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Law Enforcement: Supreme Court Holds Drug Purchasers Can't Be Charged With "Facilitation" Felonies for Calling Drug Dealers

The US Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that a law making it a felony to use a communication device in "committing or in causing or in facilitating" a drug deal cannot be used against drug purchasers who use their phones to calls their dealers. The unanimous ruling came in Abuelhawa v. US.

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US Supreme Court
In that case, federal agents had wiretapped a drug dealer's phone. Among the calls they intercepted were six calls between Abuelhawa and the dealer in which Abuelhawa twice arranged to purchase single grams of cocaine, a misdemeanor offense under federal law. But federal prosecutors in the case charged Abuelhawa with six felony counts of using a communications device to facilitate a drug deal, one for each phone call.

Abuelhawa was convicted at trial. He appealed to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction, and then to the US Supreme Court, which has now overruled it and sent the case back to district court.

"The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) makes it a felony 'to use any communication facility in committing or in causing or facilitating' certain felonies prohibited by the statute," wrote Justice David Souter in the opinion. "The question here is whether someone violates §843(b) in making a misdemeanor drug purchase because his phone call to the dealer can be said to facilitate the felony of drug distribution. The answer is no," he wrote.

"Where a transaction like a sale necessarily presupposes two parties with specific roles, it would be odd to speak of one party as facilitating the conduct of the other," Souter elaborated. "A buyer does not just make a sale easier; he makes the sale possible. No buyer, no sale; the buyer's part is already implied by the term 'sale,' and the word 'facilitate' adds nothing."

Souter noted that Congress had amended the CSA in 1970 to make simple cocaine possession a misdemeanor, not a felony, and limited the communications offense by changing the words "drug offense" to "drug felony." "Congress meant to treat purchasing drugs for personal use more leniently than felony distribution, and to narrow the scope of the communications provision to cover only those who facilitate a felony," he wrote.

Drug Legalization: Conservative Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo Joins the Chorus

Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, a rock-ribbed conservative who made his national name as an opponent of illegal immigration and "open borders," said Wednesday it is time to consider legalizing drugs. The remarks came as he spoke to the Lincoln Club of Colorado in Denver.

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Tom Tancredo
Tancredo has a 99% favorable rating from the American Conservative Union and has typically voted in favor of drug war spending, especially as it relates to border security. As a states' rights advocate, however, he has voted in favor of congressional amendments that would have barred the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal.

Tancredo ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, largely on his anti-illegal immigration platform. Tancredo served four terms in the US House of Representatives before retiring in 2008. He is considering running for statewide elected office in Colorado.

While admitting it may be "political suicide," Tancredo told his GOP audience it is time to consider legalizing drugs. The country has spent billions of dollars arresting, trying, and imprisoning drug users and sellers, with little to show for it, he said.

"I am convinced that what we are doing is not working," he said. "It is now easier for a kid to get drugs at most schools in America than it is booze," he said.

Tancredo also cited the ongoing prohibition-related violence in Mexico, which has claimed nearly 11,000 lives in the past three years. The violence is moving north, he warned.

Free Speech: ACLU Backs Pain Activist's Effort to Quash Subpoena Issued in Kansas Case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined pain activist Siobhan Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network (PRN) in her effort to block a bare-knuckled federal prosecutor from compelling her to produce documents about her contacts with Kansas pain doctor Steven Schneider and his wife, as well as friends, relatives, employees and attorneys.

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Siobhan Reynolds at 2004 Congressional briefing
The federal grand jury subpoena marks the second time US Assistant Attorney Tanya Treadway has gone after Reynolds for her advocacy for the Schneiders as they face federal charges they unlawfully prescribed pain medications.

The Schneiders were arrested and their pain clinic and home raided by federal agents in December 2007. Reynolds, a tireless advocate for chronic pain patients and the doctors who prescribe for, went to Kansas to support the couple, whom she sees as being hounded by overzealous federal drug warriors. There, with her criticism of the prosecution's case, she became a thorn in Treadway's side.

Last July, Treadway sought a gag order barring Reynolds and the Schneiders from talking to the press and another order barring Reynolds from talking to "victims" and witnesses in the case. The judge hearing the case, US District Court Judge Monti Belot, denied that motion to stifle dissent.

At the time, Treadway said in court documents that Reynolds had a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and alleged that she was using the case to further the Pain Relief Network's political agenda and her own personal interests.

Then, in March, Treadway hit Reynolds with the subpoena, which demands that Reynolds turn over all correspondence with attorneys, patients, Schneider family members, doctors, and others related to the Schneider case. Treadway's subpoena is supposedly part of an obstruction of justice investigation aimed at Reynolds. She also demands that Reynolds turn over bank and credit card statements showing payments to or from clinic employees, patients, potential witnesses and others, including virtually every attorney Reynolds knows.

That meant that in order to defend herself, Reynolds had to write and submit her own motion to quash the subpoena, which she filed on April 9. Now, the ACLU has ridden to the rescue, filing an amended motion to quash the subpoena that strongly argues the subpoena should be withdrawn because it threatens Reynolds' First Amendment rights and amounts to little more than a "fishing expedition" aimed at finding out information about the Schneiders' defense.

"These subpoenas constitute an abuse of the grand jury process," the ACLU argued. They would have "a chilling effect" on Reynolds' constitutionally protected speech. The subpoena directed at Reynolds is also "a misuse of the grand jury process because it is aimed at invading the defense camp of the Schneiders. On its face, AUSA Treadway's fishing expedition appears to have the impermissible purpose of obtaining information about the Schneider's defense. Therefore the subpoenas should be quashed as an abuse of the grand jury process."

The motion was heard on Tuesday (5/12), but there is no word back from the judge yet, who took it under advisement. Proceedings were conducted "under seal," at Treadway's behest, prohibiting the involved parties from publicly discussing it.

Marijuana: Marc Emery Associates Plead Guilty in Seattle, Face Canadian Probation

After striking a deal with federal prosecutors, two employees of erstwhile Vancouver pot seed entrepreneur, continuing marijuana legalization activist and Cannabis Culture magazine publisher Marc Emery pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle last Friday to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana. They will be formally sentenced June 17, according to a press release from the US Attorney's Office for Western Washington in Seattle.

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Marc and Jodie Emery (from cannabisculture.com)
Along with Emery, employees Michelle Rainey and Gregory Williams became known as the BC 3 after they were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on marijuana distribution charges because of Emery's seed sales enterprise. Authorities in Canada, where marijuana seed distribution is of ambiguous legal status, knew of Emery's business for years, but failed to act harshly against him or his employees.

Rainey and Williams accepted the guilty pleas on the condition that they be sentenced to two years probation to be served in Canada. Both defense attorneys and prosecutors will recommend that sentence. The judge is not bound to agree to that sentence, but the plea agreement stipulates that either party can call off the deal if the judge does not agree to that sentence.

According to court documents, Rainey filled mail orders for seeds, 75% of which were destined for customers in the US. Williams handled phone orders and walk-in customers. He confirmed Emery's claims that the company was grossing more than $3 million a year in seed sales.

Emery ploughed much of his profits back into the marijuana legalization movement and is known as the Prince of Pot for his loudly held positions. US DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed at the time of his 2005 indictment that his arrest had dealt a blow to legalization forces, but prosecutors later claimed no political motivation for the bust of one of the drug war's loudest critics.

Rainey and Williams will be formally sentenced June 17. Emery's fate remains unclear. He continues to fight extradition from Canada, and a hearing in the British Columbia Supreme Court is set for the first week of June.

Hard Times: Citing Budget Woes, California County to Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Drug Offenders

Prosecutors in Northern California's Contra Costa County, adjacent to Oakland and Alameda County, announced Tuesday they will no longer prosecute a number of misdemeanor offenses, nor will they prosecute felony drug possession cases involving only small amounts of drugs. The new policy goes into effect May 4, District Attorney Robert Kochly told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under the new policy, anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine or less than a half gram of heroin will not be charged. Ditto for people caught carrying fewer than five ecstasy or prescription opioid tablets.

"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do."

Kochly sent a memo Monday to the Contra Costa County Police Chiefs Association, which represents local police chiefs, asking them not to even bother submitting such cases. "If they are submitted, they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your department without review by a deputy district attorney," he wrote.

The charging changes are necessary to eliminate a $1.9 million budget gap in the district attorney's office this fiscal year. Six deputy district attorneys will be laid off at month's end, and another 11 will be let go by the end of the year, Kochly said.

Kochly had long taken pride in saying his office could "do more with less," he wrote in the memo. "Unfortunately, we have now reached a point where we cannot maintain the status quo," he said. "We will definitely be doing 'less with less' as a prosecution agency."

The cops aren't happy. Several Contra Costa county law enforcement officials told the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday that they would continue to make arrests regardless of prosecutors' charging decisions.

Pain Treatment: Prosecutors in Case Seek to Shut Up Doctor, Critics

Federal prosecutors in the case of Haysville, Kansas, physician Dr. Steven Schneider and his wife, who were indicted for allegedly operating a "pill mill" by prescribing to pain patients, asked a federal judge last Friday for a gag order to keep Schneider and his supporters from making their case in the court of public opinion.

The case of the Schneiders has attracted the attention of pain treatment advocates critical of heavy-handed federal government attacks on pain doctors, including the Pain Relief Network. The network's leader, Siobhan Reynolds, has been instrumental in mobilizing Schneider's patients in support of their doctor and in opposition to the federal prosecution. Prosecutors sought a temporary injunction to bar Schneider, his wife, other family members, and PRN's Reynolds from talking to the media.

"We strongly oppose a gag order because we believe in the public's access to the justice system," defense attorney Lawrence Williamson told the court. "We think the request is overbroad and not supported by law at all." While prosecutors accused the defense of trying to taint the jury pool, Williamson said that was not the case. "We are often contacted by media to respond to allegations that are made by the government and if the public has questions to the allegations we should be able to respond to those within the rule," Williamson said.

Prosecutors had no problem with media coverage of the case when they trumpeted the arrests of Schneider and his wife back in December, and they remained quiet when local media ran stories supportive of the prosecution. But questions raised in the press by Reynolds and other supporters about the 34-count indictment of Schneider accusing him of a variety of crimes related to his prescribing of opioid pain medications have the feds seeking to silence their foes.

Prosecutors claimed Reynolds told a patient that if he was going to kill himself because of lack of access to pain medications, he should do it publicly -- a charge Reynolds angrily rejected, calling it "absolutely false."

"This is just a wild allegation," Reynolds said. "Basically it was put out there to try to smear me. The Pain Relief Network works very hard to try to stop the suicides going on across the country because of untreated pain, the epidemic of untreated pain," she told the Associated Press. "I'm shocked that the government would try to get a gag order against a political activist. I find that stunning."

Law Enforcement: Detroit Prosecutor Charged With Misconduct for Allowing False Testimony in Drug Case, Misleading Jury

The head of the Major Narcotics Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has been charged with professional misconduct for allowing an informant and two Inkster police officers to lie on the stand in a 2005 cocaine case and for misleading jurors in her closing arguments in the case, the Detroit Free Press reported, citing the state Attorney Grievance Commission. The prosecutor, Karen Plants, was reassigned from her supervisory position Tuesday, after the Free Press called Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office seeking comment on the charges, which were filed Monday.

Worthy was in the news just a week ago announcing she would seek criminal charges against Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, for perjuring themselves in a police whistle-blower case. In announcing the criminal charges against the pair, Worthy said perjury cannot be tolerated in court proceedings.

But she was singing a different tune when it came to one of her prosecutors abetting perjury. Although Worthy conceded there was perjury in the 2005 drug case, she said Plants had properly notified the judge after the trial.

Still, Worthy had to reiterate her office's stance on perjury. "The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office does not condone perjury of any kind," Worthy wrote. "The office takes very seriously its obligations to the public, to the accused, and will continue to do so in the future."

Here's what happened: Informant Chad Povish gave police information leading to a 47-kilogram cocaine seizure in March 2005. During a preliminary examination, two evidentiary hearings, and the 2005 trial, Plants allowed Povish, Inskster Police Sgt. Scott Rechtzigel and Det. Robert McArthur to repeatedly deny they knew each other. That prevented defense attorneys from finding out Povish was a paid snitch and attacking his credibility, the commission charged.

Povish actually tipped off the police to a drug buy, then took duffel bags full of cocaine from one defendant before police arrived. He later told jurors he had never met the cops before and he didn't know what was in the duffel bags. Plants knew the claims were untrue, but never corrected them, the commission said. Even worse, she tried to buttress those false claims during closing arguments to the jury, characterizing Povish and another witness as "dummies who were stupid enough to be the carriers, the mules."

According to the commission, Plants told Wayne County Circuit Judge Mary Waterstone twice that the cops and informant had lied, but neither Plants nor the judge notified the defense. "He knowingly committed perjury to protect the identification of the" informant, Plants told the judge in one instance. "I let the perjury happen."

Waterstone said she understood the perjury was committed to protect the snitch's life, a claim made by Plants. But the commission pointedly noted that prosecutors had produced no evidence that Povish's life was indeed in danger or would be if his role was disclosed.

Waterstone has since retired from the bench.

The prosecutor's office later filed a confession of error in the case of one defendant after he was convicted, but both defendants ended up taking plea bargains with significant prison time. But they also both appealed, and one of them, Alexander Aceval, saw his case sent back to the appeals court by the state Supreme Court to decide if the perjured testimony denied him a fair trial.

Aceval's lawyer, David Moffitt of Bingham Farms, told the Free Press the episode is "the worst instance of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct" he has seen. "Not only did they attempt to unfairly convict my client, they covered up and lied in the face of accusations about the scheme."

Legal experts consulted by the newspaper agreed the charges were serious. "If a prosecutor violates a legal or ethical duty, the criminal justice system is perverted," said Larry Dubin, an ethics professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Farmington Hills lawyer Michael Schwartz, grievance administrator for the commission in 1979-88, said: "The normal everyday result should be disbarment. But the mitigation is that she wasn't doing it for herself. She was trying to protect a confidential informant."

Schwartz also faulted Judge Waterstone, who he said should have declared a mistrial or told jurors witnesses had lied once she knew. "A judge simply cannot sit by and do nothing," Schwartz said. She "has to make sure the rules of ethics are adhered to."

Whether Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy will prosecute the lying police and informant like she is the mayor and his one-time paramour remains to be seen. Meanwhile, prosecutor Plants, who abetted the perjury and misled the jury, has been demoted, but is still on the job.

Law Enforcement: Nebraska Man Files Complaint Over Bogus South Dakota Bust

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments.

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Eric Sage
On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying him also stopped, and when the patrolman searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only all the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia.

Unlike most people arrested on drug charges -- even bogus ones -- Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county.

Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn't free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress.

On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman.

Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge.

"They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4,000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with."

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Main Street during Sturgis Rally (courtesy Wikimedia)
Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing."

Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.

Chewing and Grinding: A South Dakota Drug War Story

special to Drug War Chronicle by Bob Newland

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is beginning a new occasional series of reports on the day-to-day workings of the war on drugs. We spend a lot of time reporting on committee hearings, election campaigns, ballot initiatives, speeches, statements, findings, and even reporting on reports. But while we chronicle the progress (or lack thereof) of drug reform efforts, the drug war grinds on. Last year, some 1.8 million people were arrested on drug charges. We aim to start telling some of their stories -- or to let them tell them themselves. They portray many small injustices nestled inside the larger injustice that is drug prohibition, but that's just business as usual. And business as usual is the problem, as these stories will indicate.

Our first drug war account comes from South Dakota. Famed among motorcycle enthusiasts for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the state also feeds off the event's attendees. As the rally draws nearer every August, South Dakota Highway Patrol cars hover beside the interstates like vultures awaiting the arrival of their prey, and the hunting is good. The Patrol's online publication, The Newsroom, shows a whopping 38 felony and 192 misdemeanor drug arrests for Sturgis week, compared to a normally single-digit number of felony drug busts each week and misdemeanor drug busts in the low dozens.

There's an old line among Sturgis attendees about South Dakota's enforcement activities: "Come on vacation, leave on probation." (An alternate version: "Come on a stroll, leave on parole.") But, as this week's story shows, even when they don't get you, they get you.]

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Main Street during Sturgis Rally (courtesy Wikimedia)
Day after day, it chews and grinds. Its only purpose is chewing and grinding. The chewing and grinding gives it no satisfaction, only another day of existence. Another day of chewing and grinding. The War on Some Drugs has endless hunger. Eric Sage has felt that hunger turned toward him.

Sage, 31, works at a family-owned manufacturing company in Sidney, Nebraska. Sage was riding his motorcycle home August 7, after spending a couple of days at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, accompanied by Jorge, who was driving Sage's pickup with passengers Kalie and Barb.

Sage was stopped by South Dakota Highway Patrolman Dave Trautman ten miles
east of Rapid City on Interstate 90 for "weaving" in his own lane. Jorge pulled over also, and stopped ahead of Sage's bike, which was ahead of the patrol car. The patrol car's dash-cam records video of what happens in front and audio of what's said in the car.

Trautman ticketed Sage for a minor traffic infraction, then asked him to wait by the guard rail while he talked to Jorge. Trautman brought Jorge to the patrol car, berating him for tailgating, then asked for permission to search the pickup. Jorge told him the pickup belonged to Sage, but gave permission to search when Trautman told him the driver had that right. Trautman left Jorge in the patrol car, then got out and paused to speak to Sage.

Sage says Trautman asked for permission to search, and, having received it, asked, "Where would I find anything illegal in there?" Sage says he replied slightly sarcastically, "I don't know. Glovebox?"

Trautman then proceeded to the pick-up and ordered the two women passengers to sit on the grass at the road's edge. After spending 16 minutes searching the vehicle, he emerged, poured out a beer, and is seen in the dash-cam coming back to the patrol car with one of the women and a handbag.

"There's weed in your purse," Trautman said in the first comment audible on the tape.

"Yeah," replied the woman, Barbara.

"Where's the weed that was in the glove box?" Trautman then asked. Barb was bewildered by the question. She then admitted to having smoked weed that morning, having nearly finished off the bag in her purse, with the pipe also in her purse.

"With these guys?" Trautman asked.

"Yeah," she said.

Trooper Trautman then walked back to the pickup, looked around the passenger side, and returned to the patrol car. "Here's what I'm gonna do," he resumed. "Everybody's admitted smoking weed..."

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Eric Sage
The dash-cam tape ends at this point. In a later written report on the incident, Sage said he was told that the camera "stopped."

Trautman wrote one of the women passengers, Kalie, a ticket for the open container. But he then also cited all four travelers with "possession of paraphernalia," which seems unsupported by the evidence, given that only one of them -- Barb -- was found in possession of paraphernalia. But it gets weirder.

Barb paid her paraphernalia fine, about $250. Kalie paid her open container fine. Jorge is considering what to do. Eric returned to Rapid City August 21 and pled not guilty, thinking it ludicrous that someone on a motorcycle could get charged for something somebody in a nearby pickup had in her purse.

[Editor's Note: The unwary protagonists of this tale did things they shouldn't have done and didn't do things they should have done to avoid getting into this mess in the first place. The basic rule is never consent to a search and keep your mouth shut. As Scott Morgan, Associate Director of the civil liberties organization Flex Your Rights pointed out: "This whole incident stems from the driver's initial decision to consent to a police search. Evidence was discovered, at which point the suspects needlessly implicated one another in criminal activity by admitting to marijuana use. Refusing the search and declining to answer incriminating questions could likely have prevented the subsequent legal fiasco that resulted from this traffic stop."]

Asked why he fought the charges, given that he knew to begin with that it would cost him more than just paying the fine for paraphernalia, Sage said, "I wasn't guilty. I had a clean record. Why should I say I did something I didn't do?"

He was scheduled for a "dispositional" hearing October 15. That's where the state's attorney makes his last plea offer. On October 12, Gina Nelson of the Pennington County state's attorney's office left a message on Eric's phone: "If you don't plead to 'paraphernalia', we'll charge you with 'ingestion'" -- an offense unique to South Dakota.

South Dakota codified law 22-42-15 prohibits ingesting anything except alcohol for the purpose of intoxication, and they'll put you in jail for as long as a year, and fine you as much as $1,000, for wanting to get "high" instead of drunk. It also doesn't matter if you were even in South Dakota when you ingested the drug: "The venue for a violation of this section exists in either the jurisdiction in which the substance was ingested, inhaled, or otherwise taken into the body or the jurisdiction in which the substance was detected in the body of the accused."

Sage refused to cave in. At the hearing, Nelson did as promised, withdrew the paraphernalia charge and instituted an ingestion charge. A preliminary hearing was set for November 21, for a judge to decide whether there was enough evidence to take the case to trial.

For Eric Sage, who has a spotless criminal record, the stakes had just leaped at least fourfold. Chewing and grinding.

The search had yielded .1 oz. of marijuana, according to Trautman's arrest report, which probably includes the weight of the baggie (1/10 oz. on a postal scale) and a pipe, both found in Barb's purse. Sage said he wasn't even aware that anything besides a pipe was in evidence until he saw the report in early November.

South Dakota law requires an arrest report on a Class 1 misdemeanor (ingestion), but not on a Class 2 (paraphernalia), so Trooper Trautman dutifully sat down nine weeks after the day he ticketed Eric Sage and wrote a report in which he alleges that Sage confessed to smoking marijuana that day out of the bag in question. The alleged confession took place after Trautman's dash-cam "stopped." But Sage maintains that Trautman merely informed him he was "doing him a favor" by only charging him with paraphernalia and not taking him to jail.

Trautman's report contains several statements that don't jibe with the camera's story, and he admitted not remembering some details more than two months after the fact. Still, the report contained enough claims by the trooper to arguably support the charge. In other words, Trautman tried to do the job the state's attorney wanted him to do.

A preliminary hearing was set for November 21. Sage retained an attorney, Rena Hymans of Sturgis, who called Assistant States Attorney Nelson repeatedly asking if she was really going to move forward on the case. She left detailed messages on Nelson's voice mail: "Are you really going to have a prelim on this?" The calls went unreturned.

On November 21, Sage drove the 241 miles from his Nebraska home to the Pennington County Courthouse in Rapid City. After meeting with Hymans, the pair went to the Clerk of Courts, who handed them a piece of paper saying the charges had been dismissed by Nelson five days earlier.

In dismissing the charges, Nelson cited "jurisdictional issue (charges involve Meade County)." In other words, faced with having to actually prosecute the case, Nelson and her boss, Pennington County States Attorney Glenn Brenner, punted. Since they now argued that the "ingestion" offense for which Sage was charged allegedly took place at Sturgis, in Meade County, Nelson dumped the case on Meade County States Attorney Jesse Sondreal, who has declined to pursue it. After all, who really wants to prosecute a case where there is no evidence to support the charge?

Despite losing a skirmish in the war on drugs, Brenner and Nelson were able to stick it to Sage one final time by making him take the long journey to Rapid City for nothing. Sage's expenses attributable to being charged with a crime that presented no evidence have mounted to at least $3,000. And so the war on drugs chews and grinds.

"They do this all the time at the Sturgis rally," Sage said after the charges were dropped. "They pull people over, then they figure out why. It's just revenue for them. I'd have played a part in that if I'd paid the ticket. It turns out I played a part anyway. I was mugged. I was mugged by guys in suits with law degrees who knew I wasn't guilty. They just wanted to see me pay. It was like sport to them."

Chewing and grinding, guilty or innocent, the beast doesn't care. Chew them up and swallow them, or chew them up and spit them out. They're still chewed up. Charge with a crime, and if they fight it, punish them. Make them pay. Up the ante. Make them pay again. And, if after having the gall to demand their day in court, they lose, whack them hard for taking up the court's valuable time. And so it goes. Just another day in the drug war. This time it was South Dakota, but it could be Anywhere, USA.

Update on Pain Physician Dr. William Mangino

In July and September I wrote here about the plight of Bill Mangino, a Pennsylvania physician who was decent enough to treat patients with the pain medications (opiates) that they needed, and was punished for these good deeds with a prosecution and now imprisonment -- all over a crime that never happened and for which no evidence exists happened. Yesterday I heard from Dr. James Stacks, a Mangino supporter and board member of the Pain Relief Network, with the news that Dr. Mangino had asked we post correspondence he sent to a judge prior to a hearing today that he hopes will get him a new trial and freedom in the meantime. The briefs were put together by Mangino himself, written by hand, but has been scanned for our edification online as well. Interested parties can read some commentary on it by Alex DeLuca here, or go straight to the briefs online here or here. A cutting quote that Dr. Mangino used as his signature line in the documents:
Statutes must mean what they say... and say what they mean.
Location: 
PA
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School