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Search and Seizure: US Supreme Court to Decide Warrantless Search Case

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that could clarify limits on when police using an informant may enter a residence. The case is Pearson v. Callahan (07-751), in which five members of the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force are being sued by a man whose home was searched without a warrant after an informant bought methamphetamine inside.

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US Supreme Court
In 2002, a snitch working with the task force bought $100 worth of meth from Afton Callahan inside Callahan's trailer in Fillmore, Utah. Once the officers waiting outside received the snitch's signal via wire that the deal had gone down, they entered and searched the trailer and arrested Callahan for sale and possession of meth.

Callahan moved to have the evidence suppressed because a warrantless search is unconstitutional, but a state court trial judge rejected that motion. Callahan then agreed to a conditional guilty plea while appealing the Fourth Amendment issue. A state appeals court later agreed with him and overturned his conviction.

Callahan then turned around and sued the task force members for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The officers then argued that they were immune under the doctrine of "qualified immunity," which holds that government officials cannot be held liable for violating a law that was not clear at the time. A federal district judge, Paul Cassell, ruled in 2006 that the police were entitled to immunity, even if the search was unconstitutional, but the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overruled Cassell, holding that the Constitution was so clear on the need for a warrant that no reasonable police officer would have proceeded without one.

Lawyers for the police officers then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which will have to decide both the search and the immunity questions. But despite what the 10th Circuit held, the federal courts are divided on whether a warrant is necessary in those circumstances. Some federal circuits -- but not the 10th -- have created the strange notion of a "consent-once-removed" exception to the Fourth Amendment. Under that theory, someone who consents to the entry of an undercover police informant is also consenting to the entry of police as well -- even if he doesn't know it. Because the resident gives permission to the snitch to enter, he has also given permission for the police to enter, this novel doctrine holds.

Now, the US Supreme Court will decide if there will be yet one more addition to the holes in the Fourth Amendment created by the drug war. And whether police who conduct unconstitutional searches will have to pay for them.

Law Enforcement: Snitch Culture Gone Bad in Ohio -- 15 Prisoners to Go Free Because of Informant's Tainted Testimony

In a case that has been stinking up northeast Ohio for several years now, a federal judge in Cleveland Tuesday decided that 15 Mansfield men imprisoned on drug charges should be freed because their convictions were based on the testimony of a lying DEA informant. The men, convicted on crack cocaine dealing charges, have collectively served 30 years already.

The men were all convicted solely on the testimony of informant Jerrell Bray and his handler, DEA Special Agent Lee Lucas. But Bray has since admitted lying in the Mansfield drug cases and has since been sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and civil rights charges. He is now working with a US Justice Department task force investigating what went wrong in the cases.

"It's about time," said Danielle Young, the mother of Nolan Lovett, who was serving a five-year sentence but could be home by the end of the month. "This is long, long overdue. These boys will finally get justice, even if it is late," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

US District Judge John Adams told attorneys Tuesday he hopes to have the men returned to Northeast Ohio from federal prisons across the county. Then, federal prosecutors can formally ask Adams to drop the charges because there is no evidence to convict the men. That could have happened as early as this week.

Bray and Lucas originally collaborated on a massive drug investigation that resulted in 26 indictments for drug conspiracy. Three people were sentenced to probation, judges or juries tossed eight cases, and 15 men were sent to prison. But that was before Bray's lies were exposed.

The Plain Dealer noted that 14 of the 15 had pleaded guilty, a fact the paper naively said made the situation "unique," but then pointed out that they may have pleaded after seeing what had happened to Geneva France, a young mother with no criminal record who was indicted, but refused to plea bargain and steadfastly maintained her innocence. Convicted on the testimony of Bray and Lucas, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

France served 16 months before being freed after Bray's perjury came to light. In a heart-rending article this week, the Plain Dealer recounted France's sorry tale. Her real offense? Refusing to date the informant.

While the victims of Bray and Lucas are about to be freed, the case isn't over yet, and now, the hunter has become the hunted. According to the Plain Dealer, Lucas is the focus of the Justice Department investigation. But it is the snitch system itself that should really be on trial.

It's Really Easy to Put Innocent People in Jail for Drugs

In an effort to protect our society from drugs, we've created laws that endanger everyone:

A federal judge decided Tuesday to free 15 men from prison because their convictions were based on testimony of a government informant who lied on the witness stand and framed innocent people.

Collectively, the men have served at least 30 years behind bars…

The case is a blow to the federal justice system, which relies heavily on informant-based testimony, lawyers said. The men, some with no prior run-ins with the law, were given long prison sentences based almost exclusively on the word of informant Jerrell Bray and Lee Lucas, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who supervised Bray. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

Stories like this emerge regularly, and yet one can only imagine how many such travesties of justice will never come to light. The process is so simple: informant makes up stories to get himself out of trouble, someone else get in trouble, informant doesn't. You couldn't design a more efficient system for collecting innocent people and tossing them behind bars.

The 15 innocent people that will now be set free are incredibly lucky (if you wanna call it that) that the people who set them up happened to be exposed as serial liars. That is really the only thing you can hope for when your conviction resulted from a conspiracy between shady snitches and dirty drug cops.

This is what you get when you pull back the curtain and behold the drug war for what it truly is and not what it is supposed to be. The Drug Czar with all his tricky talking points and misleading rhetoric can’t and won't ever attempt to defend injustice such as this. But it is that very same anti-drug propaganda that has served to blind our eyes and deafen our ears to the sickening unfairness that characterizes the practical application of these brutal laws.

When one comes to appreciate the totality of the lies, errors, and overkill that are inevitably included in the drug war package deal, it ceases to even matter what one thinks about drugs. This war would be a disaster even if it worked the ways it's supposed to. But it doesn't. And it never will.

Location: 
United States

Law Enforcement: Snitches Gone Bad

Just last week, Drug War Chronicle reviewed Ethan Brown's "Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice," which tells the story of the corruption and misdeeds fostered by federal drugs laws that virtually impel people who've been arrested to find others to inform on in order to avoid prison time themselves. We don't know if it's synchronicity or what, but in the week since then, bad snitch stories seem to be popping up all over. Here are three we've spotted in the past few days:

In Twin Falls, Idaho, a man charged in a Twin Falls murder was working as an informant for the Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team. John Henry McElhiney of Hailey is charged with killing an 18-year-old Twin Falls man in September. In response to press inquiries, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office has confirmed that McElhiney worked drug cases for the drug squad. The office stopped short of calling him a "confidential informant," however, instead referring to him as a "cooperative individual." It is unclear from local press accounts whether McElhiney became a snitch for money, to avoid prison time himself, or for some other reason. It is also unclear whether his assistance actually led to any other arrests. He awaits trial on the murder charge.

In Seattle, a "cooperating witness" pleaded guilty last Friday to framing people for drug sales offenses. Snitch Tina Rivard, 40, had been arrested in May for forging prescriptions, but instead of charging her, agents with the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force offered her a deal: leniency in exchange for helping to build cases against prescription drug dealers. Rivard helped in one case, but in a second, she framed a 21-year-old man on Oxycontin dealing charges by undermining the task force's "controlled buy" system. Although agents would punch the suspect's phone number into Rivard's phone, she would then secretly hit speed-dial and instead call a friend posing as the suspect. He would then make incriminating statements and set up drug deals. Rivard also faked a drug buy from the suspect under the agents' noses, having her friend actually bring the drugs she claimed to have bought. The 21-year-old was indicted and faced up to 20 years in prison, but Rivard eventually admitted she had set him up. Now the indictment against him has been dropped, and she faces 20 years.

In Cleveland, Ohio, an informant for the DEA has been convicted of framing innocent people and getting them sent to prison. Informant Jerrell Bray staged drug deals with friends while investigators watched, but gave investigators the names of people not involved in the deals, then testified or gave sworn statements saying that the innocent people were the drug dealers. Bray managed to set up four people, including a woman who had refused to date him, while working under DEA agent Lee Lucas. It is unclear whether Lucas or other law enforcement personnel knew what Bray was up to, but a federal grand jury will meet next month to investigate obstruction of justice, perjury, and weapons charges against Bray "and others." Bray was sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and deprivation of civil rights charges, a sentence that will run concurrently with state time for shooting a man in a drug-related robbery.

Ironically, Bray can gain a sentence cut on the federal time if he "cooperates fully." When will they learn?

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice," by Ethan Brown (2007, Public Affairs Press, 273 pp., $25.95 HB)

When a Baltimore hustler clothing line manufacturer and barber named Rodney Bethea released a straight-to-DVD documentary about life on the mean streets of West Baltimore back in 2004 in a bid to further the hip-hop careers of some of his street-savvy friends, he had no idea "Stop Fucking Snitching, Vol. I" (better known simply as "Stop Snitching") would soon become a touchstone in a festering conflict over drugs and crime on the streets of America and what to do about it.

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In a steadily rising crescendo of concern that reached a peak earlier this year when CBS' 60 Minutes ran a segment on the stop snitching phenomenon, police, politicians and prosecutors from across the country, but especially the big cities of the East Coast, lamented the rise of the stop snitching movement. Describing it as nothing more than witness intimidation by thugs out to break the law and get away with it, they charged that "stop snitching" was perverting the American justice system.

Not surprisingly, the view was a little different from the streets. Thanks largely to the war on drugs and the repressive legal apparatus ginned up to prosecute it, the traditional mistrust of police and the criminal justice system by poor, often minority, citizens has sharpened into a combination of disdain, despair, and defiance that identifies snitching -- or "informing" or "cooperating," if one wishes to be more diplomatic -- as a means of perpetuating an unjust system on the backs of one's friends and neighbors.

At least that's the argument Ethan Brown makes rather convincingly in "Snitch." According to Brown, the roots of the stop snitching movement can be traced directly to the draconian drug war legislation of the mid-1980s, when the introduction of mandatory minimums and harsh federal sentencing guidelines -- five grams of crack can get you five years in federal prison -- led to a massive increase in the federal prison population and a desperate scramble among low-level offenders to do anything to avoid years, if not decades, behind bars.

The result, Brown writes, has been a "cottage industry of cooperators" who will say whatever they think prosecutors want to hear and repeat their lies on the witness stand in order to win a "5K" motion from prosecutors, meaning they have offered "substantial assistance" to the government and are eligible for a downward departure from their guidelines sentence. Such practices are perverse when properly operated -- they encourage people to roll over on anyone they can to avoid prison time -- but approach the downright criminal when abused.

And, as Brown shows in chapter after chapter of detailed examples, abuse of the system appears almost the norm. In one case Brown details, a violent cooperator ended up murdering a well-loved Richmond, Virginia, family. In another, the still unsolved death of Baltimore federal prosecutor Richard Luna, the FBI seems determined to obscure the relationship between Luna and another violent cooperator. In still another unsolved murder, that of rapper Tupac Shakur, Brown details the apparent use of snitches to frame a man authorities suspect knows more about the killing than he is saying. In perhaps the saddest chapter, he tells the story of Euka Washington, a poor Chicago man now doing life in prison as a major Iowa crack dealer. He was convicted solely on the basis of uncorroborated and almost certainly false testimony from cooperators.

The system is rotten and engenders antipathy toward the law, Brown writes. The ultimate solution, he says, is to change the federal drug and sentencing laws, but he notes how difficult that can be, especially when Democrats are perpetually fearful of being Willy Hortoned every time they propose a reform. The current glacial progress of bills that would address one of the most egregious drug war injustices, the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, is a sad case in point.

Brown addresses the quickness with which police and politicians blamed the stop snitching movement for increases in crime, but calls that a "distraction from law enforcement failures." It's much easier for cops and politicians to blame the streets than to take the heat for failing to prosecute cases and protect witnesses, and it's more convenient to blame the street than to notice rising income equality and a declining economy.

While Brown doesn't appear to want to throw the drug war baby out with the snitching bathwater, he does make a few useful suggestions for beginning to change the way the drug war is prosecuted. Instead of blindly going after dealers by weight, he argues, following UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, target those who engage in truly harmful behavior. That will not only make communities safer by ridding them of violent offenders, it will reduce the pressure to cooperate by low-level offenders as police attention and resources shift away from them.

Cooperating witnesses also need greater scrutiny, limits need to be put on 5K motions, cooperator testimony must be corroborated, and perjuring cooperators should be prosecuted, Brown adds. Too bad he doesn't have much to say about what to do with police and prosecutors who knowingly rely on dishonest snitches.

"It was never meant to intimidate people from calling the cops," Rodney Bethea said of his DVD, "and it was never directed at civilians. If your grandmother calls the cops on people who are dealing drugs on her block, she's supposed to do that because she's not living that lifestyle. When people say 'stop snitching' on the DVD, they're referring to criminals who lead a criminal life who make a profit from criminal activities... What we're saying is you have to take responsibility for your actions. When it comes time for you to pay, don't not want to pay because that is part of what you knew you were getting into in the first place. Stop Snitching is about taking it back to old-school street values, old-school street rules."

Playing by the old-school rules would be a good thing for street hustlers. It would also be a good thing for the federal law enforcement apparatus. It's an open question which group is going to get honorable first.

Law Enforcement: Snitch in Deadly Atlanta Raid Case Sues

A man who made a career out of snitching on his neighbors for profit is suing the Atlanta Police Department and the city, claiming he lost his job after the November 2006 drug raid that left 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston dead. The professional informant, Alex White, claims police held him for hours against his will, hoping he would help them cover up their misdeeds in the fatal raid.

Atlanta narcotics officers told a judge a confidential informant had told them cocaine was being sold and stored at Johnston's residence, but no such informant existed. They went to White after the fact to try to cook up support for their fable.

A frightened White instead went to the FBI and spent seven months in protective custody while working with federal prosecutors building a case against the three officers involved. All three officers were charged in the case. Two have pleaded guilty to state manslaughter and federal civil rights charges and are set to report to prison this month. A third awaits trial.

White, 25, had made up to $30,000 a year snitching on drug offenders, his attorney, Fenn Little, Jr. told the Associated Press. He is seeking compensation for lost wages as well as punitive damages. White's life has been "essentially ruined" because of the case, and he will now have to find a new line of work, Fenn added.

First Amendment: Freaked Out Feds Indict Pair for Posting Flyers Naming Snitch

A federal grand jury in Philadelphia Tuesday indicted two people, an accused drug dealer and his girlfriend, for passing out flyers naming a confidential informant in his federal drug case as a snitch. No law protects informants from having their identities made public, but federal prosecutors pushed -- and succeeded -- in this case for an indictment on witness intimidation and conspiracy charges.

The information on the flyers came from the Who's A Rat? web site, which lists information on more than 4,300 informants and 400 undercover officers. US Attorney Patrick Meehan called the web site "the new enemy" of law enforcement and its snitches.

"It's a by-product of the stop-snitching culture that we should all find deeply disturbing," Meehan said at a news conference, and "has the potential to compromise countless prosecutions across the country."

Meehan conceded the web site is protected by the First Amendment, but decided to indict the pair anyway for trying to intimidate witnesses.

The two are Joseph Davis, currently serving a 17-year sentence for PCP trafficking, thanks in part to the informant targeted in the flyers, and his girlfriend, 24-year-old Adero Miwo. Davis and the informant were both indicted in the PCP case, and the informant, known as "D.S." turned state's evidence and testified against Davis.

Davis and Miwo allegedly then distributed flyers naming D.S. as a snitch on windshields, utility poles, and mailboxes in the West Philadelphia neighborhood where he lived. Relying on information posted on Who's A Rat, the pair produced flyers accusing him of informing and showing his photo, along with the following comment: "This guy is a drunk, and heavy weed smoker, and a recognized car thief among his peers. He is the one who needs to be taken off the streets," according to court documents.

Davis, who is already behind bars, faces up to another 10 years in prison, while Miwo faces up to three years.

Law enforcement authorities across the US have complained loudly that the "stop snitching" movement that has spread around the country is preventing them from solving crimes. Who's a Rat isn't helping, they complain.

Such web sites show a "profound lack of respect" for the legal system, complained JP Weis, head of the Philadelphia FBI office. "The warped message" on city streets, he said, "is that it's somehow worse to provide information about a crime than it is to actually commit a crime." And that, Weis said, is "mind-boggling."

Neither Weis nor Meehan addressed why there is a "profound lack of respect" for the legal system or what role the drug war, much of it built around coercing people into becoming informants, has to do with the situation.

Who's a Rat spokesman Chris Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the web site posts public information submitted by others and is protected by the First Amendment. Brown said he "can't believe that someone got indicted for hanging a flyer" and that such publicity only "makes the site that much more popular."

Giuliani's Cocaine Connection

This post is a little more sympathetic than the title might seem to suggest. One of the big news stories today was the indictment of Rudy Giuliani's now-former South Carolina campaign chairman Thomas Ravenel, the state's now-suspended Treasurer, on federal cocaine distribution charges. Drug policy academic Mark Kleiman points out that Ravenel does not appear to have been a drug dealer:
The other guy indicted in the case seems to be the dealer. Ravenel seems to have been one of his customers, who bought cocaine in quantity to share with friends. Under federal law, there's no crime of selling drugs; the crime is "distribution," which includes giving the stuff away.
(Talking Points Memo, linking to Kleiman, observes that Ravenel would have been buying for "what was probably going to be a pretty big bash".) Ravenel should be considered innocent until proven guilty, of course, and Kleiman points out what I think is a pretty good reason why:
The most likely scenario here: The state cops nailed the dealer (he was already in custody on state charges when the indictment was handed up yesterday), and the dealer gave them a prominent customer in order to buy himself some consideration at sentencing time.
As a legalizer, I have to have some sympathy for anyone caught up in the drug war's headlights. Still, Ravenel was a political official at the highest levels in a state that has some real "tough on drugs" policies in place. Unless he was actively involved in working for serious drug policy reform -- and I'm not aware that he was -- and assuming the accusations made against him are accurate, there's a hypocrisy angle here. Furthermore, the candidate he was involved in trying to elect as president, Rudy Giuliani, is a drug warrior who increased arrests in New York when he was mayor, who tried to shut down methadone maintenance in the city, and who opposes needle exchange and medical marijuana. It's especially hypocritical for a drug user to chair a state campaign for a drug warrior trying to be president, who would presumably continue to be a drug warrior if elected president. Then again, maybe Ravenel intended to quietly lobby Giuliani to shift his views/policies on drugs. I tend to doubt it, but I don't know the guy so I can't say for sure. As for Giuliani, did he have no idea about his friend's (alleged) drug proclivities, or no one who could inform him about them? I've heard from a knowledgeable source that when Giuliani was the US Attorney in New York, the safest place to sell drugs was in front of City Hall. Bottom line: If you're a top-level state official, it's probably not a good idea to organize all-out (all night?) cocaine fests. But if you are in the habit of organizing cocaine fests, speak out against the war on drugs too, so at least people won't think you're a hypocrite if you get caught. Actually, speak out against the drug war in any case. (This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Location: 
SC
United States

Controversial Stop Snitching Website Identifies Informants Who Work With Police

Location: 
Salem, OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
Salem-News.com (OR)
URL: 
http://www.salem-news.com/articles/may232007/whosarat_52307.php

OUR VIEW: Corruption exacts its toll in public funds and confidence

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Standard-Times (MA)
URL: 
http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070520/OPINION/705200318

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