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Virginia Cops Claim Superhuman Marijuana-Sniffing Abilities

Police officers in Chesapeake, Virginia, have developed the ability to smell marijuana in cars as they cruise down the highway, even when the police have their windows up. Or, at least, according to a report in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot last week, that's what they are claiming.

Chesapeake, Virginia police department
"We drive our patrol car with the vents on, pulling air from the outside in, directly into our faces," Officer Barrett Ring said late last year in court during a preliminary hearing, according to a transcript of the proceedings. "Commonly, we'll be behind vehicles that somebody in the vehicle is smoking marijuana, and we can smell it clear as day."

Smelling the odor of marijuana would create probable cause to stop and search a vehicle. Ring said police would follow a car until there were no other cars in the area so they could make sure it was indeed that vehicle from which the odor of weed was emanating.

Defense attorneys and civil libertarians are pronouncing themselves mind-boggled by the claim.

"The idea that police can drive behind a car and smell marijuana is preposterous," said Assistant Public Defender Matthew Taylor. "What do we need drug dogs for if (police) can drive behind cars and smell marijuana?"

The police were claiming powers verging on the "supernatural," he said.

"It stretches the imagination that the police can drive down the road and hone in on a car," agreed ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.

Willis said that traffic stops based solely on an officer's sniffing from a police car will draw legal challenges. "Experts will have to tangle over this and decide," he predicted.

So far, no cases have been thrown out, although Taylor tried unsuccessfully to make that happen in a recent case. In that case, police claimed they smelled marijuana in a vehicle while driving down the highway and pulled it over. But the issue of their amazing olfactory abilities wasn't addressed by the court because police also said they smelled marijuana when they approached the vehicle on foot.

Other area defense attorneys who had cases where police made similar claims said they had not challenged the searches because police had reasons to conduct the traffic stops.

The practice is apparently limited to Chesapeake Police, according to the Virginian-Pilot's survey of local law enforcement agencies. Suffolk County prosecutor Phillips Ferguson said he hadn't heard of the practice, but expected it to catch on.

"It's very creative policing," he said, but added that if police were using the moving automobile sniff as their as their sole basis for making a traffic stop, that might be successfully challenged. "I'm not saying they wouldn't have been justified in stopping the car, but it's pushing the line," Ferguson said.

Instead, he recommended that if police smell the odor of marijuana coming from a passing vehicle on the road, they find some other pretext to pull it over.

Public defender Taylor said he challenged the vehicle search in his case because he wanted to challenge the validity of the technique. "If cops can get away with this, they will have total authority," he said.

Chesapeake, VA
United States

Video: 5 Ways to Avoid Getting Arrested for Pot

I put together a YouTube version of last week's AlterNet piece. Enjoy.

5 Ways to Avoid Getting Busted for Pot

The activist-media badasses at AlterNet let me do a big front page story today on how to avoid a pot bust. You might have seen it already, cause this thing got a good amount of traffic, but if you missed it and you aren't yet sick of my know-your-rights lectures, then check it the heck out. And while you're at it, send the link to that friend of yours who's always pushing their luck.

Washington State Supreme Court Limits Vehicle Searches

In an 8-1 decision last Thursday, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant to search a vehicle even if they believe it contains evidence of the crime for which the person was arrested. The decision in State v. Snapp overturns the convictions of two men in unrelated but consolidated cases where police stopped drivers and then found drugs in their vehicles while searching them.

The ruling also extends the Washington state constitution's Fourth Amendment privacy protections beyond those granted to other US citizens under the current interpretation of federal constitutional law. In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled in Arizona v. Gant that such searches were permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

In Gant, the court held that police must obtain a search warrant to search a vehicle, but allowed two exceptions: a limited search for weapons for officer safety and if the officer reasonably believed the vehicle contained evidence of the crime for which the person had been arrested.

While the Washington Supreme Court ruling found that the officer safety exemption already exists under the state constitution, it held that searches of a vehicle for evidence of the crime for which the person was already arrested is not allowed under Article I, Section 7 of the state constitution, which enumerates protections against illegal search and seizure under state law.

The near-unanimous decision came over the protests of prosecutors, who complained that making officers get search warrants to search a vehicle after arrest will take up too much time and would have other, unspecified impacts on law enforcement.

"These delays will only multiply if a warrant is required for every stop at 2:00am on a Friday night in which the officer concludes it is reasonable to believe there is evidence of the crime of arrest in the vehicle," wrote James Whisman, a senior deputy prosecutor with the King County Prosecutor's Office. "Scores of such arrests occur in any given jurisdiction in any 24-hour period."

But as the high court noted, while "a warrantless search of an automobile is permissible under the search incident to arrest exception when that search is necessary to preserve officer safety or prevent destruction or concealment of evidence of the crime of arrest," it had already "rejected the idea that the existence of probable cause alone can justify a warrantless search of a vehicle. While probable cause is a necessary condition for obtaining a warrant, it does not itself justify a search. Contrary to the urgency attending the search incident to arrest to preserve officer safety and prevent destruction or concealment of evidence, there is no similar necessity associated with a warrantless search based upon either a reasonable belief or probable cause to believe that evidence of the crime of arrest is in the vehicle."

In its opinion, the court clearly held that the rights of Washingtonians to be free of warrantless searches trump the right of law enforcement not to be inconvenienced.

Washington is not the only state where state courts have found rights in the state constitution beyond what the US Supreme Court has found in the US Constitution. In Alaska, for one example, the state courts have upheld the right of adults to possess limited amounts of marijuana in their homes. In Pennsylvania, in another example, the state courts have used state law to strike down school drug testing programs that had been okayed under federal Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Olympia, WA
United States

Will Strip-Searches Stop Terrorism and Save America?

I've got a post up at Flex Your Rights talking smack about the Supreme Court's icky new ruling on strip-searches. Check it out.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Hoo-boy! Institutionalized misconduct and corruption in Florida and New Jersey, more jail guards in trouble, a pill-peddling cop, and a former Colorado sheriff goes down for trading meth for sex. Let's get to it:

In Clearwater, Florida, defense attorneys have called for a US Justice Department investigation of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit, which is embroiled in an ever widening scandal over its practices. The attorneys say the unit routinely violated the civil rights of people it investigated and engaged in unlawful searches and seizures. The scandal began when a videotape emerged of narcotics detectives hopping over a wall to investigate a suspected marijuana grow without a warrant and then trying to destroy the evidence by taping over it. Defense attorneys also accuse unit members of covering up drug trafficking by the daughter of one of its members, physically abusing a man, stealing public funds, and committing perjury when questioned about their potentially illegal activities. New Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has opened at least six internal investigations into the dope squad.

In Camden, New Jersey, the city has paid out at least $340,000 in damages to nearly a dozen low-level accused drug dealers and users whose convictions were overturned because of potentially tainted evidence gathered by corrupt city police. And that's just so far. Another 75 lawsuits alleging abuses have been filed in state Superior Court and nearly as many in federal court. They claim they were victimized by dirty cops who planted evidence and falsely arrested and charged them. Four former Camden police officers have been convicted of planting evidence, stealing cash and drugs, conducting illegal searches, and fabricating reports that led to a series of arrests and convictions between 2007 and 2009. Each faces about 10 years in jail. In addition to the pay-outs, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office has had to dismiss some 200 cases.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a Jacksonville's Sheriff's Office jail guard was arrested last Wednesday after selling oxycodone tablets to an undercover officer. James Mock III, 28, was on duty and in uniform when he sold 80 30-milligram pills in return for $1,600. Now he's facing first- and third-degree felony charges, including selling a controlled substance within 100 yards of a convenience store and possession of a controlled substance without prescription. He was a probationary employee and has been fired.

In Gloucester, New Jersey, a Gloucester Township police officer was arrested Wednesday on drug charges after an internal investigation. The as yet unnamed officer was on duty when arrested and is charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of an imitation controlled dangerous substance, possession of a weapon during a controlled dangerous substance offense, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.

In New York City, a former city jail guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to having sex with an inmate and smuggling drugs and other contraband into the Rikers Island jail. Clara Espada, 41, pleaded guilty to third-degree receiving a bribe, a Class D felony, and forcible touching, a misdemeanor. She went down after the inmate she had sex with told investigators he helped broker deals for Ecstasy, alcohol, and cigarettes that netted Espada $300 a month. Espada is awaiting sentencing and facing six months in jail under a plea deal.

In Centennial, Colorado, a former Colorado Sheriff of the Year pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he traded methamphetamine for sex with young male tweakers. Former Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, 69, served as sheriff from 1984 to 20002 before resigning to become director of security at a metropolitan Denver school district. He resigned that position in 2008. He was arrested in a sting operation last year after a man arrested on meth charges mentioned a connection and held in custody in a jail named after himself. He copped a plea to felony meth possession and misdemeanor solicitation of a prostitute, while prosecutors dropped charges of meth distribution and attempting to influence a public servant. Sullivan will do 30 days in jail in addition to eight days he served when arrested.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An ugly strip search scandal brews in Milwaukee, a bogus pot bust get cops in hot water in Pittsburgh, plus a crooked border deputy, a crooked Puerto Rico cop, and a crooked prison guard. Let's get to it:

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eight Milwaukee police officers are under investigation for conducting unlawful strip searches on people they suspected were carrying drugs. Complaints are piling up that officers in District 5 on the city's north side sexually assaulted people and violated their civil rights while conducting rectal searches for drugs on the street. Those under suspicion include Sgt. Jason Mucha, who has been investigated in the past after suspects accused him of beating them and planting drugs on them, and Officer Michael Gasser. Under state law, it is illegal for police to perform a cavity search involving someone's genitals. Such a search must be done by licensed medical personnel once a suspect has been arrested.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, two Pittsburgh police officers are the targets of a lawsuit filed last Monday by a Hampton man who alleges they falsely arrested him for buying marijuana at a car wash. Officers Kenneth Simon and Anthony Scarpine arrested Timothy Joyce, 23, after Simon claimed he saw Joyce buy weed from a man at the car wash. That led to Joyce being jailed for several days on a charge he violated probation on a misdemeanor drug possession charge. Video surveillance at the car wash showed that Joyce did not interact with the man the officer claimed sold him the marijuana, and the charges were dropped. Joyce is suing the city and the two police officers for unlawful arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and malicious prosecution.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Hidalgo County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Monday to 11 years in federal prison for his role in a 2009 drug conspiracy. Heriberto Diaz and another deputy raided a house filled with 354 pounds of marijuana, but instead of arresting the occupants, they arranged to have one of their informants steal it. The plot unraveled when a Mission police officer came upon the informant as he was removing the marijuana from the property. Diaz was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and lying on an official report.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, a former San Juan Municipal Police officer was convicted last Wednesday for his role in providing security for drug transactions. Arcadio Hernandez-Soto, 35, was convicted in San Juan of three counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, four counts of attempting to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and four counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug transaction. He provided security for what he believed were illegal cocaine deals, but which in fact were part of an undercover FBI operation. In return for the security he provided, Amaro-Santiago received a cash payment of between $2,000 and $3,000 for each transaction. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison.

In Bloomfield, New Jersey, a Bloomfield prison guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in state prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle drugs, cell phones, and other contraband into the Essex County Correctional Facility. Corrections officer Joseph Mastriani, 32, was the mastermind of the ring and made $1,000 a week in the operation. He had pleaded guilty in November to one count of second-degree official misconduct. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he is required to serve five years in prison before being eligible for parole.

Supreme Court to Decide Second Florida Drug Dog Case

The US Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether it is necessary to provide detailed documentation of drug dog's reliability to prove that the dog is effective at finding drugs. The high court accepted a case on appeal from the state of Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court threw out evidence derived from a drug dog search, holding that police and prosecutors had not provided sufficient evidence of a drug dog's reliability and thus had not provided probable cause to undertake the search.

The case in question, Harris v. Florida, began with a pair of drug dog sniffs of a vehicle being driven by Clayton Harris in Liberty County, between Panama City and Tallahassee in 2006. In the first search, the drug dog alerted and police found pseudoephedrine and other meth-making materials. In the second sniff, the drug dog alerted, but no drugs were found.

As is common practice in Florida and many other states, at trial, prosecutors merely presented evidence that the dog and been trained and certified at drug detection. But on hearing Harris's appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that wasn't good enough.

"Like the informant whose information forms the basis for probable cause, where the dog's alert is the linchpin of the probable cause analysis, such as in this case, the reliability of the dog to alert to illegal substances within the vehicle is crucial to determining whether probable cause exists," the court held. "We conclude that when a dog alerts, the fact that the dog has been trained and certified is simply not enough to establish probable cause to search the interior of the vehicle and the person."

The state's presentation of evidence that the dog is properly trained is just the beginning -- not the end -- of whether probable cause has been shown, the court said.

"Because there is no uniform standard for training and certification of drug-detection dogs, the State must explain the training and certification so that the trial court can evaluate how well the dog is trained and whether the dog falsely alerts in training (and, if so, the percentage of false alerts)," the court held in Harris.

"Further, the State should keep and present records of the dog's performance in the field, including the dog's successes (alerts where contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found) and failures ("unverified" alerts where no contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found). The State then has the opportunity to present evidence explaining the significance of any unverified alerts, as well as the dog's ability to detect or distinguish residual odors. Finally, the State must present evidence of the experience and training of the officer handling the dog. Under a totality of the circumstances analysis, the court can then consider all of the presented evidence and evaluate the dog’s reliability."

The US Supreme Court decision will be awaited with great interest by law enforcement, which has found drug dogs a very useful tool in going after drug offenders, especially since the Supreme Court has earlier ruled that a drug dog sniff is not a "search" under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The National Police Canine Association has filed a friend of the court brief in the case.

This is the second Florida drug dog case the high court will examine this year. In January, it said it would decide whether a drug dog sniff of the front door of a residence violates the Fourth Amendment. While it has okayed drug dog sniffs at traffic stops, at airport luggage inspections, and for shipped packages in transit, it has repeatedly emphasized that a residence is entitled to greater privacy than cars on a highway.

That case should have oral arguments next month and a decision in September. It is not yet clear when Harris v. Florida will be heard.

Washington, DC
United States

Does Refusing a Search Give Police Probable Cause?

Here's the latest clip from my new YouTube series, How to Deal with Cops. Hopefully you'll find it interesting even if you think you already know the answer. Enjoy.

Two More Drug Raids, Two More Deaths

Two drug raids last Wednesday, one in Miami Lakes, Florida, and one in New Orleans, have resulted in the deaths of two men, one in each raid. Michael Ray Santana, 26, of Miami Lakes and Wendell Allen, 20, of New Orleans become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Miami Lakes, according to police, Santana was shot and killed after he confronted members of the Miami-Dade police Special Response Team, a SWAT-style outfit, serving a "high risk narcotics search warrant" at his residence. Police said officers knocked, announced themselves, and then went inside, when they were confronted by a man armed with a firearm.

Santana was the subject of the police investigation, and police said they found numerous firearms and a substantial amount of unspecified "narcotics" in the residence.

In New Orleans, according to police, Allen was shot in the chest and killed by a police officer serving a search warrant at a home where he was present. Officers from both the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department took part in the raid, but the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shot has not been made public.

Police made no mention of any weapons found.

New Orleans Police Superintedant Ronal Serpas said the house in the Gentilly district had been under surveillance for several days.

"Today, multiple narcotics transactions of a distribution nature were observed," he said, adding that a person who left the house was later charged arrested for intent to distribute "narcotics."

Serpa did not identify either the shooter or the dead man, and he didn't take questions during a brief press conference.

But a distraught woman at the scene of the shooting told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he was her grandson, Wendell Allen.

Allen's shooting was the second fatal police shooting in the NOPD's 3rd District in less than a week.

As people milled around the scene of the shooting, one woman screamed, "Lord have mercy! Why does this stuff keep happening?" Another shouted, "The policeman killed him. They killed my baby."

Allen had one arrest on his record, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was one year into a five-year suspended sentence when he was shot and killed.

In the days since Allen's death last week, a growing clamor has arisen.The Louisiana Justice Institute is threatening to sue the city unless it releases more information on the killing. Police have yet to supply a narrative of what happened, and the officer who pulled the trigger has yet to be interviewed. Family members and community activists demonstrated last Friday and again on Tuesday to keep up the pressure.

What is clear is that the raid was aimed at small-time marijuana dealing, and Allen wasn't the subject of the raid.

 

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