Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Revisit Roadblock Ruling 5/16/03

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers
  2. Illinois Over-the-Counter Syringe Bill Passes House, Awaits Governor's Signature
  3. Moves Continue to Win Freedom for Tulia 13 -- Congress to Take a Look
  4. Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation Delayed -- Fears of United States, Discord in Government Cited
  5. Alert and Clarification: Truth in Trials Act
  6. Vote Now in Two Online Marijuana Decriminalization/Legalization Polls
  7. World Social Thematic Forum to Address Drug Policy, Cartagena, Colombia, Next Month
  8. Countdown to Fairness: Celebrity-Led Rockefeller Drug Law Protest Coming June 4th
  9. Six-Year Anniversary of Esequiel Hernandez Shooting This Week
  10. Newsbrief: Indonesia Quietly Supports Needle Exchanges
  11. Newsbrief: US Functionaries Bluster at Bolivia
  12. Newsbrief: US Invasion Liberates Iraqi Heroin, Cocaine Sales
  13. Newsbrief: You Better Watch Yer Ass in Texas, Boy
  14. Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Restricts Random Roadblocks, Again
  15. Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Revisit Roadblock Ruling
  16. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story
  17. Newsbrief: New Jersey Drug Warrior Prescribes More Aggression
  18. The Reformer's Calendar
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David Borden

1. Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 5/16/03

It only took years for the Texas power structure to admit to the severe miscarriage of justice in Tulia, where over 40 people, mostly African American, were imprisoned as drug dealers on the sole word of an undercover agent. No matter that the small town's economy couldn't possibly have supported 40 drug dealers. And no matter that Officer Coleman had a known history of lying and other lawbreaking. The spotlight had to be shown on the episode over and over before authorities would take any serious action. Truth and glaring evidences of injustice didn't suffice.

It's fair to regard the Tulia imprisonments as the moral equivalent of kidnapping -- human beings for whom there was no credible evidence of guilt were removed from their homes and held against their will for long periods of time, years in many cases. In some ways it was worse than kidnapping; at least with a kidnapper there's a chance of gaining the victim's freedom by paying a ransom. Whereas the Texas criminal justice system had no intention of freeing the Tulia victims unless it was absolutely forced to do so; many it would have kept behind bars for decades, knowing their likely innocence. And kidnapping victims don't lose their reputations, as Tulia's stolen would have suffered had a vigorous national campaign not been mounted on their behalf.

Unfortunately, it's not over. Thirteen of Tulia's kidnapped remain behind bars. Though courts have called for new trials, and prosecutors have asked that charges instead be dropped -- and even though the Senate and the Governor themselves have spoken up on the matter -- still in prison they sit.

The massive admission of state guilt, to the highest levels of the political system, are not quite enough for Gerald Garrett, chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Garrett wants the prisoners to stay where they are until "every case gets a full and entire review" -- or if he doesn't specifically want them to stay behind bars in the meantime, at least he's clearly willing to live with that.

There's an expression used by law-and-order types, "coddling criminals," referring to treatment of lawbreakers or prisoners they perceive or claim to be lenient. In this way of thinking, though, it is the system that is coddling kidnappers. It is just too clear that the convictions of Tulia's remaining 13 prisoners itself were crimes, and every day therefore they remain behind bars is an abomination.

Garrett might not be the enemy, but he is missing the forest for the trees; the freedom of Tulia's unjustly convicted is far more important than the perception of integrity of a system that has been demonstrated to have precious little of it. The only moral course of action for the state of Texas is to free Tulia's remaining kidnapped today.


2. Illinois Over-the-Counter Syringe Bill Passes House, Awaits Governor's Signature

A bill that would allow adults to purchase syringes without a prescription passed the Illinois House Tuesday. The Illinois Senate approved the measure on March 24, so it now awaits only the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). He is expected to sign the bill, said Karen Reitan of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (http://www.aidschicago.org), one of leaders in a broad coalition of medical, public health, merchant and harm reduction groups that pushed for the measure. If the governor indeed signs, Illinois will become the 46th state to allow the purchase of syringes without a prescription. Only California, Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey currently require prescriptions to purchase syringes. "We are very optimistic the governor will sign the bill," Reitan told DRCNet. "He pledged before the election that he would sign it, and his office indicated this week that he still plans to do so."

"The governor sees [the syringe bill] as an effective way of reducing AIDS and HIV and improving the delivery of prevention services," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday. The Illinois bill is part of a strategy aimed at reducing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other blood-borne infections. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of all new HIV infections result from injection drug use or sexual contact with an injection drug user. Needle sharing has been shown to decline in states that have eased the availability of syringes.

"This is the most significant piece of HIV prevention legislation to pass in Illinois in over a decade," said Mark Ishaug, AIDS Foundation of Chicago executive director. "It will literally save the lives of thousands of men, women and children."

Under the bill, adults will be able to purchase up to 20 syringes at a time without a prescription. The bill also requires the state Department of Health to produce educational pamphlets on the dangers of drug use, how AIDS and HIV spread, how to seek out drug treatment, and how to properly dispose of needles. Pharmacists would be required to give the pamphlets to everyone who buys needles.

While the governor and the state medical and public health establishment have come around, it hasn't been an easy fight, said Reitan. "People have been trying to get this bill passed for the last 10 years," she said, "and the Chicago AIDS Foundation has been pushing this for the last four years."

The legislation passed the House in 2000, but was defeated in the Senate that year after members expressed fears it would encourage drug use. That sentiment was still present this year, with, for example, Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) calling the measure "hideous" and arguing that addicts would throw needles on the street where they could infect children.

"You are asking people who have a condition of using heroin to do something responsible," Flowers said in urging the bill's defeat. "I'm asking you to please take into consideration what we're doing here in regards to drugs. Drugs are illegal in this state. Heroin is illegal in this country. We're sending the wrong message, ladies and gentlemen, to young people that it's okay to do heroin, but it's not okay to do marijuana."

But public health trumped prohibitionist ideology for the bill's supporters. "If people can have access to sterile syringes, they will, time after time, use clean syringes," argued state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the bill's sponsor. "The data has demonstrated very strongly that this really does help stem the spread of AIDS. I think this is a quantum leap."

With the bill passing by a margin of 70-48 in the House and 30-24 in the Senate, it was evident that members were listening to the impressive coalition put together by the bill's supporters this year. "We had a huge group supporting this bill, including the Illinois Pharmacists Association, the Illinois Medical Society, the Illinois Public Health Association, the state Academy of Family Physicians, the state Academy of Pediatricians, the state nurses'

The US Supreme Court announced May 5 it would revisit its 2000 ruling that police checkpoints could not be used for general law enforcement purposes. In that case, the court held that roadblocks set up by Indianapolis police for the express purpose of catching drug law violators were an unconstitutional invasion of drivers' privacy.

The court has already upheld the use of roadblocks for public safety purposes, such as checkpoints to look for drunk drivers, and for immigration control purposes near foreign borders. Now Illinois, joined by 14 other states, has asked the court to clarify how far police may go. It has appealed an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that police could not randomly stop drivers in order to solicit tips about a crime.

The case, Illinois v. Lidster, arose when Chicago police set up a checkpoint designed to seek information about a hit-and-run accident. Police stopped each car for 10 to 15 seconds -- long enough to hand out a flier and ask for information -- but when Robert Lidster drove up, police arrested him for driving while intoxicated. Lidster appealed his conviction, arguing that the stop was unconstitutional, and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed.

Now, the US Supreme Court will offer its opinion. The case will be significant, Northwestern University law professor Ronald Allen told the Associated Press, because the court will "either tighten up or loosen up the power of the government to do a dragnet, stopping everybody."

-- END --
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Issue #287, 5/16/03 Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers | Illinois Over-the-Counter Syringe Bill Passes House, Awaits Governor's Signature | Moves Continue to Win Freedom for Tulia 13 -- Congress to Take a Look | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation Delayed -- Fears of United States, Discord in Government Cited | Alert and Clarification: Truth in Trials Act | Vote Now in Two Online Marijuana Decriminalization/Legalization Polls | World Social Thematic Forum to Address Drug Policy, Cartagena, Colombia, Next Month | Countdown to Fairness: Celebrity-Led Rockefeller Drug Law Protest Coming June 4th | Six-Year Anniversary of Esequiel Hernandez Shooting This Week | Newsbrief: Indonesia Quietly Supports Needle Exchanges | Newsbrief: US Functionaries Bluster at Bolivia | Newsbrief: US Invasion Liberates Iraqi Heroin, Cocaine Sales | Newsbrief: You Better Watch Yer Ass in Texas, Boy | Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Restricts Random Roadblocks, Again | Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Revisit Roadblock Ruling | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: New Jersey Drug Warrior Prescribes More Aggression | The Reformer's Calendar
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