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Sentencing: Illinois Drug War at Full Throttle, Study Finds

A study released Tuesday by Roosevelt University's Institute for Metropolitan Affairs in Chicago has found that Illinois is second only to California when it comes to locking up drug war prisoners. Some 13,000 drug offenders were sent to prison in Illinois in 2002, second only to California's nearly 40,000. Illinois trumped states with larger populations, such as Texas and New York.

It's not just raw numbers where Illinois ranks high, according to "Intersecting Voices: Impacts of Illinois' Drug Policies". When it comes to drug possession prisoners per capita, Illinois again ranks second in the nation, trailing only Mississippi and throwing people in prison for drug possession faster than "lock 'em up" states like Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Not in the least surprisingly, the study, authored by researchers Kathleen Kane-Willis and Jennifer Janichek (a member of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy), found that although whites and blacks used illicit drugs at the same rates, blacks were imprisoned at a rate of six for each white drug offender. Here, Illinois can claim first place nationally in the per capita rate of African Americans imprisoned for drug offenses.

"The number of people who face incarceration in Illinois for drug possession -- and the racial disparity of those who are incarcerated -- is just staggering," said Kathleen Kane-Willis, lead author of the study and assistant director of the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs.

What is also staggering is the explosive growth in drug war prisoners in Illinois. In 1983, drug offenders made up 4.9% of the state prison population; in 2002, they made up 37.9%. The drug war prisoner population grew from a little over 400 in 1983 to almost 13,000 in 2002, a mind-bending 2,748% increase in two decades.

Also staggering is the cost of locking up thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. The study estimates that Illinois spent about $280 million to imprison drug offenders in 2002. There is a better way, said Kane-Willis. "Drug abuse is a public health problem, and our study suggests that treatment for drug offenders is more appropriate, more cost-effective and has better results than incarceration."

Feature: Pain Doctor William Hurwitz to Get New Trial

In a closely watched case with national implications, a federal appeals court has granted a new trial to a well known Northern Virginia pain doctor sent to federal prison for 25 years as a drug dealer. Pain patient advocates and medical associations praised the ruling in the case of Dr. William Hurwitz, who was convicted in late 2004 of 50 counts in a 62-count indictment, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

Hurwitz appealed his conviction, arguing that trial Judge Leonard Wexler erred by not instructing the jury that Hurwitz should not be convicted if he acted in "good faith." Typically in cases where the quality of medical care is in question, such matters are decided by medical boards or civil courts in the form of malpractice suits. Only doctors who are not prescribing in good faith that they are in line with accepted medical practices face criminal charges. In his jury instructions, Judge Wexler removed Hurwitz' only effective defense.

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Dr. Hurwitz in 1996 (photo courtesy Skip Baker)
For federal prosecutors, who pointed to multiple examples of high-dose prescriptions Hurwitz had written and who claimed he should have recognized some of his patients to be addicts or dealers, Hurwitz was nothing more than a Dr. Feelgood, no different from -- or perhaps worse than -- the kid slinging crack on the street corner. But for patient advocates and a growing number of medical professionals, the case was the highest-profile example yet of a Justice Department and DEA creating a chilling climate toward doctors' willingness to treat chronic pain with opioid pain medications.

That is why even though even some questioned Hurwitz's prescribing practices, his appeal nevertheless won the support of professional organizations like the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Foundation, and the National Pain Foundation, all of which filed briefs in his support. Also joining the fray was the Drug Policy Alliance, which filed its own brief on behalf of pain specialists.

A three-judge panel in the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond agreed with Hurwitz and his allies in its opinion Monday. The panel held that Judge Wexler had erred when he told jurors they could not consider whether Hurwitz had acted in "good faith" when he prescribed large doses of opioid pain relievers like Oxycontin to patients.

"A doctor's good faith in treating his patients is relevant to the jury's determination of whether the doctor acted beyond the bounds of legitimate medical practice," wrote Judge William Traxler. "The district court effectively deprived the jury of the opportunity to consider Hurwitz's defense." That was a fatal error, the panel held. "We cannot say that no reasonable juror could have concluded that Hurwitz's conduct fell within an objectively-defined good-faith standard," wrote Traxler.

"We are very gratified by this decision," said Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the libertarian-leaning Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that has been in the vanguard of the medical profession on the issue of protecting pain doctors and patients. "Overturning one of these verdicts is something that almost never happens, and we hope it represents a tipping point," she told DRCNet. "We hope that the courts will finally begin to pay attention to the fundamental issues of justice involved here. A doctor is not a drug dealer, and neither is he a policeman. Doctors cannot be held responsible for patient misbehavior."

"I'm delighted," said Dr. Frank Fisher, a California physician originally charged with five counts of murder over his prescribing practices by overzealous prosecutors and state agents, but who was eventually completely exonerated. "This means they will have to let Billy out. The appeals court was absolutely correct in its decision," he told DRCNet.

The appeals court decision is a victory for Hurwitz and his supporters, but it is only one battle in a larger war over who controls the prescribing of pain medications -- the medical profession or the cops -- and in the meantime, doctors and patients are the casualties.

"They are still harassing and investigating doctors," said Orient. "And that in itself can destroy your practice. There are still doctors languishing in prison because they tried to do their best for their patients and there are still patients having difficulty finding physicians willing to do the pain treatment necessary to make them functional instead of bed-ridden suicidal people in severe pain," she said. "More doctors are aware of the extreme risk they take in getting involved with chronic pain patients. The DEA wants them to treat patients like they were suspected criminals."

Fisher pointed to the case of Dr. Richard Heberle, an Ohio physician, of how devastating even defending oneself from such charges can be. "Look at what happened to Dr. Heberle," he said. "He won, but his practice is ruined, his reputation is ruined, his life is ruined. The only thing worse than winning one of these cases is losing one, or maybe coming down with a bad case of chronic pain."

Marijuana: "Lowest Priority" Local Initiatives Make Ballot in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, and Missoula

It's official. Local initiatives that would make adult marijuana infractions the lowest law enforcement priority will be on the November ballot in three California cities -- Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica -- and the college town of Missoula, Montana. Missoula County officials certified that effort Thursday, and certifications of the California local elections came in over the summer.

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Santa Monica
In Missoula, Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy used a grant from the Marijuana Policy Project to collect more than 20,000 signatures in three months, far more than are needed to make the ballot. Organizers there hope to build on the statewide medical marijuana victory in 2004.

In California, organizers in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica also succeeded in gathering sufficient signatures to make the ballot. The three California local initiatives contain almost identical language and describe themselves similarly. As the Santa Monica web site notes, the initiative "makes marijuana offenses, where cannabis is intended for adult personal use, the lowest police priority" and "it frees up police resources to focus on violent and serious crime, instead of arresting and jailing nonviolent cannabis users."

The Santa Cruz initiative goes one step further by establishing an official city position in favor of marijuana legalization. "Voters in Santa Cruz are tired of the failed and immoral federal war on drugs," said Andrea Tischler, chair of Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy. "Let's move to a more reasonable marijuana policy, and make sure that our police and courts are not wasting their time and resources arresting and prosecuting nonviolent marijuana offenders. By passing this initiative, Santa Cruz can be a beacon of light showing the way to a more sensible policy that is compatible with the values of the majority of citizens."

Lowest priority initiatives have already passed in Seattle and Oakland, which was the model and inspiration for this year's local California initiatives, as well as a handful of college towns around the country.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We've got us a Southern trifecta this week, with missing evidence in Alabama, a rogue task force in Mississippi, and, of course, a drug-dealing prison guard in Louisiana. Let's get to it:

In Tuskegee, Alabama, agents with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation are sniffing around the Tuskegee Police Department to see what happened to drugs and money allegedly missing from the evidence safe. The cops were tight-lipped, but "sources close to the case" told WSFA-12 News $26,000 in cash and an unknown quantity of drugs seized from alleged drug dealers has gone missing. According to WSFA, at least four drug cases may be in jeopardy. The Alabama Bureau of Investigation told the station the investigation could take another month.

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, at least 34 drug cases were dismissed last month because deputies with the Southeast Mississippi Narcotics Task Force planted evidence on suspects or otherwise planted evidence, the Hattiesburg American reported Tuesday. Those deputies have been charged with crimes and were expected to plead guilty this week to charges including assault, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. According to Parrish and Jones County Sheriff Larry Dykes, while the task force has been shut down, the drug problem remains, so he is forming a drug enforcement division in his department.

In Columbia, Louisiana, a former Caldwell Correctional Center guard was arrested Tuesday on charges he sold marijuana to jail inmates, KATC-TV reported. Dennis Cartridge, 23, was charged with possession of marijuana, malfeasance in office, introducing contraband into a correctional facility, and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Cartridge, who had been a jail guard for only two months, is now sitting in a different jail trying to raise $15,000 to bond out.

Asia: China Begins Debate on First Comprehensive Drug Law

Although China has long waged war on drug users and traffickers, it has never had statutes aimed specifically at the drug trade and dealing with drug users. That is about to change. Chinese lawmakers Tuesday began debating a new bill that would expand police powers to crack down on the cross-border drug trade and set standards for drug treatment, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

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Chinese anti-drug poster
"It is important to introduce such a law as China is now facing a grave situation in drug control," the agency quoted Zhang Xinfeng, vice minister of public security, as telling the standing committee of China's parliament. Drugs from Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle are "pouring" into China and "posing a grave threat to China's drug control efforts," Zhang added.

Chinese authorities estimate the country has more than 1.1 million drug users, including 700,000 heroin addicts. In addition to heroin and opium, authorities report problems with methamphetamine and ecstasy use.

The drug trafficking portion of the proposed bill would expand police powers. According to Xinhua, "The bill will also authorize police to search people and their luggage for illegal drugs at key public places such as train stations, long-distance bus stations and border crossings."

Police would also be granted the power to force suspected drug users to submit blood or urine samples -- a practice so far limited to primitive places like South Dakota -- and owners of bars and nightclubs would have to post anti-drug propaganda on their premises.

But while the proposed bill takes a tough line on trafficking, it strikes a softer tone when it comes to drug users and addicts. It includes provisions that would bar treatment centers from physically punishing or verbally humiliating addicts and demands they pay addicts for work they do. The bill also provides for people ordered into treatment to receive it in their communities rather than forcing them into treatment centers. Treatment center admissions would be limited to injection drug users, people who refuse community help, or people who live in communities without treatment resources.

"Drug takers are law violators, but they are also patients and victims. Punishment is needed, but education and assistance are more important," Zhang said.

Medical Marijuana: No More Prison Threat for Renee Boje After Feds Accept Symbolic Plea

One of the most prominent and poignant cases of federal prosecution of people involved in the medical marijuana movement has come to a relatively good end. Renee Boje, who fled to Canada in 1998 rather than face a 10-year to life mandatory minimum sentence for her peripheral involvement in a Los Angeles medical marijuana research grow, pleaded guilty last week to possession of ½ gram of marijuana, was sentenced to one year of probation and allowed to return to Canada. Boje's good news comes roughly four months after another well-known American medical marijuana refugee in Canada, Steve Kubby, saw his own case resolved with a relatively short amount of jail time.

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Renee Boje
Boje, who did little more than water plants, was arrested when the DEA raided a garden maintained by author and AIDS patient Peter McWilliams and cancer patient and marijuana activist Todd McCormick. McCormick served a five-year federal prison sentence for his role in the operation, but McWilliams never got the chance to. He choked to death on his own vomit after being denied the ability to use marijuana while on probation awaiting trial.

Facing the tender mercies of the US federal criminal justice system, Boje fled to the more cannabis-friendly nation of Canada, where she was embraced by that country's marijuana movement. In 2001, she married activist and author Chris Bennett, and the following year gave birth to a son in Canada. Despite the pleas of people from around the world and her growing links with Canada, the Canadian government rejected all her efforts to stay in the country, and it appeared that she would be deported to face justice American-style.

But federal prosecutors in Los Angeles apparently lost interest in persecuting the young woman and sent word they were interested in resolving the case. On August 10, Boje reentered the United States and on August 14, she pleaded guilty before Judge George King, the same judge who presided over the McWilliams and McCormick hearings. When sentencing Boje to probation, he also gave her permission to return to Canada.

While Canadian border officials had threatened not to allow her back into the country -- after all, she had now pleaded guilty to possessing ½ a gram of marijuana and was thus eligible to be denied entry under Canadian law -- they ultimately granted her a six-month visitor's permit. Boje will use that time to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Asset Forfeiture: Federal Appeal Upholds Seizure of Cash Despite Lack of Drugs

A federal appeals court has held that police acted within the law when they seized nearly $125,000 in cash from a man's car during a traffic stop, even though no drugs were found in the car. A three-judge panel from the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in US v. $124,700 in US Currency that the cash may have been linked to the drug trade, overturning an earlier decision by a US Magistrate Court judge in Nebraska.

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House of Evil: the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Emilio Gonzolez was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 80 in 2003. Gonzolez told the officer the car he was driving had been rented by someone named Luis, that he had never been arrested, and that he was not carrying drugs, guns, or large sums of money. Gonzolez then consented to a search of the vehicle, which turned up $124,700 in cash in a cooler on the back seat. Police also learned that Gonzolez had been arrested for drunk driving and that the person who rented the car was not named Luis. Police then sicced a drug dog on the vehicle, and the dog alerted on the cash and on the seat where it was sitting.

In court, Gonzolez testified that he had flown from California to Chicago and planned to use the cash to buy a refrigerated truck there, but when he arrived there, the truck had already been sold. He decided to drive back to California, but needed someone to rent a car because he had no credit card, he testified. Gonzolez said he lied about having the money because he feared carrying large amounts of cash could be illegal and he hid it in the cooler because he was afraid it might be stolen. He testified that he didn’t reveal the drunk driving arrest because he didn’t think drunk driving was a crime.

Gonzolez' tale may have been barely credible, but any positive evidence linking his stash of cash to drug trafficking was hard to come by. Still, the appeals court overturned the original decision. "We believe that the evidence as a whole demonstrates... that there was a substantial connection between the currency and a drug trafficking offense," the court wrote. "We have adopted the commonsense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and drug trafficking."

That wasn’t good enough for dissenting Judge Donald Lay, who argued that there was no evidence linking the cash to drug trafficking. "At most, the evidence presented suggests the money seized may have been involved in some illegal activity -- activity that is incapable of being ascertained on the record before us," Lay wrote.

But what about the drug dog alerting on the cash and the car seat? "Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance offense," Lay reasoned.

San Diego attorney Donald Yates, who represents Gonzolez, told the Associated Press they would appeal the decision. People who do not have credit or bank accounts and who must do business in cash are being treated unfairly, he said. "They do not allow for anybody to have a lifestyle different from the average person in Nebraska."

Court Rules 2003 Money Seizure Correct Despite No Drugs Found

Localização: 
Omaha, NE
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/15310257.htm

Editorial: There's Always Another Drug Cartel...

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
It was the DEA's lucky day, and one drug lord's unlucky one. Notorious drug lord Javier Arellano-Felix, head of one of the world's leading cocaine trafficking organizations, was plucked from the sea near Mexico's coastline by the US Coast Guard. He's now facing life in prison on a 2003 indictment for cocaine trafficking.

There are plenty of reasons besides drug trafficking for putting this guy away -- his cartel is a major party to the drug trade violence plaguing the Tijuana region that has already claimed some 1,500 lives. Some of the murders have been unspeakable in their sheer gruesomeness. The organization was responsible for the infamous 1993 assassination of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo as he waited to meet an arriving papal official in Guadalajara airport.

Though we don't lament Arellano's loss of freedom, there is much to lament in the system that made him possible, a system that in its impact if not intentions has claimed so many lives and will continue to in the future. Cocaine traffickers and their henchmen are not killing people because they are high on cocaine; they are killing people because that is a part of business -- making money -- in this lucrative criminal enterprise. We know from long experience that taking out one drug lord, even dismembering an entire trafficking organization, only leads to the growth or establishment of a new one, with no reduction in the amount of cocaine getting taken to market. DEA officials acknowledged this even as they celebrated their high-profile capture -- they even predicted violence would result from it, as rival traffickers fight to fill the void the capture has created.

The most notorious drug lord, perhaps, was Medellin, Colombia cartel builder Pablo Escobar, taken down in a hail of bullets by government forces acting under the leadership of attorney general Gustavo de Greiff. De Greiff's public commentary was infinitely more enlightened than we should ever expect to hear from the DEA. De Greiff explained in the media that nothing would happen to the flow of cocaine, the Medellin will just be replaced by another cast of characters, the answer is... legalization. Of course the DEA and their bosses at the Dept. of Justice didn't like that. But he was right. (Click here to hear what de Greiff had to say at our 2003 Mexico conference.)

So while DEA's chieftains will undoubtedly continue to savor the afterglow for weeks or months to come, in the meanwhile the victims of drug prohibition will continue to needlessly suffer and die. Because there is always another cartel, another leader waiting in the wings, another vendor or middleman willing to sling a gun to get his share.

Latin America: US Feds Bust Major Mexican Trafficker, Expect Violence, Continued Drug Trafficking as Result

Javier Arellano-Felix, a major player in one of Mexico's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations, was arrested by the US Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of Mexico's Baja California. But even as federal law enforcement officials risked serious injury from all the back-patting going on at their celebratory press conference Thursday, they acknowledged that his arrest would amount to little.

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DEA poster
The Arellano-Felix organization controls the Tijuana drug trade franchise, or "plaza" as it's called in Mexican slang. It grew in the 1980s into a major cocaine trafficking group, but was dealt a harsh blow in 2002 when one older Arellano-Felix brother was killed and another arrested. In the past two years, since the most recent disruptions of the Mexican cartel structure, the Arellano-Felix organization has been a key player in the bloody vendettas among traffickers that have left more than 1,500 people dead.

"El Tigrillo" ("The Little Tiger"), as he is known in Mexico, was one of several organization members indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego in 2003 on charges they conspired to smuggle tons of cocaine into the US. He faces life in prison here.

"In the world of drug law enforcement, it doesn't get any better," John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, sat a mobbed news conference. "This is huge. The opportunity to capture a drug lord the caliber of Javier Arellano Felix is a unique event." His capture marks "the end of two decades of the most... powerful and violent drug-trafficking organization," he added.

And what that means in Mexico is a new round of violence as competing trafficking organizations fight to take advantage of the opening. Fernandes acknowledged as much, saying that violent jockeying for power is the likely result of Arellano's arrest.

Nor do authorities expect his arrest to make any significant difference. "In drug trafficking we're not naive enough to think that drug trafficking is going to stop," said FBI Daniel R. Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI's local office.

Still, it was a nice photo-op.

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