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The Supreme Court's Stinky Ruling on Marijuana Odor: What Does it Really Mean?

I have a new piece at Huffington Post attempting to make sense of the Supreme Court's ruling in Kentucky v. King. This thing is a mess, for sure, but it's not exactly the deathblow to our 4th Amendment rights that some have made it out to be.

Supreme Court Okays Police Search Based on Marijuana Odor, Noises

The US Supreme Court Monday upheld the search of a Kentucky man's apartment after police broke in without a search warrant because they said they smelled burning marijuana and heard sounds suggesting he was trying to destroy the evidence. The decision in Kentucky v. King overturned a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in favor of the apartment resident, Hollis King, who was arrested after police entered his apartment and found drugs.

The US Supreme Court -- dismantling the 4th amendment brick by brick
Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that police must obtain a search warrant to search a residence unless there are "exigent circumstances." In the current case, the exigent circumstance was that, after police knocked on the apartment door, they heard noises they said suggested evidence was being destroyed.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had held that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception because they themselves had created the exigent circumstance by knocking on the door. The US Supreme Court begged to differ.

In his opinion for the 8-1 majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that people have no obligation to answer the door when police knock or to allow them to come in if they have opened the door. In such cases, police would have to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant.

But that's not what King and fellow apartment residents did. They started scuttling around suspiciously upon hearing police announce their presence--or at least, police said they did. "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame," Alito wrote.

Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, arguing that in ruling for the police, the court was giving them a way to get around the search warrant requirement in drug cases. "Police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant," she wrote.

Oddly enough, King was not the target of police. Lexington police had set up a controlled drug buy on the street outside the apartment building, but when they attempted to arrest the suspect, he fled into the building. When police arrived in the hallway, the suspect had vanished, and all police saw was two apartment doors. When they smelled the odor of pot coming from King's apartment, they chose that door. The original suspect was in the other apartment. They arrested him later.

[Scott Morgan, editor at our Speakeasy blog and associate director of Flex Your Rights, has a piece on Huffington Post discussing the Supreme Court decision. Click here to read it.]

Washington, DC
United States

Missouri Welfare Drug Test Bill Heads for Governor's Desk

A Missouri bill that mandates the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants if case workers have "reasonable suspicion" they are using illegal drugs has passed out of the legislature and is now headed for the governor's desk. It passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 113-34. It had passed the Senate last month.

If you're on welfare in Missouri and the state suspects you use drugs, you will have to provide this. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, House Bill 73, also known as the "TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act," requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case managers to report to the Children's Division if an applicant or recipient tested positive or refused to take a drug test related to employment or employment training. Caseworkers would also have to report to the division if they have "reasonable suspicion to believe that such individual is engaging in illegal use of a controlled substance."

Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the recipient ineligible for TANF benefits for two years. But people who fail the test could enroll in a drug treatment program, and benefits would continue during treatment. If the person completes treatment and doesn't test positive, the benefits would continue. A second positive drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits for two years, with no provision for a treatment escape clause. Family members of someone declared ineligible because of drug use could continue to receive benefits through a third-party payee.

Foes of the bill argued that the bill was possibly unconstitutional -- although its use of a "reasonable suspicion" standard may make that argument more difficult -- that the program will be costly, and that it's an attack on society's most vulnerable.

The bill "targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you've got a penalty there," he told KMOX News Radio last month.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County) said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests. Legislative analysts in Missouri estimated the program would cost up to $2.3 million.

"In Florida, they did about 9,000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted," Chapelle-Nadal said.

But now, the Show Me State's Republicans get to look tough if not necessarily fiscally smart.

Columbia, MO
United States

Florida Legislature Passes Welfare Drug Test Bill

A bill requiring Florida welfare recipients to undergo drug tests passed the state Senate last Thursday. A similar measure has already passed the House. The bill was supported by Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is expected to sign it into law shortly.

(image via Wikimedia.org)
"It’s fair to taxpayers," Scott said after the vote. "They're paying the bill. And they're often drug screened for their jobs. On top of that, it's good for families. It creates another reason why people will think again before using drugs, which as you know is just a significant issue in our state."

Scott has already signed an executive order mandating drug tests for state workers. But Republican senators this week fended off bipartisan amendments that would have imposed drug tests for anyone working for a company that receives public funds and schoolchildren in the Bright Futures program. Those amendments were designed to sabotage the bill by spreading the net uncomfortably wide.

If Scott signs the bill into law, it is almost certain to face a constitutional challenge, and the challengers would have a strong case. The only other state to pass a suspicionless drug testing bill for welfare recipients, Michigan, saw its law thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2003 as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Arizona has a welfare drug testing law, but that law requires probable cause before a drug test can be demanded.

The bill, House Bill 353, requires all adult applicants for or existing recipients of federal cash benefits -- the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program -- to undergo drug testing at their own expense. If they pass the drug test, the cost of the test is reimbursed by the state. The tests would screen for all controlled substances and recipients would have to disclose any legal prescriptions they have.

If recipients test positive, they lose their benefits for a year. If they fail a second test, they lose their benefits for three years. Children whose parents lose their benefits could still receive benefits if another adult is designated the payee on their behalf.

The bill is set to go into effect July 1, provided Gov. Scott actually signs it and no legal challenge has been filed by that date.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Mexico’s Congress Considers Changing Security Law In Attempt to Control Drug Prohibition Violence

Location: 
Mexico
With the current session of Mexico’s Congress scheduled to expire Friday, members of Mexico’s House of Deputies have less than a week to deliberate over extremely controversial changes to the country’s National Security Law that would give the President the power to deploy Mexico’s Armed Forces against broadly defined internal threats to Mexican national security. PT and Convergencia parties say that the 83-page initiative to change the law constitutes a threat to individual liberties and could create a state of exception in Mexico that would effectively put the country under military control. They remain deeply skeptical of proposed changes to the law, which advocate, among other things, the monitoring and recording of private communication for intelligence-gathering purposes. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to frequent abuses by the Mexican military and contend that there is a widespread systemic failure to prosecute human rights violations in Mexican military courts.
Publication/Source: 
Latin America News Dispatch (NY)
URL: 
http://latindispatch.com/2011/04/27/mexicos-congress-considers-changing-security-law-to-control-drug-war-violence/

FL Supreme Court Justices Throw Out Evidence Found by Drug Dog

Location: 
FL
United States
The Florida Supreme Court has cited a lack of state standards for drug-sniffing dogs in throwing out evidence one of the canines detected in a Panhandle case. The 5-1 ruling says training certificates and records aren't enough to establish a canine's reliability.
Publication/Source: 
Miami Herald (FL)
URL: 
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/21/2179138/fla-justices-throw-out-evidence.html

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bills Advance

Bills that would require new applicants for temporary welfare assistance to undergo suspicionless drug tests -- and pay for them themselves -- are advancing in the Florida legislature. On April 13, House Bill 353 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee. That same day, the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 556, won approval from Senate budget subcommittee. Both votes were party-line votes in the Republican dominated legislature.

Welfare recipients are the latest targets of Florida politicos. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Under the legislation, applicants who fail a drug test would be barred from receiving cash assistance for one year. Failing a second drug test, would mean a three-year ban. Children of rejected applicants could receive benefits if they can find another adult who can pass the drug test to be a payee.

Republicans voting for the bills argued that since many taxpayers must endure drug testing on the job, it was only fair that welfare recipients be tested as well. They also argued drug testing would provide an incentive for drug abusers to seek treatment.

Democrats and their supporters retorted that suspicionless drug testing would likely be found unconstitutional. They also argued that it would be unfair to force people seeking assistance because they're poor to pay the estimated $35 cost of the drug test.

"We believe it is not quite reasonable to expect folks who are applying for temporary assistance to undergo drug testing that they must pay for," said Michael Sheedy of the Florida Catholic Conference, who testified against the bill.

"It may seem a little onerous telling folks they need to get drug tested," conceded Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah). "But at the end of the day, I want to help people who want to help themselves."

"We're heading into a court challenge with this," warned Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood).

The only state to pass a suspicionless welfare drug testing ban was Michigan, but that law was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2002. The court held that testing without particularized suspicion violates privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment's protection against unwarranted searches.

That hasn't stopped drug testing bills aimed at welfare recipients, unemployment seekers, or other convenient scapegoats from being a perennial favorite of pandering politicians. Although no state has passed a bill since the 2002 court decision, bills have been filed in at least 16 states this year.

The House bill now awaits a floor vote, while the Senate bill goes before the Budget Committee Friday, and then, if approved, on to a floor vote.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Drug Test Protestors Send Urine Sample to Florida Governor

A new political action group formed to protest Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) new drug testing policy for state employees is sending a jar full of urine to Tallahassee to save state officials the bother of traveling south to the Florida Keys.

There's plenty more where this came from, governor. (Image via Wikimedia)
Last month, Scott signed an executive order mandating random drug testing of state employees. The state legislature is also considering a bill that would require drug testing for welfare and food stamp recipients.

The newly formed Committee for the Positive Insistence on a Sane Society (PISS) said it was sending the urine sample to Scott to peacefully protest against his drug testing policy. It accused Scott of wasting tax dollars on unjustifiable intrusions into the privacy of state workers.

"In one breath our CEO professes to be focusing on cutting wasteful government spending and laying off tens of thousands of state employees, while at the same time he announces a program to drug test state employees without any legitimate basis for such an invasion of privacy," wrote attorney Robert Clinton in a PISS press release.

The sample will be "kept under lock and seal" until it can be transported to Tallahassee. "In this way, the committee will save the Florida taxpayers from the expense of paying for individual drug testing in Key West," according to the press release.

Florida Gov. Scott is not, of course, the only American politician calling for drug testing of various segments of the population. Bills calling for drug testing of welfare or unemployment recipients are active in a number of states this year. Perhaps other activists will emulate the example of PISS.

FL
United States

Florida Political Action Committee Protests Gov. Rick Scott's New Drug Testing Policy by Sending Him Urine

Location: 
FL
United States
Last month, Gov. Scott signed an executive order allowing random drug testing of state employees and a bill is currently working its way through Florida's legislature that would require welfare and food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing. The Committee for the Positive Insistence on a Sane Society, or PISS, is calling the smelly "gift" a peaceful protest. "In one breath our CEO professes to be focusing on cutting wasteful government spending and laying off tens of thousands of state employees, while at the same time he announces a program to drug test state employees without any legitimate basis for such an invasion of privacy," a PISS press release stated.
Publication/Source: 
NBC
URL: 
http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Key-West-Pissed-Off-at-Gov-Send-Him-Urine-119205199.html

Why Refusing a Police Search Helps Protect You Even if They Search You Anyway

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/policesearch2.png

San Francisco Examiner reports on the latest in a series of controversies surrounding constitutional violations by SFPD officers.

Private attorney Robert Amparan said at a news conference Wednesday at Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office that a judge had just thrown out his client’s felony marijuana possession for sale case because video evidence contradicted the officers’ testimony in court and statements on the police report.

Amparan said 23-year-old McLaren Wenzell did not consent to letting the officers inside his apartment at 33rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard on March 1. He said the officers did not immediately identify themselves as police and did not have a constitutional basis to search the apartment.

In the course of my work to educate the public about how to properly exercise constitutional rights during police encounters, a reaction I hear frequently is, "What's the point? They're just going to search me anyway." Well, as you can see in the story above, police can get busted for bad behavior, and when they do, the evidence is often declared inadmissible. Think about this: if the suspect had instead given consent for the search, there wouldn't have been any question about the legality of the police entry, and he would have been convicted.  The only reason things worked out for him is because he refused the search and relied on his constitutional rights for protection.

But the critical point here goes beyond what happened to this particular suspect in this particular case. Keep in mind that the legal significance of refusing a police search applies whether or not you've broken the law, and whether or not police break the law. If officers plant evidence, damage your property, or otherwise disrespect your home, it's almost impossible to challenge their actions if you gave them permission to come inside. That's how the law works, and the fact that police sometimes violate it gives you more reason to know and assert your rights, not less.

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