this type of behavior cannot be condoned," he said.

A similar effort in Tennessee, however, has already bitten the dust, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which released an analysis of the Tennessee bills that laid out the case against such legislation in general and in Tennessee in particular. The advocacy group has also produced a fact sheet delineating just what is wrong with criminalizing women who use drugs while pregnant.

Drug Testing: Widely Publicized West Virginia Bill to Test People on Public Assistance Dies

A bill by West Virginia Republican state Del. Craig Blair that would have mandated random drug testing of people who receive food stamps or unemployment benefits received nationwide publicity, but no respect in Charleston, where the measure is stalled in committee and won't even get a hearing. A last chance effort by Blair to force the bill to a House floor vote Tuesday was defeated 70-30 on a straight party line vote.

The bill, HB 3007, picked up a handful of cosponsors, but also attracted heated opposition from welfare rights, civil liberties, and children's advocacy groups. Opponents argued that requiring drug testing to receive government benefits was most likely unconstitutional, more likely to impact poor families negatively than not, and just downright cruel.

Blair argued that the state was facing "a crisis" of drug abuse among state aid recipients, but never produced evidence to back up his claim. But he has still achieved something: Instant notoriety. Blair, who is not publicity-shy, created his own web site to push the bill, and has gotten national media attention. He claims his web site has 50,000 hits now.

But he has also suffered the slings and arrows of outraged fellow legislators. Del. Sally Susman (D-Raleigh) hand delivered a letter to Blair calling his bill the "most ridiculous" of the session. House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster (D-Kanawha) said of Blair that "he has an idea, but he has no plan," as she explained that many bills never make it to committee agendas.

Blair and his drug testing bill are gone for this year. But similar efforts remain alive in a handful of other states.

Privacy: Kansas House Passes Bill Mandating Drug Tests for Public Assistance

The Kansas House Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that requires Kansans who seek public assistance to undergo drug testing. The bill, HB 2275, passed by a margin of 99-26. It now heads to the state Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Kasha Kelly (R-Arkansas City), the bill targets the 14,000 Kansans who receive cash assistance from the state Department of Social Rehabilitation Services. Recipients of financial support in temporary aid for families, general assistance, child care support, and grandparents as caregivers programs would all be subjected to drug testing. It would not apply to non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and medical care.

The bill envisions testing one-third of the target population each year. A positive drug test would result in an evaluation and possible drug treatment. Failure to complete evaluation and/or treatment would result in the termination of benefits, as would a third positive drug test.

As the Chronicle reported last week Kansas is only one of a number of states where legislatoes are pushing similar bills. Drug testing public assistance recipients was okayed, but not required, under the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. But the only state to actually implement such a plan, Michigan, was shot down by the federal courts, which held that it violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Kelly, unconcerned about constitutional niceties, said the state should work to keep parents off drugs and advance the interests of children. "Shouldn't you be fearful if you're using?" she said on the House floor.

Social Rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan testified that only 3% to 8% of clients would likely test positive for marijuana, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. That figure is slightly below overall nationwide drug use levels. The program would cost $800,000 a year, he said. The bill will not be implemented unless the legislature makes a specific appropriation to cover the cost, but in a fiscal note, legislative analysts suggested the possibility of using asset forfeiture proceeds to fund the program.

The bill was opposed by the Kansas Public Health Authority, but legislators proved receptive to arguments like those of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), head of the House Health and Human Services Committee, who said if the bill failed to pass it is as if the legislature would be declaring: "Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, we don't really care if someone buys drugs with your hard-earned money."

Rep. Marti Crow (D-Leavenworth) wasn't buying it. "Testing someone because they're poor? Where does that make any sense?" he asked. "This is crazy and mean."

But Crow was in the minority. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Southeast Asia: Indonesia to Treat Drug Users, Not Jail Them

In a surprise move, the Indonesian Supreme Court last Friday issued a memo to judges ordering them to send drug users to drug treatment centers, not prison. The memo is not retroactive, meaning people currently imprisoned for drug use or possession will not be eligible.

According to the memo, arrestees would be eligible for treatment only if the amount of drugs with which they were caught were below certain "personal use" quantities. For marijuana, the upper limit is 5 grams; for cocaine, heroin, and morphine, 0.15 grams, for methamphetamine, 0.25 grams.

In the memo, the Supreme Court said drug users in treatment must submit to drug tests on request, must obtain a letter of recommendation for treatment from a court-appointed psychiatrist, must not relapse, and must not be drug dealers.

While the move is arguably a step forward for drug users, it is causing concern in the Indonesian Judiciary Supervisory Committee, which worried that is could encourage corruption. "Drug suspects could easily pay investigators some money to change their status from drug dealers to drug users," the committee's Hasril Hertanto said Sunday. "Judges usually determine the status of drug case suspects based on the dossiers presented by police and prosecutors. So they are the ones who must be very cautious about this matter."

Southeast Asian nations are among the toughest in the world when it comes to punishing drug users. Even with reservations about coerced treatment, the Supreme Court's move is an advance in drug policy for the archipelago.

Feature: Bills to Require Drug Testing for Welfare, Unemployment Pop Up Around the Country

With states across the country feeling the effects of the economic crisis gripping the land, some legislators are engaging in the cheap politics of resentment as a supposed budget-cutting move. In at least six states, bills have been filed that would require people seeking public assistance and/or unemployment benefits to submit to random drug testing, with their benefits at stake.
drug tests: don't waste the money
In Arizona, Hawaii, Missouri, and Oklahoma, bills have been filed that would force people seeking public assistance to undergo random drug tests and forgo benefits if they test positive. In Florida, a bill has been filed to do the same to people who receive unemployment compensation. In West Virginia, both groups are targeted. [Update: Kansas passed a bill on March 5.]

In most cases, legislators are pointing to the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act, which authorized -- but did not require -- random drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. But a major problem for the proponents of such schemes is that the only state to try to actually implement a random drug testing program got slapped down by the federal courts.

Michigan passed a welfare drug testing law in 1999 that required all Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants to provide urine samples to be considered eligible for assistance. But that program was shut down almost immediately by a restraining order. Three and a half years later, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier district court ruling that the blanket, suspicionless testing of recipients violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures and was thus unconstitutional.

"This ruling should send a message to the rest of the nation that drug testing programs like these are neither an appropriate or effective use of a state's limited resources," said the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project head Graham Boyd at the time.

According to the ACLU's now-renamed Drug Law Reform Project, which had intervened in the Michigan case, the other 49 states had rejected drug testing for various reasons. At least 21 states concluded that the program "may be unlawful," 17 states cited cost concerns, 11 gave a variety of practical or operational reasons, and 11 said they had not seriously considered drug testing at all (some states cited more than one reason).

Random drug testing of welfare recipients has also been rejected by a broad cross-section of organizations concerned with public health, welfare rights, and drug reform, including the American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

But that hasn't stopped politicians eager to take a stand on the backs of society's most vulnerable. Using remarkably similar rhetoric, legislators across the land are demanding that those seeking benefits be tested.

In West Virginia, Rep. Craig Blair (R-Berkeley County) has created a web site, Not With My Tax Dollars, to publicize his bill, which would apply to anyone seeking welfare, food stamps, or unemployment insurance. "I think it's time that we get serious about the problem of illegal drug users abusing our public assistance system in West Virginia," he wrote on the site. "We should require random drug testing for every individual receiving welfare, food assistance or unemployment benefits. After all, more and more employers are requiring drug testing. Why not make sure that people who are supposed to be looking for work are already prequalified by being drug free?"

In Florida, Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) has sponsored a bill that would require random drug testing of one out of 10 people seeking unemployment benefits. Those people are supposed to be "ready, able, and willing" to work, he told Tampa Bay Online. "If they can't pass a drug test for unemployment compensation," Bennett said, "then they can't pass a drug test at my construction business."

In Hawaii, Rep. Mele Carroll (D-District 13) introduced her "Welfare Drug Testing" bill last month. "The idea came from knowing a lot of families and members in the community who are on assistance that may or may not use some of our public funds for their drug habit," Carroll told KHON in Honolulu. "If the state is pouring money out there to assist families, this could be a way to look at some of our families who are on substance abuse. Make them accountable," she argued.

But such arguments didn't fly with any of the welfare rights, civil liberties, or poverty and child care organizations the Chronicle spoke with in recent weeks. They were unanimous in denouncing welfare drug testing as ineffective, arguably unconstitutional, and just plain mean-spirited.

"Drug testing welfare recipients is coming back?" asked an incredulous Maureen Taylor, Michigan state chair for the National Welfare Rights Organization. "That's ridiculous. The courts slapped it down when they tried it here, and they should slap it down again. These politicians think the reason people are poor is because they're on drugs, and that's just stupid," she scoffed.

"We are in favor of a drug free America and we believe people who exhibit strange behavior should be tested," said Taylor. "Elected officials who propose such things would be an excellent place to start. The politicians should lead by example."

"This is really bad policy," said Frank Crabtree of the West Virginia ACLU. "These are the most vulnerable people in our society, and their children are even more vulnerable. These are people of whom the legislature has no fear. They have to deal with the problems of daily life to such a degree that they are not as politically active, and that makes this bill just seem like a bullying tactic."

Crabtree also addressed the legality of any such programs. "Constitutionally speaking, I don't think the state can force you to give up your right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures to obtain public benefits," Crabtree said. "This would seem to fit that category."

Crabtree saw the West Virginia bill more as political grandstanding than a serious contribution to public policy. "If part of their rationale is that there is more drug use among recipients of public assistance, that argument fails," said Crabtree. "But this does appeal to a certain kneejerk mentality, which leads me to think this is just a lot of political posturing and pandering to a conservative constituency."

"I oppose such legislation for both philosophical and practical reasons," said Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, which works with poor families. "The proposal here would have state social workers taking on yet another task for which they are not prepared. This will add cost and more bureaucracy, and with our state budget in the fix it is, I don't think we can pull this off," he said.

"Philosophically, I think we should be holding people accountable for what we want them to do, not for what we don't want them to do," said Preis. "People want to take care of their families, to do the right thing. It just doesn't make sense to me. Taking away benefits from someone struggling with substance abuse issues isn't going to help them; it will only make matters worse."

"These bills are a waste of money at a time when governments don't have money to waste," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "And they're extremely discriminatory in that they focus on someone smoking marijuana, but don't address at all whether someone is blowing his check on alcohol or gambling or vacations. The bottom line is that even if someone is using drugs, that doesn't mean they should be denied public assistance, health care, or anything else to which citizens are entitled. These bills are unnecessarily cruel and they show that some politicians still think it's in their best interest to pick on vulnerable people with substance abuse issues."

The bills seeking to drug test people seeking unemployment benefits are even more pernicious, Piper said. "Unemployment compensation is something that people pay into when they're working, that's not a gift from the state," he said. "If you are unemployed, you earned those benefits and you shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone."

"Drug testing welfare recipients or people getting unemployment is a terribly misguided policy," said Hilary McQuie, western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. "If you find people and cut them off the rolls, what's the end result? You have to look at the end result."

Legislators proposing random drug testing of welfare or unemployment recipients have a wide array of organizations opposing them, as well as common sense and common decency. But none of that has prevented equally pernicious legislation from passing in the past. These bills bear watching.

Search and Seizure: EFF, ACLU Ask Federal Appeals Court to Reject Warrantless GPS Tracking

Two leading civil liberties groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union, have intervened in a pending case in federal appeals court in Washington, DC. The two groups have filed an amicus brief urging the court to reject as unconstitutional the surreptitious placement, without a search warrant, of Global Positioning Service (GPS) devices by law enforcement on vehicles belonging to suspected criminals. Doing so without a warrant based on probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures, the groups argued.

The brief was filed in US v. Jones, in which Lawrence Maynard and Antoine Jones were investigated by police for supposed cocaine trafficking. During the investigation, police placed a GPS device in Jones' vehicle, as well as surveilling the pair and targeting them with informants. They were ultimately arrested, and authorities seized 200 pounds of cocaine, a pound of crack cocaine, and $850,000 cash. Jones appealed, arguing that placement of a GPS device on his vehicle without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

"The Supreme Court has recognized that a Fourth Amendment search may occur through the use of advanced technology to reveal detailed and personal information about individuals," the joint brief said. "These characteristics apply to GPS tracking, and a warrant should therefore be required for its unconsented use. Such a ruling also comports with the public's rejection of 'Big Brother' police surveillance, and with the empirical evidence that Americans have a strong expectation of privacy that their every movement by automobile or foot will not remotely be tracked or recorded by private parties or law enforcement."

The EFF and ACLU noted that the federal courts have previously placed limits on the use of new technologies to obtain information without a warrant. The US Supreme Court, for example, barred the use of thermal imaging of a person's home without a warrant.

The groups also argued that warrantless GPS tracking could undermine First Amendment rights to associate privately with others by allowing the government to track their whereabouts without their knowledge. "GPS tracking can reveal whether a person visits a Planned Parenthood clinic, patronizes a gay bar, or attends a meeting of an unpopular political organization," the brief states.

The groups also warned that GPS devices are growing more sophisticated and more versatile. Some GPS devices now work indoors, while others take the form of darts that can be fired at fleeing vehicles. "In sum, warrantless, remote GPS tracking trespasses on individuals' reasonable expectation not to be tracked electronically, twenty-four hours a day, for extensive periods of time," the brief concluded.

Drug War Issues

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