How Many Innocent People Are in Jail on Drug Charges?

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It's a question I've often pondered and one that anybody with strong opinions about drug policy should consider, regardless of where you stand on the issue. Surely, there exists no realistic formula with which to approximate an answer, but one need only observe and understand what the drug war is and how it works to know that grave injustices are forever embedded into the drug war equation.

The question resurfaced this week in an AP report that tells the story of Jose and Maximo Colon. The brothers were arrested and charged with cocaine distribution stemming from an alleged encounter with undercover officers in a sketchy NY bar. The case imploded when surveillance tape from the establishment revealed that the pair had simply not committed the crime or even interacted with the agents. They were arrested moments later by a back-up team, without a clue as to the reason why. Worse still, an outdoor camera captured footage of the undercover investigators "literally dancing down the street" afterwards, apparently pleased with their accomplishment.

It's a striking and gratuitous example of police misconduct to be sure, but the larger question is how many similar cases have led to convictions and prison time for their victims:

Jose quickly got the tape to defense attorney Rochelle Berliner, a former narcotics prosecutor. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.

''I almost threw up,'' she said. ''Because I must've prosecuted 1,500, 2,000 drug cases ... and all felonies. And I think back, Oh my God, I believed everything everyone told me. Maybe a handful of times did something not sound right to me. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic but I was like, sick.''

If it were only possible somehow to reveal the full scope of wrongful, fraudulent convictions in the war on drugs, I don't doubt that the entire nation would be stunned and sickened. Yet, for anyone who's paying attention, it's not necessary to fantasize about the true extent of injustice and corruption that the drug war has unleashed on innocent people. You can read about it in the newspaper all the time.

In Ohio, we saw a DEA agent indicted for helping frame 17 innocent people. In Atlanta, we saw police plant drugs in the home of an innocent 88-year-old woman after shooting her to death. In Tulia, TX we saw a rogue narcotics officer frame and arrest most of the black people in town. In Hearne, TX we saw the same damn thing. And across the country, we've seen dozens of innocent people who might well have ended up in prison if they hadn't been killed first by the police who raided their homes.

Behind all of this lies a matrix of perverse incentives, loose evidentiary requirements, and diminished accountability mechanisms that make mind-blowing miscarriages of justice more than inevitable. A central element of modern drug enforcement involves the use of informants, who trade information on other people for leniency in their own criminal cases. They have every incentive to lie and they do so constantly, as we've seen over and over again. Prosecutors offer leniency in exchange for "substantial assistance" in helping convict others, a practice that inherently favors the guiltiest party. Inevitably, those most directly involved in a criminal conspiracy are armed with names and other critical details that prosecutors crave, while peripheral players and innocent bystanders who become entangled in drug investigations are placed at a remarkable disadvantage.

Of course, it shouldn't be necessary to persuade anyone that our drug laws are designed to make things easy for police and hard for criminal suspects. These vast drug war powers are bestowed on police and prosecutors by legislators who are eager to provide law-enforcement with every necessary tool in the fight against crime. That much power creates countless innocent casualties even at the hands of our most honest public servants, and it's a nightmare when passed along to corrupt cops like the men who framed the Colon brothers.

Yet, when these dramatic fiascoes get exposed, police can often be found downplaying it and insisting that you can't fight the drug war without these sorts of aggressive and dirty tactics. If that's even remotely true, then the war on drugs is just far too filthy and corrupt to tolerate in a free and civil society.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The media pays little attention to incarceration rates.

William Aiken

The individual stories of law enforcement nabbing totally innocent people on drug charges get more attention than the larger issue of America as the leading the world in incarceration rates. The media prefers these individual stories because they have a face and tell more personal stories as opposed to troubling Governement statistics or studies from the Sentencing Project.

It's really annoying to hear conservatives such as Sean Hannity boast 24/7 what a "free" country we live in or Bill O'Reilly exclaiming what a noble country America is, while they fully support the drug war which is the biggest obstical to individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness. How did we as country get to the point where owning the crown as the world's leading jailer isn't a big story? There are many factors and special interests profiting from the status quo.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that change in our drug policy will derive from moral reasons. Most the changes in attitude can be attributed to the bottom line. The main insentive behind Cailfornia's legislation to legalize Marijuana is a financial one.
Most politicians that have the guts to advocate drug reform would rather avoid a culture war and instead focus on the wastefulness in lost tax revenue, police and prison costs.

In the meantime, the proponents of legalization need to call out the hypocrites when they play the "America the Free" card. Those guilty of this hypocracy who are fortunate to have their own TV venues, have blogs and E-mails to counter their misguided rhetoric. It's up to us to use the freedom of speech to put these "Patriotic" claims by Hannity, O'Reilly and Glen Beck into perspective or anyone else in media who engages in them.

Free and civil society???

"the war on drugs is just far too filthy and corrupt to tolerate in a free and civil society."

As you well know our society is neither "free" nor "civil."

Might you have been referring to the society of some other country? Maybe a mythical one?

It’s All Too Easy

Prohibition makes it far too easy for the unscrupulous to use the drug laws to pursue personal agendas that defy the government’s ostensible reasons for the drug statutes.

False drug arrests can be used to mask acts of racism and cultural discrimination.  Prohibition can function as a façade for attacks on political dissidents.  Drug laws can provide a back door for deeply embedded Taliban-esque extremists within government to pursue deconstructionist goals that erode our civil liberties.  The list goes on.

In a truly free and open society, the risks and problems associated with drug enforcement are simply too great to ignore.  No one can feel safe as long drug prohibition is the law of the land.

Giordano

Well no surprises here

The only funny thing about this subject is that the ONLY ones who will see this are us and a few people who read page 200 in some local rag. It and other similiar injustices will never be read by main stream America because they only care about John and Kate and Im a celebraidiot - get me outta here. This and other issues like Germany banning violent video games and nose spray that can make you lose smell and taste (LEGALLY) are swept under the rug so fast its unreal. The mainstream media is as corrupt as all the major corporations and government. You will only see what makes them money and keeps the sheeple calm or distracted from the real issues. THANK YOU FOR REPORTING ON THE REAL NEWS. I just wonder when big brother will step in and make all non-approved media sources illegal. By then I guess it will be to late and the masses will be too broken to respond. Oh well. To see the truth go look at CNN - AC360 reporting on Marijuana...go to any article and post...you will never see it. They only put a small sampling of comments due to a lack of space. IF they cared they would show them all and put a front page poll showing how many people really care about what they report. Hell if we in the US actually protested like they are in Iran about some of these things....now that would be a show worth being in and watching.

This subject is crap.

I CANNOT believe how many times I heard about a drug charge while I was going through all that crap. On top of all of that, the prosecutors are assholes and only care about 2 things. You in jail and the money. It's bull crap, and I'm glad at least 1 person finally saw that. Thanks. You did a good job bringing this subject up!

Thanks for the recognition!
**Ali**

My other page

Cops are people

Cops are people. They have bad days just like everyone. But, they see the bad side of society everyday. It doesn't take long to become callous. A cop stops a really expensive SUV and is jealous of that persons success. How hard is it to plant some previously confiscated drug in the vehicle & call in a drug dog? Bye bye SUV. Now there's a cop running around in an unmarked $45,000.00 SUV getting his jollies busting unsuspecting speeders. While the poor sucker who was wrongly busted has to pay for attorneys to hopefully keep him out of prison. Maybe a young kid gets mouthy with a cop who stopped him for a busted stoplight lens. Does anyone think that cops can't be vindictive? Just watch Youtube videos & you'll see cops breaking the heads & spines of people who aren't even resisting arrest. This whole drug war fiasco has made our police into militants who usually get away with anything. Is there any doubt that the majority of innocent Americans have good reason to fear our police? Then you've got corrupt cops who actually protect the drug cartels. People debate what the drug war costs us, or how much ending it would save us. What about the destabilizing effect the drug war is having on our society? This thing has gone so far that it could eventually collapse our nations all together. Cannabis accounts for 40% of all police arrests. Legalize the sale of cannabis to adults & our police can pursue violent crimes instead of low hanging fruit. 70-85% of all drugs sold by cartels is cannabis. There will be a whole lot less drug cartel violence when legalization removes their cash cow. But, cannabis busts are an easy cash cow for cops, too. Joe Biden crafted & pushed through our federal forfeiture drug laws & paraphernalia laws. How fitting that he is our Vice President. Both sides of the drug war have everything to lose if drugs are regulated via legalization. This is the real reason that cops & criminals alike want the drug war to go on forever. Unfortunately, the drug war has broken the bank & now the Fed is printing worthless greenbacks to keep this disaster going. It's time for the few honest politicians to stand up & demand an end to what is really a war on the people of the USA.

Canadian Justice

[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.Canada has just taken one giant step backwards with the introduction of bill C-15.In spite of testimony from several witnesses from the U.S. explaining the horrors of mandatory minimum sentences,truly one of the drug wars most insideous contributions.The Harper government ,with collusion from the federal Liberal party,passed just such laws into existence.Coupled with the recent seizure laws this puts Canada,once so close to decriminalization it hurts,right up there with the U.S. as a hard line prohibitionist entity.They toughened up gun laws in a country where only the cops and criminals can get guns and now this.The courts are miles ahead of the government when it comes to lightening up on people for drug crimes.At a time when the RCMP look like a bunch of second rate thugs,the politicians just don't get it.So what elses new.Harper has done more for gangsters than anyone in 40 years.With even young people being shot down for dealing in the wrong area,Harper is concerned with putting people in prison for a few plants.The cops are far less vicious than they used to be.With so many seizures of some very expensive property,they seem content to go after the grow ops as they provide the most possibility of a big score.Meanwhile,the addicts of the down town east side wallow in filth with very little harassment from the police.There's little plunder and less glory in busting a sick addict.

This series is 3 years old, how did we miss it?

http://www.narconews.com/Issue40/article1644.html

Narco News: Dillon, Read & Co. Inc. and the Aristocracy of Prison Profits: Part I
Inside the Financial World, Government Agencies and their Private Contractors Lies a Hidden System of Money Laundering, Drug Trafficking and Rigged Stock Market Riches

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Corrupt cops in small town

We live in a small town in upstate ny. my husband was in the wrong place at the time of a drug raid and the owner of the house was persuaded by police to write a statement against my husband that the drugs was his. Well in the end he retracted his statement saying that he was cohersed by the police and that he was lying. Ever since then the police have been after by husband. Well they finally set him up and an undercover trooper got on the stand and accused my husband of selling drugs to her. She descibed him on her buy sheets as a black male with hair and 5'7. Well that was only one description the other three was 6'2 wit glasses and 6 foot with hair and a baseball cap. Well needless to say my husband is a bald man for 6 years he cant even grow hair and he is 5'10. They had no evidence not any buy money, no wires no phone convos just their word and they succeeded to convict my husband and used pictures of him for the jury of my husband walking out of subway with subs and soda to convince the jury they were watching him and that he sold drugs. They forged documents and the police admitted that at trial not to mention they had no idea who one of the persons who signed a narcotics evidence report. They said they dont know who that is no clue. So all the paperwork was made up. Just a coincidence about that time on may 1st they had a drug raid and recovered alot of people and drugs my husband wasnt involved at all. But low and behold they come up with lies and drugs that supposedly my husband sold to them but they had no proof at all a week and a half later. How can they even allow my husband just because of his race to be convicted of something he didnt do. The police officer even said we have one black man now lets get the rest. not to mention the undercover trooper who testified at four trial that she was sold drugs commited suicide after the trials. We as people can only withstand so many lies. The crooked police in this county are terrible and something needs to be done. Thats something else a life was lost all to convict black men and innocent people for the police to feel like they are doing something and make them look good.

Beating your head against a wall!

It is, in my opinion, None of the governments business what I do or do not injest into my body! They have as much right to make hemp illegal as they do brussel sprouts!! The rest of the drug war is just as corrupt as any one can possibly imagine. The laws against drugs are most deffinitely more harmful than the drugs are themselves. Luckily for me, the last time the cops tried to bust me all I was growing was tomatoes!! I`ve often wondered how much the helicopter cost them that they had 50 feet over my house?

Very nice comment smorgan

Very nice comment smorgan and very true as well...

Can someone please help me out and advice me as to who should I speak if a loved one was accused of trafficking drugs even though he is innocent..And not only my family and me knows this..Even the lawyer, the prosecutor, the judge everyone in that damn court knows for a fact he is innocent, but still have him behind bars. Is there a way I could fight this???

WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS!!!! I WANT TO KNOW HOW MANY DRUG ARRESTES HAVE OCCURED EVERY YEAR. SINCE THE WAR ON DRUGS STARTED? WHICH DRUGS GOT HOW MANY ARREST? EVERYWHERE I READ ITS NOTHING BUT OPINION!! SHOW ME SOME FACTS!

WIFE POISONING ME WHILE SHE HID AFFAIR WITH LAW OFFICER!

My wife was hiding an affair with an under cover officer and that officer coached my wife as to how to frame me as a pedophile!
My wife recruited her daughters to lie for her, my wife downloaded child porn, knowing there would be a history of it, and my wife kept me ill by poisoning me slowly to death and her lover arranged so I could not get help from a hospital!

I caught my wife letting her lover into her bedroom by opening her bedroom window and her lover and a buddy of his broke into our home and they planted that illegal crap on our family computer and then they drove to my wife's place of employment and they pretended to of caught me in the act, giving me blame to others for what they just did a half hour before!

How do I know? because I was sleeping in the living room on the couch and awoke hearing my wife whispering to some dude, thinking I was catching her in her affair I put a audio recorder in her purse and I laid back down on the couch pretending to be asleep until my wife left for work!

Authority's do this to people all the time, they call it "Pedofying" meaning, based on how they used that term and based on what they did to me it means,"Do whatever it takes to give their target the reputation as a pedophile, even to the extent of committing the crimes themselves, so no one will care about the target, so they can get away with murdering them off!"

It was a all day recording and they did not stop framing me after they left my apartment, they framed me within a Walmart store after that and they even printed out fliers giving me the blame!

After they realized I caught them on a audio recorder they seriously poisoned me and it was covered up at the hospital, and while I was stuck at home too ill to leave my wife and her relatives and her lover and his relatives and BRO'S in law enforcement "Pedofied" me publicly through word of mouth and through fliers!

There is no one I can report this to that cares authority's would rather murder me than to arrest a couple of cops!

My husband in prison

Story about how my husband was released.......   I give thanks to prof. Reyash who helped me when my husband was false fully accused and sentenced for 13 years imprisonment in Thailand over alleged crime of murder. On my time of devastation, my friend introduce me to this spiritual man prof Rayash, she gave me his contact to seek him for spiritual help over my jailed husband. Prof. Rayash really helped me in spiritual prayer over my jailed husband who have spent two years in prison. After the prayer the prof guarantee me the date my husband will be release, I hardly belief him. On the date he promise I received a call from Thailand as at 4:28 pm which is from my husband, what I heard from him is honey am a free man now, belief me my darling husband is now home in good health.Thanks to prof. Rayash who's spiritual power has restored back joy in my family. You can contact him on [email protected], if you are facing similar problem.

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