Cocaine

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Supreme Court Holds Crack Penalties Apply to "Cocaine Base"

In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the US Supreme Court upheld a 10-year federal prison sentence for possession of cocaine base, rejecting an appeal that harsher penalties for crack cocaine did not apply to "cocaine base." The case was DePierre v. US, and it concerned the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, passed at the height of mid-1980s crack hysteria.

The Supreme Court says "cocaine base" means more than just crack. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Under that law, possession of 50 grams of "cocaine base" was punishable by a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, while it took five kilograms of powder cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride or "cocaine salts") to garner the same sentence. While those penalties have been imposed almost exclusively on crack cocaine offenders, the words "crack cocaine" do not appear in the law. Instead the harsher penalties are imposed on those who possess substances or mixtures containing "cocaine base."

Frantz DePierre got busted for selling more than 50 grams of "cocaine base" to an undercover agent in Massachuseets in 2005. At trial, a federal judge rejected his request to instruct the jury that "cocaine base" meant only crack cocaine, and a federal appeals court in Boston agreed with the trial judge. And now the US Supreme Court has endorsed those lower court rulings.

"Cocaine base," as used in the 1986 law, "means not just 'crack cocaine,' but cocaine in its chemically basic form," Justice Sotomayor held, as the court upheld DePierre's conviction and 10-year prison sentence. That basic form includes "the molecule found in crack cocaine, freebase, and coca paste," she continued. "On its plain terms then, 'cocaine base' reaches more broadly than just crack cocaine.

While Congress last year voted to substantially reduce -- although not eliminate -- the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, crack still earns you substantially more time than powder. And this ruling clarifies that those stiffer penalties apply to freebase and coca paste, as well as crack.

Washington, DC
United States

Drug Submarines and the Futile Fight Against Colombian Smuggling

Location: 
Colombia
Yet another lessen in the futility of drug prohibition: Drug smugglers in Colombia have a low-cost way to transport cocaine -- narco-submarines. Authorities are struggling to keep up, and the technology keeps improving. Jay Bergman, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration's Andean division, said it's a whole new challenge. "Without question, it has us all going back to the textbooks and the drawing boards and figuring out what are we going to do about this." Bergman pointed out that so far, no drug submarines have been detected under the sea. But seizures of semi-submersibles have dropped dramatically in the past two years. That could mean that traffickers have already made the switch to submarines – and that they're eluding detection.
Publication/Source: 
Public Radio International (MN)
URL: 
http://www.pri.org/science/technology/drug-submarines-and-the-fight-against-colombian-smuggling3412.html

Venezuelan Drug Trafficker, Walid Makled, Says Chávez Government Officials Tied to Cocaine Trade

Location: 
Venezuela
Walid Makled says he had top Venezuelan generals and government officials on his payroll. He says that five or six plane-loads of cocaine take off everyday from San Fernandeo de Apure, in south-western Venezuela, bound for the US, via Honduras and Mexico. "It’s an everyday thing. Not every other day, it’s every day. Between FARC and the Venezuelan Army, we’re talking about four or five planes leaving Apure every day."
Publication/Source: 
PODER (FL)
URL: 
http://www.poder360.com/dailynews_detail.php?blurbid=10919

Morales: DEA Not Coming Back to Bolivia‎

Location: 
Bolivia
The arrest of Bolivia's top counternarcotics cop, Rene Sanabria, has not changed President Morales' stance on allowing the DEA into the country. Morales insisted he has no intention of inviting the DEA back. He alleged "interests of a geopolitical nature" were behind the Sanabria case. "They are using police to try to implicate the government," he said. Vice minister of social defense, Felipe Caceres, suggested that Sanabria's arrest was the DEA's revenge for being expelled. The president also hinted at U.S. hypocrisy, recalling reports that American agents ran guns to Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s with the proceeds of cocaine sales in the United States.
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/arrest-of-top-bolivian-859877.html

Drug Smuggling Scandal Shakes Bolivia

Location: 
Bolivia
Drug prohibition is responsible for a phenomenal amount of government corruption across the globe. Retired-general Rene Sanabria, the former head of Bolivia's main anti-narcotics unit serving as a top intelligence adviser to the country's Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti, pled not guilty in a Miami federal court on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S., in a scandal that has rocked the government of Evo Morales. Felipe Caceres, Bolivia's top antidrug official said Mr. Sanabria's security unit "was riddled" with corruption, and that 15 other police officials were in the process of being detained for complicity in the drug-smuggling operation.
Publication/Source: 
The Wall Street Journal (NY)
URL: 
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703559604576176632502187182.html

Former Head of Bolivia's Drugs Police Is Sent to U.S. to Face Cocaine Trafficking Charges

Location: 
Bolivia
In yet another example of drug prohibition corrupting top officials, the former head of Bolivia's counter-narcotics police, Rene Sanabria, has been arrested in Panama and sent to the U.S. to face charges he ran a cocaine trafficking ring.
Publication/Source: 
Daily Mail (UK)
URL: 
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361384/Bolivias-drugs-police-head-Rene-Sanabria-face-cocaine-trafficking-charge-US.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Philippine Congressman Jailed for Drug Trafficking in Hong Kong

Location: 
Philippines
A Hong Kong court sentenced Philippinian Rep. Ronald Singson to a year and a half in jail for trafficking cocaine. Singson got a lighter sentence from Wanchai District Court Judge Joseph Yau after he pleaded guilty to the charge of drug trafficking while insisting that he did not intend to sell the drugs he brought with him to Hong Kong. In Manila, Rep. Erico Aumentado, chairperson of the House Ethics and Privileges Committee, said there will be "no immediate sanction" imposed on Singson despite his sentence.
Publication/Source: 
GMA News (Philippines)
URL: 
http://wwt.gmanews.tv/story/213843/rep-singson-gets-18-months-for-drug-possession-in-hk

Experts: 'Nothing Amateur' About Narco Submarine

Location: 
Ecuador
The only narco submarine ever captured is a 73-foot-long camouflaged vessel capable of carrying at least 7 tons of cocaine while cruising stealthily beneath the ocean's surface. In the seven months since the game-changing discovery of the submarine, built by drug traffickers in a covert shipyard deep in the Ecuadorean jungle, naval experts from multiple countries have studied the vessel. Their conclusion: It is the "real deal" — fully capable of making multiple journeys to North America.
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle (TX)
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/7415756.html

The Futility of Drug Prohibition: 'Cocaine Clothes' Found in Italy Drug Bust

Location: 
Italy
Another example of the futility of drug prohibition and drug traffickers' unrelenting innovation: Italian police said they had uncovered a drug trafficking ring that used clothes dipped in liquid cocaine to smuggle the drug into Italy from the Dominican Republic.
Publication/Source: 
Agence France-Presse (France)
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jxGn0c-xXqk6KZpOxL8Ny-FDqeHw?docId=CNG.df91623da6926ca3cdfc80280770bcac.8d1

Two Florida Brothers Killed in Drug Operation

Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

Two South Florida brothers became the fourth and fifth persons to be killed in drug law enforcement operations this year when they were shot to death by police the night of February 1 at an apartment complex in Miramar. Police told WVSN-TV they opened fire when brothers Herson and Hedson Hilaire struck an officer with their vehicle while attempting to flee a drug raid.

Herson Hilaire
It is not known whether the police were uniformed or undercover. Police did not say the brothers were armed.

"The officer was struck by the vehicle," explained Miramar Police spokesperson Tania Rues. "He went over the hood of the vehicle. He was transported to the hospital. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries."

A later report from NBC Miami said that "the officer's injuries were minor and didn't require medical attention."

According to unnamed "sources" (read: the cops), four officers with the Safe Streets program observed "the suspected cocaine traffickers" inside a unit at the complex cutting several kilos of cocaine. The brothers grew spooked, ran to their car, and drove into one of the officers, prompting the other officers to open fire.

[Editor's Note: It is unclear why the brothers, who were allegedly involved in felonious activities, would do so in such a manner as to be visible from outside the apartment.]

The NBC Miami report said nothing about the brothers being inside a unit, only that officers "approached the Hilaire brothers, who were in a car outside the complex."

Police records showed that the driver, Herson Hilaire, 28, had been previously arrested on cocaine trafficking and distribution charges. Older brother Hedson apparently had no criminal record. He was in the front passenger seat.

The apartment unit did not belong to the Hilaires, but to an unnamed tenant who was not home at the time of the incident. That tenant was questioned by police and released.

The tenant told WSVN-TV News that the brothers were helping him move and that they were good people. "Two of the best people I know," he said. "Loyal, they're not violent people, they're not confrontational. They're real good people. Herson is an aeronautical engineer," he said. "He was down here on vacation. They were at my residence helping me move out, helping me clean up, so I can be out of there. There were no narcotics involved. This is the past. They were being rehabilitated."

Police have not released the amount of type of drugs found, but spokeswoman Rues said, "It was a narcotics investigation. Officers did view narcotics in their possession, and narcotics and paraphernalia was found at the home. I will say this: It was more than the amount that would appear to be for personal consumption."

The four officers involved in the shooting have not been named, but have been reassigned pending the outcome of a routine investigation into police-involved shooting.

Miramar, FL
United States

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