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Mexico Presidential Candidate Vows to End Drug War

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the candidate-in-waiting of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), said last week that he would end the US-backed war on drugs in Mexico if he is elected president. He said his government would instead concentrate on creating jobs and fighting corruption.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (wikimedia.org)
His comments come as the region is awash in criticism of US-style drug wars and calls for a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization and legalization. Regional heads of state will meet to discuss the issue later this month, and it looks likely to be on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia next month.

AMLO was also the PRD candidate in the 2006 elections, barely losing to National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon in a hotly contested election. At least in part to strengthen his stature amid accusations of election fraud, Calderon called out the military to fight Mexican drug trafficking organization shortly after taking office. Since then, more than 50,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence, shaking the country's confidence in its institutions.

Lopez is currently trailing the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto and PAN nominee Josefina Vazquez Mota in national polls. In one poll early this month, Pena Nieto had 36%, Vazquez Mota had 29%, and AMLO had 17%. In another, the figures were Pena Nieto at 49%, Vazquez Mota at 28%, and AMLO at 19%.

"We're going to stop the war (against organized crime) and justice will be procured," if he is elected, AMLO said in remarks reported by the Mexico City daily La Jornada. "We are not going to use this strategy because it has not produced results. There will be jobs, we'll fight corruption and calm down the country. We know how to do it, I'm sure," he said.

He also vowed to end impunity and criticized the government's use of high-profile arrests and heavily-covered presentations of captured capos to the media as evidence it was actually achieving anything in its battle with the drug cartels.

"Politicians who want to resolve everything through the use of the media are responsible for the lack of security and violence, because they have not established justice, employment and wellbeing. They look the other way and, continue a policy that produces poverty, resentment, hate, hostility, insecurity and violence; they want to resolve it with wars, threats of a crackdown and PR stunts," he said.

"How are those who have no moral authority, who are dishonest and corrupt, going to guarantee justice?" AMLO asked. "With what moral authority can they ask others to do right if they don't do it themselves? And furthermore they let established interest groups make decisions just like in the past in this country."

Bernardo Batiz, whom Lopez Obrador has named as his attorney general-in-waiting if he wins, added that they want to bring social peace and respect for the human rights of victims, witnesses, and criminals alike.

"We propose to move from a war where there are enemies to a justice system with humane criteria," he said. He also vowed there would not be harsher laws, more prisons, more soldiers in the streets, or "complicity with anybody," a clear reference to the widespread suspicion in Mexico that the Calderon government is cozy with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel.

While AMLO and company were campaigning against the drug war, PAN candidate Vazquez Mota was doing some drug-related politicking herself. On Saturday, as she filed documents needed to make her the official PAN candidate, Vazquez Mota also handed in a drug test and a lie detector test she said showed she has no ties to organized crime.

The election is July 1.

Medical Marijuana Patient John Wilson Faces Bail Hearing Thursday

MEDIA ALERT: Medical Marijuana Patient John Wilson Faces Bail Hearing Thursday, September 29, 2011

WHO: Multiple sclerosis (MS) Patient John Ray Wilson

WHAT: Faces bail hearing

WHEN: 1:30 PM, Thursday, September 29, 2011

WHERE: Somerset County Courthouse – Somerville, NJ—with Judge Marino

WHY: Pending appeal to New Jersey Supreme Court

CONTACT: Ken Wolski, Chris Goldstein, William Buckman www.cmmnj.org

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patient and medical marijuana user John Ray Wilson will appear in the Somerset County Courthouse before Judge Marino for a bail hearing tomorrow, Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 1:30 PM. Wilson is currently imprisoned at CRAF, the Central Reception and Assignment Facility for the New Jersey State Prison system, located in Trenton, NJ.  Wilson had been free on bond pending an appeal of his conviction and sentence of five years, but an Appellate Court upheld his conviction of “manufacturing” marijuana in late July.  He was incarcerated on August 24, 2011.  Attorney William Buckman has filed a petition to the State Supreme Court.  The bail hearing tomorrow will determine if Wilson can remain with his family as the Supreme Court appeal is considered.  Mr. Buckman’s office reports that the State intends to vigorously oppose the release of Wilson. 

“New Jersey already has some of the most draconian laws in the nation with respect to marijuana, costing taxpayers outrageous sums to incarcerate nonviolent, otherwise responsible individuals-- as well as in this case -- the sick and infirm,” said Buckman. “As it stands, the case now allows a person who grows marijuana to be exposed to up to 20 years in jail, even if that marijuana is strictly for his or her own medical use. No fair reading of the law would ever sanction this result.”

Wilson’s conviction in January 2010 came just as New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act passed into law. The state now recognizes MS as a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy; however, the state’s Medicinal Marijuana Program is not operational yet.

Depending on the outcome of the hearing, Wilson may be freed pending his appeal or must continue serving his sentence.  Wilson’s father, Ray, reports that John is scheduled to be transferred from CRAF to maximum security Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ to serve the rest of his sentence.

CONTACT: Ken WolskiChris GoldsteinWilliam Buckman www.cmmnj.org

Location: 
Somerville, NJ
United States

Latin America: Former Mexican Foreigner Minister Accuses Army of Extra-Judicial Executions in Drug War

Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's foreign minister under President Vicente Fox, said Saturday that the Mexican military is engaging in the extrajudicial execution of members of drug trafficking organizations. The frank and surprising comments came as Castañeda spoke on a panel at the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Jorge Castañeda
"We are having more and more 'false positives,'" Castañeda said, referring to a term used in Colombia to describe people executed by the military and then described as guerrillas killed in combat. "Here in Mexico, apparent gang war killings are in fact being carried out by the military. Every time the cartels catch the police and military infiltrators and slice them up, the army says 'We're taking out ten of yours.' The statistics say that 90% of the killings are within the cartels, but the army is engaging in these killings."

President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the so-called cartels in December 2006. Since then, more than 15,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico, including more than 6,000 so far this year. Hundreds of police and soldiers are among the dead.

In response to a question asking for documentation of his assertions, Castañeda said: "The only known incident was a town in Chihuahua where the bodies of 29 sicarios (assassins) were found, with witnesses who said this was after they were detained. The press has not wanted to investigate this."

But the military can't keep its mouth shut, Castañeda said. "They go to bars and restaurants and get drunk and talk and they are going around saying how many people they have knocked off," he reported. "The 12 military officers killed by the cartels in Michoacan -- that's why the army went out and killed a bunch of other people."

Castañeda's comments come as the US State Department is preparing the process of certifying Mexican compliance with human rights conditions as part of the $1.4 billion Plan Merida anti-drug assistance package. The bill authorizing the aid requires that portions of it be withheld if the State Department determines Mexico is not in compliance.

Castañeda also criticized President Obama for turning a blind eye to human rights violations by the Mexican military. "Obama regrettably said that the human rights violations he was most concerned with was with the victims of the drug war," the former diplomat noted.

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

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The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

Editorial: Justice Unhinged

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
One of the basic elements of the US system of justice, a founding principle in fact, is that of the trial by a jury of one's peers. The jury is seen as a safeguard against tyranny, and has also been a matter of pride representing the strength and quality of our democracy.

No kangaroo courts, we say, no railroading by the system, and above all justice based on facts. If just one of the 12 jurors on a case feels that guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that juror should vote not guilty and then a conviction shall not be obtained -- another trial can be held, if the government thinks it's worth it, but a conviction is not obtained that time. If they all vote not guilty, then not guilty is the verdict, and the matter ends.

It is hoped thereby that the innocent will be protected from the overwhelming power of the state. Because another one of our founding principles is that it is better to let many guilty persons go free rather than convict and even incarcerate one innocent.

Unfortunately, while for many defendants in the courts those principles are still the law, for others they merely describe what once was. The wrench that unhinged justice was the "war on drugs." Within the '80s drug war, perversions were wrought that allowed those whose guilt was unproven to be punished, and in fact those who were acquitted of charges brought against them to also be punished.

One such perversion was civil asset forfeiture. In that corrupt practice, a charge is leveled not at a person, but at a piece of property. If the property is found to have been used in the commission of a drug crime (and some other kinds of crimes), it is "guilty," and the government can take it whether the owner knew about the lawbreaking or not. Some restrictions have been placed on this practice by states and even the feds from time to time, but they have been largely ineffective. The result of forfeiture is the disgusting spectacle of government agents stealing from members of the public -- the thefts ranging from dollars and cents on the street up to cars or even homes and retirement savings -- with the profits going to law enforcement agencies where they are spent on various purposes, many questionable.

An even greater perversion is what has happened to federal sentencing. Once upon a time, a conviction by a jury was needed to send a person to prison. That is still the case, if a defendant happens to be acquitted of all charges. But get convicted of just one charge that has been brought against you, if charges are brought together, and now you can be sentenced based on the others, even if there is no verdict or even if you were acquitted of them. In fact it's not even strictly necessary for the charges to be brought at all.

Though the Supreme Court has rendered some decisions in recent years to restrict this practice in certain cases, in others it is apparently wide open. In 2005, Mark Hurn was prosecuted in federal court in Wisconsin for possession of powder cocaine, and a larger amount of crack cocaine, was convicted of the former but acquitted of the latter. Federal guidelines specified about three years for the charge that was the subject of the conviction -- itself a grave injustice. But the prosecutor argued to the judge that Hurn was probably guilty of the crack charges too, the judge bought it, and hiked the sentence up to 18 years instead.

Late last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear Hurn's case. And so Hurn is stuck with 18 years behind bars, but the vast majority of it for conduct of which he was exonerated. Who are the true criminals here? Not Mark Hurn, as far as I am concerned. Justice has been unhinged, courtesy of the drug warriors, the judiciary complicit. What fine service they have rendered to the nation.

Drug Taxes Out of Control Violating Due Process

Last week I posted some discussion of the Drug Tax phenomenon, along with a scan of a notice one of our readers received following his being charged with an alleged marijuana offense. Last night I got an email from Matt Potter, president of North Carolina State University's Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter and a member of the Student Senate, with some very revealing information recounted from his freshman year in a Law and Justice course. Matt wrote:
My freshman year of college I had a professor for Law and Justice who was the interim director of the NC Illegal Substances Tax division, and he loved going off on tangents talking about his job... [H]e told me several things [about drug taxes], such as that the burden of proof in a drug tax hearing is actually on the defendant. In addition to hearsay being enough to find people responsible for the tax, the person can actually be acquitted of the crime (or not charged at all) and still be found responsible for paying the tax. It is also a retrospective tax. He explained this by saying: If your grandmother smoked an ounce in the 60s and we found out about it, we could collect the tax from her on that ounce.
Well there it is, as Matt put it, right "from the horse's (ass') mouth." I think the evidence is more than clear -- drug taxes are an outrage. As I commented last week, "take this drug tax and..."
Location: 
Raleigh, NC
United States

Take this drug tax and...

click on image to enlarge in separate window This week saw some good news, when a Tennessee judge ruled that the state's "drug tax" -- a drug war revenue collection scheme in which people involved with illegal drugs are required to incriminate themselves by paying taxes, and can be billed after the fact for the tax plus penalties -- is unconstitutional. The ruling came in the case of Steven Waters of Knoxville, who was billed $55,000 in 2005 for a kilogram of cocaine that had been valued at $12,000. Scurrilously, the state intends to continue enforcing the tax as if the ruling never happened, for as long as they can get away with it. The drug tax notice posted here, from which we blotted out the personal information, was sent to us by one of our readers. The state of Iowa is prosecuting him and trying to take his family's house that they've owned since building it in 1876 -- obviously not built with drug money, as he pointed out. The tax, as you can see, is well over $100,000. Because the tax action is civil, not criminal, the level of due process he has available to him is much less -- no judge approved this notice, the revenue agency is just saying he owes them 136K and he better pay up. He hasn't even gone to trial yet, and the notice doesn't even specify the quantity or value of the marijuana. It looks like they treat drug taxes more harshly than other kinds of tax dealt with on the form, as it says "If this assessment is for drug taxes, you have 60 days to appeal, but you cannot pay the amount shown and then file a refund claim after repayment." Our friend claims his innocence, and he made the following argument in one of his emails to me:

"The pot that I am being taxed on was found in containers on my property which I couldn't see from my house. I had less than an ounce in my house. You would think if I were going to keep that much valuable pot just laying in the weeds where anyone could help themselves to it, I would have at least put no trespassing signs on my place, which I didn't."
"You should see the list of damage they did to my things," he added.

widely-distributed Tennessee drug tax stamp image While I haven't independently verified our reader's account, I believe him, and will continue to unless I learn reasons why I shouldn't. But it almost doesn't matter, because the laws and the punishments are so unjust in any case. And there's no question, if you want to frame someone, in this case maybe even get his house, there's no easier way to do it than with drugs. As he put it, "Pretty good way to rob someone, just put some containers of hemp on his place at night where he can't see it, then take what you want." And while we don't know if that's what happened, again, it almost doesn't matter, from a policy level at least, because it couldn't be easier to do, and therefore it undoubtedly does happen. We run police corruption stories in our newsletter every week, and this week we have a piece of misspending of asset forfeiture funds too. This case involves multiple issues. It involves asset forfeiture, it involves the drug tax, it involves the always unjust prohibition laws, and it demonstrates the potential at least for framing and abuse. Back in Tennessee, it also seems to involve the arrogance of an agency that thinks it can ignore a judge's ruling with impunity, and sadly is probably right. Since the issue of the week is drug taxes (thanks to an enlightened Tennessee jurist), I will conclude this time by saying, "take this drug tax and..."

Location: 
IA
United States

Latest Entry in the Annals of Excess Department

This is not directly drug war related, but this is such an asinine abuse of both police and prosecutorial power that I thought I needed to share it. Alright, here's the tale in a nutshell: Kid riding in pick-up that gets pulled over, kid videotapes cop during encounter (just as cop-car camera videotapes the pick-up), cops seizes camera, arrests kid, cop consults with prosecutor, then charges kid with felony wiretapping, punishable by up to seven years in prison. To stupidly repressive to be true? Here it is: Video Recording Leads to Felony Charge:
Brian D. Kelly didn't think he was doing anything illegal when he used his videocamera to record a Carlisle police officer during a traffic stop. Making movies is one of his hobbies, he said, and the stop was just another interesting event to film. Now he's worried about going to prison or being burdened with a criminal record. Kelly, 18, of Carlisle, was arrested on a felony wiretapping charge, with a penalty of up to 7 years in state prison. His camera and film were seized by police during the May 24 stop, he said, and he spent 26 hours in Cumberland County Prison until his mother posted her house as security for his $2,500 bail. Kelly is charged under a state law that bars the intentional interception or recording of anyone's oral conversation without their consent. The criminal case relates to the sound, not the pictures, that his camera picked up.
Yes, that's right. Apparently, operating a video camera is a crime in Pennsylvania. Who knew? I'm not aware of mass busts of video camera operators at weddings, in parks, at concerts, at family reunions, or any of the thousand and one other places they are commonly used. I haven't seen the Pennsyvlania cops rounding up media camera operators, either, come to think of it. Oh, and the police have an exemption. They can videotape you, but you can't videotape them. Funny how that works.
Location: 
United States

The Fine Line Between Forfeiture And Extortion

Via Rogier van Bakel, here's another example of gratuitous malfeasance courtesy of the war on drugs.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee Police Department is accused of taking possession of a Mercedes-Benz convertible from a drug-addicted local businessman in return for agreeing not to prosecute him for cocaine possession.


"In brief, the family claims Beck did this only because it was threatened that the fact he had been arrested would be affirmatively disclosed to his former wife's attorney to be used against Mr. Beck in a child custody matter."

Again and again, we discover our public servants perverting justice and jettisoning any remote appearance of caring about the law. The complete moral bankruptcy of the drug war becomes particularly vivid when police start offering to drop charges in exchange for luxury sports cars.

Of course no such incident would be complete without the obligatory nonsensical rationalization from the local prosecutor:

"The drug violation in this case, . . . possession of cocaine, is among those violations for which a vehicle is not subject to forfeiture," [Milwaukee County district attorney, E. Michael McCann] wrote. "We believe the officers acted in good faith under this creative interpretation in justifying securing Mr. Beck's car, but it cannot stand up as a matter of law."

Ok, if something "doesn't stand up as a matter of law" that means it's illegal. It's not a "creative interpretation" of some otherwise appropriate sanction, and police shouldn't be administering punishments anyway. Of course Mr. Beck ultimately wasn't punished, because the police department accepted a bribe instead. That's called extortion.

Equally preposterous is McCann's casual determination that the officers acted in good faith. The "good faith" doctrine forgives police for actions they believed to be legal (i.e. executing a flawed warrant), but it requires some vague pretense of reasonableness. Calling something like this "good faith" is an extremely generous, but obnoxiously typical, prosecutorial response to police misconduct.

As long as prosecutors persist in redefining misconduct as "creative" or "good faith" policing, we should expect plenty more of it.
Location: 
United States

Pain Patients: Richard Paey Loses Appeal, Wheelchair-Bound Man to Remain in Prison

Richard Paey, the Florida pain patient serving a 25-year sentence as a drug dealer after being convicted of fraudulently obtaining pain medications, will remain in prison after losing an appeal Wednesday. Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on a 2-1 vote.

But in a highly unusual act, the appeals court offered some sympathy and advice. Paey should seek a commutation of his sentence from the governor, the court suggested. "Mr Paey's argument about his sentence does not fall on deaf ears," wrote Judge Douglas Wallace, "but it falls on the wrong ears."

While the two judge majority in the case was sympathetic but said its hands were tied, the lone dissenter on the bench, Associate Judge James Seals, disagreed. In a blistering dissent, Seals made a multi-point case that Paey's mandatory minimum sentence was both "cruel and unusual" and absurd in light of the shorter sentences given for many real crimes. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Paey who was severely injured in an automobile accident in the 1980s, was arrested by the DEA and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office after buying more than 1,200 pain pills with fake prescriptions. Although agents watched Paey roll up to pharmacies in his wheelchair to fill the prescriptions, he was charged as a drug dealer under a Florida law that says anyone possessing more than an ounce is a dealer. Paey rejected a plea bargain before he was tried, saying it was against his principles.

While other appeals remain open to Paey, his attorney, John Flannery II, told the St. Petersburg Times he would take the appeals court up on its suggestion. Flannery filed a commutation petition Wednesday. It's unlikely that outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush will act on it before his term ends as year's end, but Flannery said he wanted to start the process for Governor-elect Charlie Crist.

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