Criminal Justice

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Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line”

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2006 Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 OR Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 New Government Survey Shows Illegal Drug Use Rates Holding Steady; Drug War Critics Point to Overwhelming Failure Death, Disease, Incarceration, Drug Availability All Up at Price Tag of $40 Billion+ Annually Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line” That Focuses on Reducing the Harms of Both Drug Abuse and the War on Drugs; Offer Concrete Steps to Save Lives The federal government’s latest estimates of the number of Americans who use illegal drugs finds that illegal drug use rates are holding steady overall. While government officials find reason to be optimistic in some areas, they also find reasons to be pessimistic in others. For instance, fewer teens are using marijuana, but more young adults are using cocaine and illegal prescription drugs. The nation’s largest drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, is urging policymakers to look beyond drug use rates. "What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down, but whether the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition goes up or down,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs continues to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year with nothing to show for it except broken families, overflowing jail cells and increasing drug overdoses.” Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse – addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis – continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of the war on drugs – broken families, racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties – and critics claim that it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, if the government were serious about the health and welfare of its citizens, it would immediately take the following steps:
  • Make appropriate drug treatment available to every person who seeks it, including methadone maintenance - which has been proven to be the most effective treatment for heroin dependence.
  • Make sterile syringes readily and legally available through pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in order to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The United States is alone among advanced industrialized western nations in refusing to provide a penny for such programs, which save lives without increasing drug use.
  • Stop incarcerating citizens for drug possession, repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and return sentencing discretion to judges.
  • Stop wasting money and scarce law enforcement resources on marijuana, and allow states to tax, regulate, and control marijuana through legal, regulated markets if they choose. This would eliminate unregulated, criminal markets; generate tax revenue; make better use of scarce law enforcement resources; and allow state policymakers to regulate marijuana’s potency, establish age controls, and control marijuana’s use and availability. “The government’s current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less,” said Piper. “It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.” ###
Location: 
United States

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The temptations of the border tarnish another Texas lawman's badge, a Tulsa cop is convicted of being too helpful to a drug dealer, and a pair of Newark's finest plea to a pill-pushing scheme. Let's get to it:

In McAllen, Texas, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas issued a press release announcing the August 29 indictment of a former South Texas police officer for allegedly taking a bribe to protect what he thought was a cocaine shipment. Former Elsa City Police Officer Herman Carr, 45, is accused of taking a $5,000 payment from an undercover FBI agent to use his position as a law enforcement officer to protect a vehicle he was told contained five kilos of cocaine. He is charged with bribery and faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a federal jury last Friday found a former Tulsa police officer guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and providing unlawful notice of a search warrant. Former Officer Rico Yarbrough was convicted of informing a suspected drug dealer that a search warrant was about to be served at his residence, the Tulsa World reported. In February, Yarbrough called a Tulsa man and asked him to inform the suspected dealer of the impending raid. Unfortunately for Yarbrough, the conversation was being recorded. Federal investigators who had wiretapped the suspected dealer's phone overheard references to Yarbrough, then fed him information to see if he would leak it. He did. Yarbrough was found not guilty on two related counts, but still faces significant prison time when sentenced November 29.

In Newark, two Newark police officers pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges they bought thousands of Oxycontin pills from a doctor and resold them, the Associated Press reported. Patrolmen John Hernandez and Ronald Pomponio face up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines when sentenced in December for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, the active ingredient in Oxycontin. The pair admitted in court that Hernandez purchased Oxycontin tablets valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, while Pomponio took prescriptions for the pills to pharmacies across the state. The doctor from whom they allegedly purchased the drugs has pleaded not guilty.

Southeast Asia: Australian Foreign Minister "Grateful" for Indonesia's Tough Drug Stance After Four Australians Sentenced to Death for Smuggling

After the Indonesian Supreme Court sentenced four Australian citizens to death for trying to smuggle heroin from Bali to Australia, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told a press conference Tuesday night he was "grateful" for Indonesia's tough stance on drug policy. Downer held out little hope that the four, and two others already sentenced to death, would be spared.

Part of a group known as the "Bali Nine," the four Australians had originally been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but prosecutors appealed the "lenient" sentences, and earlier this week the Supreme Court resentenced them to death. They join two other young members of the "Bali Nine" already sentenced to die in a case involving 18 pounds of heroin.

At the press conference called to confirm the imposition of the death sentences, Downer said the case would not harm relations between the two countries. "We actually urged the Indonesians to be tough on drug trafficking," he said. "The last thing we want is heroin brought into Australia from Indonesia. Don't make any mistake about that. We are grateful to the Indonesians for being tough on drugs. It's just that we don't support capital punishment. That they have arrested people who've been trafficking drugs means those drugs don't come into Australia and innocent Australians, or drug users in Australia innocent or not, aren't going to use those drugs, and that's a good thing."

Despite Downer's sanguine comments, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, himself a staunch drug warrior, announced he would seek clemency, although he cautioned it would be unlikely. "I don't think people should entertain too many optimistic thoughts because it's difficult, but we will try hard and we will put the case against the death penalty," Howard said late on Wednesday.

Other Australian politicians have protested more loudly. "Judicial murder is what the Indonesian authorities have in mind here. It is a repugnant and barbaric practice," Green Senator Bob Brown told Reuters.

A group of Australian politicians who are members of Amnesty International said they would protest to the Indonesian government. "We should not sit back and say this is their laws and they can do what they want," said government MP Bruce Baird. Meanwhile, the six young Australians confront their imminent mortality.

One of the Australians sentenced to death, 20-year-old Scott Rush, said he was shocked by the ruling and pleaded for help. "This is making my head spin. I am sitting on death, am I?," he said. "At first I didn't want to appeal because of this sort of thing. I was scared and me and my parents were stressed. But everyone said no Australians would be put to death, and now I am on death row. If there is anything people can do to prevent this please make it happen because I need a second chance at life."

That's the way we do things in Indonesia, the country's top cop, General Sutanto said. "In Indonesia, drugs abuse is rampant because punishment has been too lenient. If we are not serious about tackling the problem, drug traffickers will not be deterred," Sutanto told reporters, according to Reuters.

Editor's Note: It's foolishly naive to think that the death penalty does or can deter drug trafficking. After all, many participants in the drug trade already risk death at the hands of their competitors routinely. A government adding a few more bodies to the pile does nothing to fundamentally alter that reality. Much more likely is that it will push the trade into the hands of the most dangerous kinds of criminals who are most comfortable taking the risk.

Mandatory Minimums Panel at Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference

Thursday, Sept. 7: Congressional Black Caucus panel on mandatory sentences

Dear FAMM supporters,

We invite you to attend an important panel discussion on mandatory sentences as part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 36th Annual Legislative Conference on Thursday, September 7, 2006.

Rep. Maxine Waters is hosting "Continuing the Struggle to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System," from 3 to 5:30 pm in Room 140-A of the Washington Convention Center, located at 801 Mount Vernon Place, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Panelists include Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project; Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst of the Open Society Policy Center; Roosevelt Dorn, Mayor of Inglewood, Calif., and John F. Street, Mayor of Philadelphia.

The Washington Convention Center is METRO accessible and street parking is also available. Please arrive at least 15 minutes early to locate Room 140-A and obtain seating.

For more information, contact Angelyn Frazer, FAMM organizing director, at (202) 822-6700.

Location: 
United States

Calling in the Drug Calvary

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-colafghan6sep06,1,4418859.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=1&cset=true

Rainbow Farm Deaths Remembered: Supporters Mark Fifth Anniversary of Campground Standoff

Location: 
Cassopolis, MI
United States
Publication/Source: 
South Bend Tribune
URL: 
http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060905/News01/609050379

The Afghanistan Debacle

On Saturday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its estimate of the 2006 Afghan opium crop, and the numbers are astoundingly bad. According to the UNODCO, this year's crop is 60% larger than last year's and will yield an all-time record 6,100 tons of opium. Afghan opium will account for a whopping 92% of global illicit opium production. This report, which must come as a punch in the gut to the US and NATO, strongly suggests that the US/NATO/Karzai strategy of attempting to uproot the opium crop and the opium economy--which is Afghanistan's primary economic motor--is not only failing, it is backfiring. Opium production has now spread to 28 of the country's 34 provinces, and in the restive south, opium profits are helping fuel a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency. It is a situation eerily reminiscent of Peru in the 1980s. Maoist insurgents of the Shining Path were making inroads among Peruvian coca producers, who were being hounded by the Peruvian government at the behest of the United States. Some Peruvian generals got smart and decided to lay off the peasants, ignoring their coca cultivation in a bid to win hearts and minds. The US government got mightily pissed, but in the end, the strategy worked. The Shining Path was not able to bring the coca growers into its insurgency and eventually faded away. There is a lesson here for NATO and American war planners. You can have your war on terror or you can have your war on drugs, but it doesn't seem that you can successfully have both. It's awfully difficult to win hearts and minds when you're burning down farmers' fields and destroying their livelihoods.
Location: 
Afghanistan

Karen Tandy Retaliates Against DEA Whistle-blower

This ugly story provides a frightening example of the sordid relationships our government maintains when conducting international narcotics investigations.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez was shown the door after submitting a memo implicating a U.S. Government informant in several murders in Mexico.

From WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX:

Gonzalez began in early 2004 to question the U.S. government's role in allowing an informant to commit possible crimes, even murder. Twelve bodies had been uncovered in a small duplex in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico - a short drive from Gonzalez’s El Paso office. Gonzalez, however, became shocked when he began to review government reports, including a report saying a paid U.S. informant supervised and participated in at least one murder at the cartel-operated house.

I guess even a high-ranking DEA agent has to draw the line somewhere. But Gonzalez’s superiors in Washington, D.C. didn’t appreciate his principled stand:

Troubled by what he found, Gonzalez ultimately wrote a memo to his ICE counterpart in El Paso, and sent a copy to the Justice Department. That was the beginning of the end of his career. “It was a classic case of shooting the messenger,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez got a bad job review from DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, his boss. And felt pressure to retire early.

A more detailed account available at The Narcosphere, is quite a read. Still, this mess has largely escaped the headlines, surely to the satisfaction of Karen Tandy and her colleagues.

It’s no secret that our government frequently hires criminals to do its dirty work in the drug war, but condoning murder is a questionable sacrifice even by the drug war’s flimsy moral standards.

Seeing Karen Tandy take a stand against whistle-blowing at DEA is alarming given her agency’s vulnerability to internal corruption. It makes you wonder what else these guys are up to when they’re not busy interfering with the democratic process.

Location: 
United States

It Can't be Stopped

As police departments around the country struggle to eradicate outdoor marijuana crops before the fall harvest, rogue cannabis plants are fighting back.

From All Headline News:

West Duluth, MN (AHN) - At least 12 marijuana trees were discovered growing outside the front door of West Duluth police station in Minnesota.

Hilarious.

West Duluth police Lt. John Beyer said they were unaware of the marijuana plants growing outside their precinct because they seldom use the front door. He said most officers use the backdoor entrance to the police station. He said, "The only thing I can say is somebody has a sense of humor. Now they'll read about it in the paper and say,'Yeah, that was me.'"

I would encourage whoever did this not to say “yeah, that was me.” Afterall, considering the tendency of police to estimate per-plant yields at over a pound and to assume a $5,000 per pound retail, you might get accused of growing $60,000 worth of marijuana in the front yard of the police station.

Here’s another good one from AZCentral.com:

PRESCOTT - A Yavapai County sheriff's deputy patrolling a senior housing development outside Prescott Wednesday spotted a 5-foot-tall marijuana plant growing between two residents' driveways. Deputy Justin Dwyer got out, identified the plant and interviewed the residents, spokeswoman Susan Quayle said. They told the deputy they thought the plant was "just an attractive weed, and they had been watering it because it looked so nice."

That’s a new one. I hope I live long enough to see people growing cannabis purely for its aesthetic value.

As for these particular old folks, I can’t tell if they’re incredibly stupid or surprisingly clever.

Location: 
United States

Looking at Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

During the research I did for Friday's feature article on the prisoners doing "Katrina time", two of the of the people I talked to implored to look into the plight of another set of victims of the Louisiana criminal justice system: the "heroin lifers." The "heroin lifers" are a group of prisoners, many now aged, who were arrested under a draconian state law enacted in 1973 that mandated life in prison without parole for the sale of any amount of heroin or possession with intent to sell. Some were released on appeal beginning in the 1980s, but others linger in prison. At this point, I'm a little unclear on the numbers and the exact situation. The tough heroin law may have changed in the 1980s--I'm not sure yet--and the state dramatically reformed its sentencing practices in 2001. So why are the good citizens of Louisiana paying to keep a bunch of non-violent old men on the geriatric ward? I just did an initial Google search, and it revealed very little: Two links to a Louisiana blog that linked to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story that can no longer be found, and a five year old plea on a prison justice mailing list for help in the case of one of the lifers, then 53-year-old Earnest Perique, who was trying to get out after serving 26 years. I'll be looking into this for another feature story next week.
Location: 
United States

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