Whew! Sex, drugs, strippers, and a federal judge, oh, my! Plus a murder-plotting meth-head trooper, another crooked border inspector, more Philly cops trying to rip off drug dealers, and an Oklahoma narc helping send guns down Mexico way.
We don't typically mention cases of drug use (or paying for sex) in this feature, but when it's a federal judge cavorting like a degenerate rock star, we think it's worth noting. In between coke-fueled trysts, this guy was hearing drug cases. That said, let's get to it:
In Atlanta, a federal judge was arrested last Friday on charges he bought and used drugs with an Atlanta stripper with whom he was having a sexual relationship. Senior US District Judge Jack Camp Jr., 67, is accused of buying and using cocaine, marijuana, hydrocodone, and roxydocone as he partied with the exotic dancer. When FBI agents arrested him, they found two illegal firearms and a bag containing blue pills and a white powder in his car. He has been released on a $50,000 unsecured bond. Camp went down because the stripper was also an FBI snitch who became cooperative with the feds after a drug conviction. The pair met on multiple occasions to get high and get down, with Camp typically (although not always) providing the money and the stripper providing the sex and drugs. She recorded Camp talking about the drug deals.
In San Diego, a border inspector was arrested last Thursday for allegedly taking bribes to allow illegal immigrants and nearly five tons of pot to make it through the San Ysidro and Otay Mesas border crossings. US Customs and Border Patrol Officer Lorne Leslie Jones is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, bribery, and immigrant smuggling. He faces 10 years on the first count and five years each on the latter two.
In Philadelphia, two Philadelphia police officers were arrested Monday for robbing a drug dealer, except, unfortunately for them, the drug dealer was actually an undercover officer working a sting. Officers Sean Alivera, 31, and Christopher Luciano, 23, are charged with robbery, false imprisonment, and related charges. At least five Philadelphia officers have been charged or convicted of trying to rip off drug dealers in the past year.
In Auburn, California, a former California Highway Patrol officer pleaded no contest Monday to methamphetamine and attempted murder charges. Ruben Salgado, a 12-year CHP veteran, had been arrested in May after buying meth from an informant and was arrested again in June after trying to hire someone to kill the snitch. In a plea deal, he copped to attempted murder, driving under the influence of meth, and meth possession while carrying a gun. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
In Oklahoma City, a former state narcotics officer pleaded guilty September 29 to federal charges in a gun-running ring where some of the weapons ended up in Mexico. Former Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Agent Francisco Javier Reyes admitted taking money to buy "military-type" rifles in Oklahoma for a Mexican national and paying two friends to purchase rifles for him. He pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and transferring firearms to an out-of-state resident. Each crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He's out on bail awaiting sentencing.
Whew! Sex, drugs, strippers, and a federal judge, oh, my! Plus a murder-plotting meth-head trooper, another crooked border inspector, more Philly cops trying to rip off drug dealers, and an Oklahoma narc helping send guns down Mexico way.
One narcotics supervisor sexually assaults a female snitch, another makes off with the drug buy money. A pair of jail guards go down after getting caught having sex in a car in a parking lot. And that's just for starters. Let's get to it:
In Syracuse, New York, a former Syracuse police officer pleaded guilty Monday to charges he ran a drug trafficking operation from his home and sexually abused two teenage boys. Fredrick Baunee, 49, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one felony count of fourth-degree conspiracy. He was arrested in May for running a drug ring from his home and using the teens as dealers and for sexual activities. Braun was suspended from the police force in 2007 and retired after being convicted of giving alcohol to and inappropriately touching a 14-year-old boy. He will be sentenced to seven years in prison, but remains free on $100,000 bail until formal sentencing in November.
In Durham, North Carolina, a former Durham County narcotics supervisor was indicted September 7 for allegedly stealing nearly $100,000 in sheriff's department funds for paying informants and making drug buys. Former Lt. Derek O'Mary faces 26 counts of embezzlement and one count each of obstructing justice and possession of cocaine. O'Mary, 43, was an 18-year veteran of the sheriff's office and had risen through the ranks to a lieutenant supervising the Sheriff’s Anti-Crime & Narcotics Unit. He was fired in April 2009 after his own narcs snitched him out.
In Gaffney, South Carolina, money from a recent drug bust has gone missing and the Cherokee County sheriff wants to know where it went. Sheriff Bill Blanton has called in the State Law Enforcement Division to try to find out what happened to the undisclosed amount of cash missing from the Cherokee County narcotics division
In Philadelphia, three former Philadelphia police officers already facing corruption charges were hit with new ones September 9. Robert Snyder, Jamez Venziale, and Mark Williams were charged in July with plotting with a suspected drug dealer to steal drugs in a staged traffic stop. Now the three face additional charges of possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school. Snyder and Williams were also charged with planning to rob a man they believed was a mobster collecting gambling proceeds. Authorities say that plot was never carried out.
In Lebanon, Ohio, two former Warren Correctional Institution guards were indicted last Friday on drug charges after they were caught having sex in a vehicle with hundreds of pills and a note about inmates getting illegal drugs. Annika Skinner, 36, faces nine counts of deception to obtain drugs and a single misdemeanor drug possession count. Herbert Cook, 61, faces one count of drug trafficking. Skinner is looking at up to 19 years in prison and Cook is looking at one. Both had resigned as prison guards in July as authorities investigated after they were discovered going at it in May in a parking lot. Police recovered more than 100 pills, as well as plastic bags and the note indicating inmates were getting drugs. Both are free on bail.
In Sonora, California, a former prison guard at the Sierra Conservation Center was sentenced last week to a year in county jail for smuggling marijuana to an inmate. Matthew McCollum, 28, was convicted of bringing pot to an inmate in 2008 and 2009.
In Graceville, Georgia, a Graceville Correctional Facility guard was arrested September 8 on charges he planned to smuggle marijuana into the jail. Guard Brandon Sikora, 21, went down after agreeing to take a half-pound of pot into the jail and pocketing $2,000 for his efforts. The man who Sikora met with was a police informant. Now Sikora is charged with attempting to introduce contraband into a secure facility and possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute. He has also been placed on suspension from the correctional facility pending the outcome of an investigation.
The city of Atlanta will pay $4.9 million to the estate of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old African American woman killed by Atlanta narcotics officers in a drug raid nearly four years ago. Mayor Kasim Reed announced the settlement Monday morning. The city council approved it that same afternoon.
No drugs were found. The officers involved attempted to cover their tracks by planting marijuana they had seized in a separate raid. They also tried to get an informer to say that he had provided them with the information in the warrant when he hadn't. The narcs' cover-up unraveled when the informant went to the FBI.
After an investigation by the FBI, five officers pleaded guilty for their roles in the shooting and cover-up. The three officers directly involved in the botched raid are serving sentences of five, six and ten years. Another six were reprimanded for not following departmental policy.
Reed said the settlement was an important step for the city and the police department, which came under intense, withering criticism in the raid's aftermath. "As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions," said Reed, adding that the narcotics unit has been totally reorganized.
There is more the department needs to do, said Christina Beamud, executive director of the Atlanta Citizens Review Board. "This goes a long way to encourage the community to begin to heal and to address whatever issues they have with the police department," she told WABE FM Monday afternoon. But, she added, reforms in the department are still needed. One group of rogue officers may be gone, she said, "But where you have a group of officers continuing to do the same kind of improper procedures, then you have to look at your systems." She said the department should scrap quotas for drug arrests and end the policy of allowing officers to moonlight when not on duty.
Johnston's heirs will receive $2.9 million this year and $2 million in 2012 under the terms of the settlement.
A coalition of five drug reform organizations called Wednesday for the Obama administration to withdraw the nomination of Michele Leonhart to be DEA administrator. The career DEA veteran is currently the agency's acting administrator. The groups are the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and its California affiliate, California NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
In the Mendocino case, in which the DEA raided a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff, a DEA agent reportedly responded to being informed that the sheriff okayed the group by saying, "I don't care what the sheriff says."
The reformers also attacked Leonhart for her January 2009 refusal to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to grow marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative judge's determination that such a license would be "in the public interest." With that action, Leonhart blocked privately funded medical marijuana research in the US.
"With Leonhart's nomination pending, one would expect her to be more -- not less -- respectful of the Department of Justice and the rights of individuals in medical marijuana states," said Steve Fox, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Such behavior is an ominous sign for the future of the DEA under her leadership. Moreover, she has continually demonstrated her desire to block privately funded medical marijuana research in this country. The Obama administration has reversed many Bush administration policies over the past 18 months. It is time to transform the culture at the DEA by either withdrawing Leonhart's nomination or directing her to change her attitude toward medical marijuana."
"Michele Leonhart continues to wage war on sick people and their caregivers, undermining the Obama Administration's otherwise compassionate medical marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Obama needs to withdraw her nomination and nominate someone who will follow the stated policies of his administration."
It's not just Leonhart's recent actions that are raising the alarm among reformers. As we reported when she was nominated, Leonhart had a close and friendly relationship with a serial perjuring DEA informant, "super snitch" Andrew Chambers, who was paid $2.2 million by the agency for his work between 1984 and 2000 despite repeated findings by federal courts that he was not believable. Leonhart defended Chambers and his credibility despite all the evidence to the contrary.
As Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Clinton and Bush administration's persecution of medical marijuana users and providers, Leonhart was an enthusiastic participant and ranking DEA member involved. In January 1998, she stood proudly with then US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi as he announced at a press conference that the government would take action against medical marijuana clubs.
The administration has announced no timeline on moving her nomination forward.
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner officially announced June 10 that he had fired two veteran police officers for the roles in the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston during a botched drug raid. The firings came after a department internal affairs report on the incident and a Citizens' Review Board report late last month that found Atlanta Police narcs were willing to break rules and lie in order to obtain search warrants.
The two officers fired were Carey Bond and Holly Buchanan. Turner fired them for lying and falsifying incident reports and search warrant affidavits.
"We expect professionalism and integrity from all of our officers -- at all times," Turner said. "Policing is a difficult job, no doubt, but we must be expected to comply with the very laws that we are sworn to uphold."
Johnston was killed in November 2006 when Atlanta narcs raided her home using a "no-knock" warrant based on a tip from a single informant that he bought drugs there. As officers attempted to break down her door, the elderly woman fired one shot from a pistol. Officers on the scene returned fire, shooting 39 times, and leaving Johnston dead. When the officers found no drugs, they planted marijuana on her and attempted to get another informant to lie for them. That informant instead went to the FBI, breaking the case wide open.
In addition to the prosecution, firing, or disciplining of officers involved, Turner said the internal investigation revealed a need for systemic changes in the department, including the way confidential informants are handled and how warrants are served. Now, Turner said, the department requires three buys from a location before issuing a warrant.
Kathryn Johnston died a victim of over-zealous drug war policing. But her death may not have been in vain if the changes in the Atlanta Police Department mean there will be fewer "no-knock" raids and tighter controls on narcs and their snitches.
In a major, broad-ranging report released Thursday, the Associated Press declared that "After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." The report notes that after four decades of prohibitionist drug enforcement, "Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread."
The AP pointedly notes that despite official acknowledgments that the policy has been a flop, the Obama administration's federal drug budget continues to increase spending on law enforcement and interdiction and that the budget's broad contours are essentially identical to those of the Bush administration.
Here, according to the AP, is where some of that trillion dollars worth of policy disaster went:
- $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico -- and the violence along with it.
- $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
- $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
- $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
- $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the US were serving sentences for drug offenses. [Editor's Note: This $450 billion dollar figure for federal drug war prisoners appears erroneous on the high side. According to Department of Justice budget figures, funding for the Bureau of Prisons, as well as courthouse security programs, was set at $9 billion for the coming fiscal year.]
The AP notes that, even adjusted for inflation, the federal drug war budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon asked for in his first federal drug budget.
Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron told the AP that spending money for more police and soldiers only leads to more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."
"President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. "This despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."
"For the first time ever, the nation has before it an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate," said economist and drug policy expert John Carnevale, who served three administrations and four drug czars. "Yet... it appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget."
Of the record $15.5 billion Obama is requesting for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it is destined for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction. About one-third will go for prevention and treatment.
The AP did manage to find one person to stick up for the drug war: former Bush administration drug czar John Walters, who insisted society would be worse if today if not for the drug war. "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."
Uh, yeah, John, that's what it's saying.
The Obama administration announced this week that it is nominating acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to head the agency. Drug reformers responded with a collective groan and are preparing to challenge -- or at least question -- her nomination when it goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation.
But Leonhart's career has also coincided with scandal and controversy. (A tip of the hat here to Pete Guither at Drug War Rant, who profiled her peccadillos in an August 2003 piece). Her time in St. Louis coincided with a perjuring informant scandal, her time in Los Angeles coincided with the beginning of the federal war against California's medical marijuana law, and as acting administrator, she blocked researchers from being able to grow their own marijuana for medical research, effectively blocking the research. As head of the DEA last year, Leonhart (or her staff) spent more than $123,000 of taxpayer money to charter a private plane for a trip to Colombia, rather than using one of the 106 airplanes the DEA already owned.
While Leonhart's role in the persecution of California medical marijuana patients and providers is drawing the most heat, it is her association with one-time DEA supersnitch Andrew Chambers that is raising the most eyebrows. Chambers earned an astounding $2.2 million for his work as a DEA informant between 1984 and 2000. The problem was that he was caught perjuring himself repeatedly. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called him a liar in 1993, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals echoed that verdict two years later.
But instead of terminating its relationship with Chambers, the DEA protected him, failing to notify prosecutors and defense attorneys about his record. At one point, DEA and the Justice Department for 17 months stalled a public defender seeking to examine the results of DEA's background check on Chambers. Even after the agency knew its snitch was rotten, it refused to stop using Chambers, and it took the intervention of then Attorney General Janet Reno to force the agency to quit using him.
Michele Leonhart defended Chambers. When asked if, given his credibility problems, the agency should quit using him, she said, "That would be a sad day for DEA, and a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world... He's one in a million. In my career, I'll probably never come across another Andrew."
Another Leonhart statement on Chambers is even more shocking, as much for what it says about Leonhart as for what Leonhart says about Chambers. "The only criticism (of Chambers) I've ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand," she said, adding that once prosecutors check him out, they will agree with his DEA admirers that he is "an outstanding testifier."
While Chambers snitched for the DEA in St. Louis while Leonhart was there and snitched for the DEA in Los Angeles while Leonhart was there, the exact nature of any relationship between them is murky. Reformers suggest that perhaps the Judiciary Committee might be able to clear it up.
Leonhart was also there at the beginning of the federal assault on California's medical marijuana law. She stood beside US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi when he announced in a January 1998 press conference that the government would take action against medical marijuana clubs. And as SAC in Los Angeles up until 2004, she was the ranking DEA agent responsible for the numerous Bush administration raids against patients and providers.
Her apparent distaste for marijuana extended to researchers. In January 2009, she overruled a DEA administrative law judge and denied UMass Professor Lyle Craker the ability to grow marijuana for medical research.
And it wasn't just marijuana. She was in full drug warrior mode when she attacked ecstasy use at raves in 2001, telling the New York Times that "some of the dances in the desert are no longer just dances, they're like violent crack houses set to music."
Drug reformers responded to Leonhart's nomination with one word: disappointing.
"It's disappointing that we didn't see anyone other than a career narcotics officer and DEA employee get the nomination," said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But considering that his choice is a groundbreaker at DEA, perhaps there is a certain degree of political correctness for Obama. Leonhart is acceptable to conservatives because she comes from the DEA ranks, and at the same time, as a black woman who has risen from street officer to head of the DEA, she is certainly heralded by many in the Congressional Black Caucus."
"What a disappointment that was," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "We've been waiting for change ever since Obama got elected, we're still sitting here with the same Bush-appointed US Attorneys, we were hoping at least he would appoint a new DEA administrator, but no. That really shows political cowardice at the top level, I think."
"We're obviously very disappointed about this," said Aaron Houston, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "She presided over the worst abuses of the Bush administration raids against patients and providers, she presided over some of the worst periods of activity in Los Angeles as Special Agent in Charge, she rejected the Craker application, she doesn't have a clue about the fact that the Mexicans are begging us to change our drug laws."
"The Leonhart nomination is very disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Allliance. "We need to use her confirmation hearing to get her on record as promising to abide by the Obama administration guidelines on medical marijuana enforcement. She may just be someone who goes along to get along, but it would be good to get her on record on whether the DEA is going to continue to waste law enforcement resources going after low-level offenders."
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) was more than disappointed by the nomination. "This nomination is disconcerting, to say the least," said LEAP media relations director Tom Angell. "It's hard to see how giving the DEA directorship to someone who went out of her way to block medical marijuana research aligns with President Obama's pledge to set policies based on science and facts."
One question for reformers is how much Leonhart was following her own lead during her career and how much she was just following orders. "Now that she will be a permanent agency head, maybe she can establish a clearer doctrine under this administration," said St. Pierre. "When she made her Craker ruling, she was operating under Bush doctrine. The hope is that now perhaps she will get in line with Obama and Holder's articulation of criminal justice and drug war priorities."
Reining in the raids on medical marijuana providers is one of those, St. Pierre noted. "Since last May's executive order on preemption and the October Justice Department memo on medical marijuana, it doesn't look like the DEA has really interfered very much with these dispensaries, especially in places like Montana and Colorado, where there were none and now there are hundreds," he said. "It looks like Leonhart has abated a bit compared to the marching orders she was under when she was first named acting administrator."
"It's possible she will change her tune on getting orders from above," said Gieringer. "I don't know to what extent she was taking orders from above on indefensible things like deciding to disallow the research at UMass."
Another question facing reformers is how to respond to the nomination. "We are contemplating how we are going to approach this," Houston said. "A lot of our members want us to ask senators to hold her nomination."
"People should try to stop it, but we shouldn't get our hopes up," said Piper. "Democrats are going to rally around the president, and stopping one of Obama's nominees may be too much for Democrats to do. But we can still campaign against her, and one of the great things about that is that you can use the campaign to box them in, to get them to promise to do -- or not do -- a range of things. For instance, when we had the campaign to stop Asa Hutchinson from being nominated DEA head, we got him to go on record in favor of eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and diverting more people to treatment. Even if we fail to stop the nomination, it can still lead to good things. It's certainly worth launching an all-out effort. "
"Reformers should take the approach that a thorough hearing is called for," said Eric Sterling, director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "I don't know that they should argue she should be blocked, but that her role in these matters needs to be examined. That's a politically smarter way for us to approach her nomination."
Sterling expressed real concern about Leonhart's role in the Chambers scandal. "I hope that the Judiciary Committee looks aggressively at her career, and what role she may have played in promoting the career of this informant who seems to be a career perjurer," he said. "If her practice was to knowingly tolerate perjury and encourage the use of an informant who is a perjurer, she is not qualified to be head of DEA by any stretch. The danger of perjury and the overzealousness of being willing to tolerate it is one of the greatest dangers any law enforcement agency faces. Given the enormously long sentences that exist in federal cases, the risks of injustice are monumental," he noted.
"To the extent that she has a reputation on the street that she promoted or used a perjuring informant, that is a terrible signal within the agency -- if that is really the case," Sterling continued. "I think it is extremely important that the Judiciary Committee inquire into this before they vote on her nomination. I can only hope that the Obama administration has vetted her more scrupulously than some of their earlier nominees whose tax problems were either undiscovered or ignored. This is a much more sensitive position, and both good judgment regarding truth telling and punishing those who violate that trust by tolerating perjury are essential features of this job."
Another area for senatorial scrutiny is medical marijuana, said Sterling. "With respect to medical marijuana, I don't know that I would fault her given the position of the agency and the Bush administration," he said. "It would be an extraordinary DEA manager who is going to fight for medical marijuana within the agency and block raids recommended by Special Agents in Charge or US Attorneys or the Justice Department. Yes, there were some really egregious cases during her time in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure those got handled at the level she was at. This is another area senators would be justified in inquiring about. If the committee just rubber stamps this nomination, that's a mistake."
Sterling even had some questions ready for the senators. "One question to ask is what scientific evidence she would need to reschedule marijuana," Sterling suggested. "Another is what state actions would her agency honor and not carry out raids. And she could be asked why the DEA needs to be involved with medical marijuana in California, the largest state in the nation and one with a functioning medical marijuana law. Has the DEA so completely eliminated the state's heroin and methamphetamine problems that the DEA can now turn its attention to medical marijuana purveyors?"
Chances are that Michele Leonhart is going to be the next head of DEA. But she is going to be under intense scrutiny between now and then, and reformers intend to make the most of it.
Former Tallahassee Police Officer Ryan Pender is fighting to get his job back after a botched drug sting cost a young police informant her life.
Pender's attorney claims there was a lack of policy in the buy/bust operations at TPD and Pender did what he was trained to do.
Pender - who recruited Hoffman and arranged the drug sting that evening - was fired in September, 2008 after an internal affairs review found that he violated nine department policies. [http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/80699197.html " target="_blank">WCTV]
So Pender says he "did what he was trained to do," and internal affairs says he "violated nine department policies." Perhaps he was trained to violate those policies? Actually, that wouldn’t entirely surprise me, but it's still no excuse for Pender's participation in one of the most ridiculously ill-conceived drug operations that's ever been brought to light.
The great injustice here is not that Ryan Pender got fired for his role in this fatally flawed fiasco, but rather that he was the only person held accountable for it.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect's cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices.
At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container.
In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container."
"People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century."
But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."