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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

Feature: Living on Katrina Time -- Lost in Louisiana's Gumbo Gulag

New Orleans resident Pearl Bland was arrested and jailed on drug paraphernalia charges in August 2005, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. She pleaded guilty on August 11, and her judge ordered her released the next day for placement in a drug rehabilitation program. Recognizing Bland was indigent, he waived the fines and fees. But Bland was not released the next day. The Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) instead held her because she owed $398 in fines and fees from an earlier arrest. She had one more court hearing in August and a September 20 status hearing was set where in all probability the fines and fees would have been waived.

Pearl Bland never got her September hearing. Instead, once Katrina hit, she joined thousands of prisoners stuck in purgatory. After suffering beatings from her fellow inmates in the OPP as deputies shrugged their shoulders, Bland was evacuated, first to the maximum security state prison at Angola and eventually to a jail in Avoyelles Parish. In June, she desperately contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which in turn contacted attorneys with the Tulane University Criminal Law Clinic, who managed to win her release on June 28. Bland wasn’t there for her release hearing, just as she hadn’t been present at four previous hearings in the preceding weeks, because her jailers couldn’t be bothered to deliver her to court.

"Pearl Bland spent 10 months in prisons around the state because of $398 in fines and fees that her judge would most likely have waived if she had ever gotten to court," said Tom Javits, an attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project. "But because of the storm and the the response to it, she didn’t get her day in court for months, and then only because she sought out help," he told the Drug War Chronicle.

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ACLU report
It would be bad enough if Pearl Bland were a fluke, but sadly, her case is typical of what happened to people unfortunate enough to be behind bars when Katrina hit or to be arrested in the storm's aftermath. As the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Louisiana documented in their early August report, "Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Katrina," thousands of New Orleanians in custody when the storm hit were left on their own as guards fled the rising waters. Since then, those prisoners have been scattered to the winds, left without counsel, abused by guards, and left to rot by a justice system that is seemingly content to forget all about them. And with post-Katrina reconstruction bearing a very heavy law enforcement imprint, they have been joined by thousands more, many of them imprisoned for trivial crimes like spitting on the sidewalk, public drunkenness and simple drug possession.

A year after Katrina, thousands of prisoners have never seen an attorney, never been arraigned, never appeared before a judge. Scandalously, no one has a firm count -- or if they do, they're not telling. "Nobody knows the numbers," said law professor Pamela Metzger, who heads the Tulane Law School Criminal Law Clinic and whose students have been going into Louisiana jails and prisons in search of the Katrina prisoners. "When we ask the district attorney's office to assist us with this, just so people can get lawyers, they say it's not their job. Just since June, my students have been able to track down and get released about 95 people," said Metzger. "But we just have no one of knowing how many are in jail."

When the Chronicle asked ACLU of Louisiana executive director Joe Cook the same question, he had a similar answer. "I don't know what the number is. Ask the district attorney," he said.

The New Orleans district attorney's office did not return repeated calls seeking information on the number of people arrested before or after Katrina who have yet to see a lawyer or have a court hearing. Similarly, and perhaps indicative of the state of affairs at the public defenders office, no one there even answered the phone despite repeated calls. (That's not quite true. On one occasion, a woman answered, but she said she was an accountant and no one else was in the office.)

Published estimates of the number of New Orleans prisoners denied their basic rights to counsel and speedy trial have ranged between 3,000 and 6,000.

Part of the problem is the nearly total collapse of the indigent defender system in the city. It was in terrible shape before the storm hit, and collapsed along with the rest of the criminal justice system in the storm's wake. But while authorities were quick to get law enforcement up and running, it took until June for the criminal courts to begin to operate, and the public defenders' office, which depends on revenue from fines to finance its operations, was running on fumes. Now, nearly three-quarters of the public defenders have simply left even though they are needed to represent about 85% of all criminal defendants in the city.

The situation aroused the attention of the US Department of Justice, which in a report released in April concluded that: "People wait in jail with no charges, and trials cannot take place; even defendants who wish to plead guilty must have counsel for a judge to accept the plea. Without indigent defense lawyers, New Orleans today lacks a true adversarial process, the process to ensure that even the poorest arrested person will get a fair deal, that the government cannot simply lock suspects [up] and forget about them... For the vast majority of arrested individuals," the study found, "justice is simply unavailable."

The situation is also beginning to grate on the nerves of New Orleans judges. In May, Chief Judge of the Criminal District Court Calvin Johnson issued an order requiring everyone charged with traffic or municipal offenses to be cited instead of jailed. The city has "a limited number of jail spaces, and we can’t fill them with people charged with minor offenses such as disturbing the peace, trespassing or spitting on the sidewalk... I’m not exaggerating: There were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk," he complained.

Last week, another New Orleans criminal court judge, Arthur Hunter, made the news when he threatened to begin holding hearings this week to release some of the prisoners held for months without attorneys or court hearings. That was supposed to happen Tuesday, but it didn't. Instead, Judge Hunter postponed the hearing after prosecutors raised concerns.

While disruptions in the system were inevitable in the wake of Katrina, Tulane's Metzger laid part of the blame on the district attorney's office. "They have made some poor resourcing choices and they are hampered by a sort of knee-jerk response that everything has to be prosecuted to the fullest extent. They are not really looking to clear cases; instead they let people sit without lawyers until they're willing to plead guilty," she said. "It's a form of prosecutorial extortion."

It is not just people who were in jail when Katrina hit, but many of those arrested since who have vanished into the gumbo gulag, said Metzger. "Last week we found a man who had been jailed at the Angola maximum security prison since January. He was picked up for drug possession, his only prior was for marijuana, and he's been sitting in one of the meanest prisons in the country without even seeing a lawyer for eight months," she exclaimed. "We won an order for his release. He was supposed to get out Tuesday, but he's still in jail. We just don’t know how many more there are like him."

The district attorney's office is not only uncooperative, it is downright obstinate, Metzger complained. "We filed a right to speedy trial claim on behalf of a man named Gregory Lewis who had already served 10 months on a drug misdemeanor with a six-month maximum. The district attorney's office fought that, and their motion actually said, and I quote, 'It's not unreasonable to hold alleged drug addicts in jail longer than other people; it allows the deadly drugs to leave their system,'" she said.

The district attorney's office motion referred obliquely to detoxification, which is ironic given that there is now no such facility in New Orleans. "There is not a single detox bed in the whole city," said Samantha Hope of the Hope Network, a group that is seeking private funding to open a treatment and recovery center in the heart of the city. "Most folks in OPP right now are people who couldn’t get access to treatment for an alcohol or drug problem. That's the way it's been since day one," she told the Chronicle. "Rather than criminalize people with an alcohol or drug problem, we need to find a way to give them support. Confronting our money-eating corrections system, our good ol' boy network, and racism, that is hard to do."

The Tulane students have filed some speedy trial cases, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Tulane law student working his case so he can file a speedy trial claim. "In order to file a motion for a speedy trial, you have to have a lawyer, and thousands still do not have counsel,' explained ACLU of Louisiana's Cook. "The indigent defense system was broken long before Katrina hit, and now it is just a disaster," he told the Chronicle.

Drug war prisoners make up a significant but unknown number of those doing "Katrina time," said Cook. "It is definitely a significant proportion of them," he said, "but many of them have not even been formally charged. In New Orleans, as in most large urban areas, it's probably safe to say that a plurality of felony arrests are drug-related."

There are solutions, but they won't come easily. "We have to have a public defender's office that is funded with secure, predictable funding," Metzger recommended. "We have to get beyond relying on fines to fund that office. If we had had public defenders, there would have been someone watching to catch the abuses," she said.

"Second, we need to have prosecutors who understand their obligations to the community," Metzger continued. "Their job is not simply to get convictions but to do justice, and what that means will vary according to the individual facts and circumstances. What post-Katrina justice requires is not what justice required before Katrina. If you were living in New Orleans in the fall of 2005 and you weren’t drunk or high, there was probably something wrong with you. Everyone was medicated or self-medicating."

Cook had his own set of recommendations for a fix. "First, we turn up the heat. I just visited the DA this morning and asked him to speed up processing," he revealed. "We want to ensure there is a coordinated emergency evacuation plan for all the prisons and jails and we've asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to look at what happened at OPP and since. Part of that will be looking at why these people didn’t get defense counsel or have their day in court."

Turning up the heat is precisely what one recently formed community group is trying to do. And it's not just the prosecutors and public defender system it is targeting. "The police department has taken a new view of who belongs in the city now, and that view doesn’t include poor black people," said Ursula Price of Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a group organizing people who were in the jail or otherwise brutalized by police. Safe Streets, Strong Communities is running two campaigns, one to strengthen the indigent defender system and one about improving conditions at the jail itself. "They tell our members 'you shouldn’t have come back, we don't want your kind here,'" she told the Chronicle. "Race is an issue, economics is an issue, and our teenage boys are bearing the brunt of it. They are harassed all the time by the police."

It is a matter of choices, said Price. "We have as many cops as before the storm, and half as many people, and we just gave the cops a raise. The city finance department deliberately spends the vast majority of its money on public safety, and then there is nothing left for social services, which are deliberately being sacrificed," she said. "But I'm encouraged because the community is starting to take note. When people found out we were spending half a million dollars a week on the National Guard without it having any impact, they started to get mobilized."

Cook had a full list of needed reforms, ranging from downsizing the jail population by stopping the practice of using it to hold state and federal prisoners, to creating adequate programming for health care and treatment within the jail, to decreasing the number of people held as pretrial detainees. "We need pretrial diversion, bail reform, and cite and release policies to hold down the jail population," he argued. "There needs to be the political will to do this. It's a crime to jail a kid when there is a choice, and there are many other choices. And we ought to be treating drug abuse as a public health issue, not a law enforcement issue."

The prospects look gloomy. "It is going to take enlightened leadership, and I see only a glimmer of hope for that," said Cook. "But we are not giving up. The state juvenile justice system is finally undergoing reforms because of pressure from families and activists, and I think it will take the same sort of effort to fix things at the adult level and here in New Orleans, at the parish level. That is already happening here with the OPP Reform Coalition, the Safe Streets people, and all that."

But there is a long, long way to go in New Orleans.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Victory in South Dakota Court Battle Over Ballot Language

The South Dakota medical marijuana initiative and its organizers, South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana, won an important legal victory last Friday when a circuit court judge ordered state officials to throw out the ballot explanation drafted by medical marijuana foe Attorney General Larry Long (R). Initiative organizers had filed suit challenging Long's ballot explanation as hopelessly biased against the initiative, and in his ruling last Friday, Circuit Court Judge Max Gors of Pierre, the state capital, agreed.

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Can't even be left alone in South Dakota...
Under South Dakota law, the attorney general is charged with writing an "objective, clear, and simple summary" of ballot measures. But Attorney General Long's original didn’t even come close. Before he even got to the ballot summary itself, he decided to change the very name of the measure. Known from the beginning and filed with the state as "An act to provide safe access to medical marijuana for certain qualified persons," Long decided it would be better titled as "An Initiative to authorize marijuana use for adults and children with specified medical conditions." The complete text of his original ballot explanation is as follows:

Currently, marijuana possession, use, distribution, or cultivation is a crime under both state and federal law. The proposed law would legalize marijuana use or possession for any adult or child who has one of several listed medical conditions and who is registered with the Department of Health. The proposed law would also provide a defense to persons who cultivate, transport or distribute marijuana solely to registered persons. Even if this initiative passes, possession, use, or distribution of marijuana is still a federal crime. Persons covered by the proposed law would still be subject to federal prosecution for violation of federal drug control laws. Physicians who provide written certifications may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs.

In his ruling last Friday, Judge Gors ordered Attorney General Long to either rewrite the ballot summary or use language Judge Gors himself drafted:

This initiative will allow persons, including minors with parental consent, with a debilitating medical condition, to grow (not more than six plants), possess (not more than one ounce), and use small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes. "Debilitating medical condition" is defined to include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, or a chronic, debilitating condition that includes cachexia, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, including epileptic seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, including those caused by spinal injury, multiple sclerosis, Chrohn's Disease, fibromyalgia, or any other medical condition approved by the Department of Health. Certification may be accomplished by submitting medical records to the Department of Health or by submitting a doctor's recommendation. A person may not drive while impaired by marijuana or smoke marijuana anyplace tobacco smoking is prohibited. Growth, possession, and use of marijuana will still be illegal under federal law, but certification is a defense to criminal prosecution under state law.

Sarah Raeburn, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office, told Drug War Chronicle Wednesday that Long had decided to accept the judge's version as is. "That is what we will use," she said. "The only changes were two misspellings that we have corrected."

"We were very pleased with the judge's decision," said Huron attorney Ron Volesky, who argued the case for lead plaintiff Valerie Hanna of South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana, a former army nurse who suffers neurological disorders related to exposure to chemicals during the Gulf War. "We feel it is a victory for fairness at the ballot box. The circuit court put forth a remedy with new language that is fair in its substance," he told the Chronicle.

Volesky, a former state legislator who is the Democratic nominee for attorney general this year, was the perfect man for the job. Not only is he among the few South Dakota politicians interested in medical marijuana -- he introduced a bill that went nowhere in the legislature in 2002 -- he had previous experience challenging Attorney General Long's ballot explanations in 2004.

Plantiff Hanna also pronounced herself gratified. "I'm very happy and pleased with the decision," she told Drug War Chronicle. "It's a good day for sick people in South Dakota."

The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, which helped bankroll the signature gathering drive to get the initiative on the ballot, was also pleased. "Thanks to this sensible ruling, South Dakota will now have a fair description of the medical marijuana initiative on the ballot and South Dakota residents can make an unbiased decision about whether they want to protect South Dakota medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution for using the medicine that works best for them," MPP spokesperson Rebecca Greenberg told Drug War Chronicle.

Now, with the ballot language issue behind them, South Dakota medical marijuana proponents are turning their attention to winning at the ballot box in November. The socially conservative state will be a tough nut to crack, but organizers are optimistic.

"We will keep pressing forward," said Hanna. "We are reaching out to the press, and I'm contacting clergy members right now. Hopefully, we will find some that have the gumption to stand up publicly, but it's pretty scary to advocate for this here. But I'm really hopeful people will respond positively to this initiative."

"It's time for the people to speak," said Volesky. "When the legislature fails to act, we do have the power of the people through initiative measures and referendums to get past the legislature. Instead of trying to win over a handful of legislators controlled by the administration, the people can make their own decision."

If the campaign is successful, South Dakota will become the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana and the ninth to do so through the initiative process.

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.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's not your typical week of corrupt cops this week. We've got the usual prison guard in trouble, but not in the usual way; we've got an LAPD officer arrested for making bad arrests; we've got an Alabama narc busted for stealing; and we've got an Alabama judge with an apparent bad habit. In regard to the judge, we don't typically run stories of cops facing simple drug possession charges, but when it's a judge who regularly sentences drug offenders, we think it's worth notice. Also this week, a pair of links to longer investigative pieces down by local newspapers about festering local corruption scandals. Let's get to it:

In Lowndes County, Mississippi, an Alabama judge has been arrested on methamphetamine possession charges, the Tuscaloosa News reported. Pickens County District Judge Ira Colvin was arrested Monday by Lowndes County sheriff's deputies at the same time they arrested a 36-year-old woman (not his wife) on the same charges, but in a separate vehicle. According to the Associated Press, Colvin was arrested as deputies investigated people driving from store to store to buy meth precursor materials. Precursors, a gram of powder meth, and two syringes filled with liquid meth were allegedly found in his car. Colvin's wife, Christy Colvin, was arrested on meth possession charges four months ago in Columbus, Mississippi, as she drove around town purchasing ingredients that could be used to make meth. Judge Colvin, who was appointed to the bench in December 2002 to replace a judge who resigned after being accused of improper contact with females involved in cases before his court, was indicted on federal bankruptcy fraud charges in May 2004 for allegedly hiding assets for a client in 2001, but those charges were dropped after Colvin apologized. He was awaiting a bail hearing Wednesday.

In Dothan, Alabama, a former Houston County narcotics officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he stole property. Former Houston County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Ducker was accused of stealing up to $30,000 worth of hunting equipment and accessories from Southern Outdoor Sports, where he once worked. Ducker pleaded guilty to first degree theft of property and faces from two to 20 years in prison when sentenced in October. According to WTVY-News 4, Ducker, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff's office, "hid behind his attorneys" as he entered the court house and "ran out of the courtroom after entering his guilty plea."

In Los Angeles, a veteran Ramparts Division LAPD officer was charged last Friday with making false arrests, the Los Angeles Times reported. Officer Edward Beltran Zamora was busted after he was caught in a sting by the LAPD Ethics Enforcement Section. The department says it has videotape of Zamora arresting two undercover officers posing as suspects on suspicion of drug possession when they did not possess drugs. Zamora, 44, has previously been accused of making false arrests, and the city of Los Angeles has already paid out $520,000 to settle two civil lawsuits filed against him. In one case, Zamora was accused of planting a rifle on a suspect, in the other, he was accused of planting drugs and a rifle. Zamora faces up to three years in prison on a felony count of filing a false police report. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of false arrest and false imprisonment. The 16-year LAPD veteran is free on bail.

In Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, a Texas jail guard was arrested Monday morning with 30 pounds of cocaine. According to KGBT-4 TV in Brownsville, Texas, Hidalgo County detention officer Pedro Longoria was arrested by Louisiana State Troopers and now faces charges of transporting cocaine. Longoria has now been fired from his job and is jailed pending a bond hearing.

For those interested in a more in-depth look at drug war-related police corruption at the local level, two recent newspaper articles are worth a read. In North Carolina, the Fayetteville Observer has a lengthy piece on "Operation Tarnished Badge," a federal investigation that has roiled Robeson County for the past few years, resulting in convictions of several officers and the dismissal or reversal of hundreds of drug cases. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the Laurel Leader-Call has published an update on the ongoing investigation of the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task Force, which was shut down in April amid concern over "irregularities," with its story "Task Force Probe Nearly Complete".

Methamphetamine: One Month in One Texas County Courthouse Opens a Window on the Drug War Version 2.006

If you want a snapshot of the current state of the drug war in the American heartland, Grayson County, Texas, is as good a place as any. Grayson County lies about an hour north of Dallas on US Highway 75 just south of the Oklahoma border. According to the US Census of 2000, the county has a population of 110,000, with some 35,000 people in Sherman, the county seat and largest town. The local economy is dependent on agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly, the county's role as a drug distribution hub for the Texoma border region of which it is a part. And if last month's 336th District Court case dispositions are any indication, it either has a big methamphetamine problem or a law enforcement apparatus obsessed with finding one.

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quiet street but busy courthouse, thanks to the drug war
According to a list of case dispositions for the month of July compiled by Grayson County Attorney Joe Brown and published in the Sherman Herald-Democrat, 15 of the 31 defendants whose cases were resolved during that period faced methamphetamine charges. One case was a marijuana case, while three others involved cocaine possession or distribution. Of the methamphetamine cases, 11 were for simple possession, three for possession or transport of chemicals used in the manufacture of meth, and one for meth manufacture itself. Of all 19 drug cases, none was for drug sales and only one was for possession with intent to distribute.

336th District Court judges generally came down hard on meth offenders. Of the 11 simple meth possession cases, four got probated prison sentences, three got state jail time (up to two years), and four got sent to prison for sentences ranging from thee to six years and averaging 4 ½ years. The courts were especially tough on people seeking to buy chemicals to home-cook meth, handing out sentences of four, seven, and 10 years. The sole meth manufacturer got only 10 years probation, but he also got a two-year prison sentence for child endangerment.

The judges were also fairly tough on other drug offenders. The one gentlemen charged with marijuana possession in a drug free zone got two years in state jail, while one person convicted of cocaine possession got six years and the other got probation. The sole case of cocaine possession with intent to distribute garnered 10 years for the defendant.

The non-drug cases were a motley crew: One aggravated sexual assault of a child (15 years), one burglary of a habitation (nine years), one boating while intoxicated (three years), one credit card abuse (16 months), one endangering a child (two years), three evading arrest with a motor vehicle (two got two years each, one got probation), one failure to appear (three years), one forgery (two years), one retaliation (probation), and one theft over $1500 (15 months).

Without all those meth cases, the Grayson County Courthouse would be a lot quieter. In 13 of the 15 meth-related cases, there were no other non-drug-related charges, just people choosing an unpopular drug to ingest or try to make at home. Likewise with the other drug cases. Like good burghers everyone in America, the citizens of Grayson County are paying a lot of money to arrest, jail, convict, and imprison a lot of people who weren't doing anything to anybody.

Methamphetamine: Third Murder Trial For Woman in California Meth Poisoning Infant Death Case

A California woman whose infant son died with methamphetamine in his system will face a third murder trial, a Riverside County Judge ruled Monday. Amy Leanne Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in her son's death in 2003, but that conviction was overturned by an appeals court citing flawed jury instructions. A retrial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors deadlocked 6-6.

After the mistrial, Prien's lawyers moved to dismiss the charge, but Judge Patrick Magers declined. "It is abundantly clear to the court that the cause of death of the victim was methamphetamine intoxication," he said from the bench as he rejected the motion.

What is not so clear is where the meth in the child's system came from. Prosecutors have argued that Prien, an admitted long-time meth user, caused her child's death by feeding him her breast milk when she was using the popular stimulant. They argued that Prien continued smoking meth while breast-feeding, a charge she has consistently denied. She has suggested that a male guest in her home may have provided the drug to the baby.

A major problem for the prosecution is that the bottle of milk found beside the dead baby was misplaced by law enforcement and never tested for the presence of methamphetamine. And while Prien was tested and came back positive for meth, police never tested her breast milk. Los Angeles attorney Joe Reichmann, who is representing Prien, argued futilely that the charge should be dropped because it was based on "make-believe science" since prosecutors had no way of knowing the meth levels in her breast milk.

California prosecutors have repeatedly proven unable to make meth mother murder cases stick, and it is unclear why they are pursuing Prien with such a vengeance. It's not like she got off scot-free. In addition to losing her child, she is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for felony child endangerment in the same case.

Hearing Scheduled on Medical Marijuana Ballot Item (South Dakota)

Location: 
SD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.ktiv.com/News/index.php?ID=3231

Marijuana Activist Wants Judge Off Referendum Case (Pennsylvania)

Location: 
PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Derrick and News-Herald
URL: 
http://www.thederrick.com/stories/08092006-3014.shtml

Medical Marijuana Patients Get Say in Counties' Legal Challenge to California Medical Marijuana Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance and Americans for Safe Access Step In to Represent Medical Marijuana Patients in Lawsuit SAN DIEGO A San Diego Superior Court ruled today that lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance will be permitted to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several California counties seeking to thwart the state's Compassionate Use Act, which makes medical marijuana legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation. The groups joined the case on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers and doctors in order to assure their adequate representation in the legal proceedings. "We look forward to the opportunity to stand together with patients in defense of the rights of states to allow medicine to those in need," said David Blair-Loy, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "We are heartened that the court recognized the necessity of giving voice to those truly at risk from the counties' ill-conceived actions." San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties argued in a lawsuit filed in state court that federal laws prohibiting all use of marijuana invalidate state laws that allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (the Alliance) filed legal papers on July 7, 2006 seeking to intervene in the proceedings. "As the largest grassroots organization of patients, doctors and scientists advocating for safe and legal access, we feel it's critically important that California's medical marijuana laws be respected by everyone," said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA. Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Alliance, added, "These county governments have ignored the needs of their sick and dying residents and the advice of California's physicians. By intervening in the lawsuit, patients will have the chance to confront their rogue county officials in court and defend the legality of the Compassionate Use Act." In addition to entering the case, the group's filing asked for a court order compelling the counties to abide by and implement California's medical marijuana laws, as well as an order affirming that the state's medical marijuana laws are not preempted by contrary federal statutes. The lawsuit, initially brought by San Diego County and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties, challenges state laws that permit patients to use, and doctors to recommend, medical marijuana under explicit exemptions from state criminal laws that otherwise prohibit all marijuana use. The counties' lawsuit further challenges the state's Medical Marijuana Program Act, which calls for the implementation of an identification card program that would allow police and others to more easily identify legitimate medical marijuana patients. The ACLU, the Alliance and ASA maintain that state medical marijuana laws are not preempted by the federal ban on medical marijuana. While the federal government is free to enforce its prohibition on medical marijuana, even in states such as California that permit its use, all states remain free to adopt and implement policies of their own design an opinion shared by the California Attorney General's office and the attorneys general of several other states, including Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon, that permit medical use of marijuana. The groups represent Wendy Christakes, Pamela Sakuda, William Britt and Yvonne Westbrook, Californians who use physician-recommended marijuana to treat medical conditions and their side-effects, including chronic pain and sciatica, multiple sclerosis, rectal cancer, epilepsy and post-polio syndrome. The groups also represent Sakuda's spouse and caregiver, Norbert Litzinger, as well as Dr. Stephen O'Brien, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California, and believes that many of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana. In addition to being co-counsel, ASA is also a party to the proceedings on behalf of its membership, which includes thousands of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and physicians residing in California. The Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is also represented by the groups. WAMM is a medical marijuana collective and hospice located in Santa Cruz, California, whose 250 members, the majority of whom are terminally ill, use marijuana to treat a range of conditions. The groups' legal papers are available online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/26090lgl20060707.html The ACLU's January 19, 2006 letter to the San Diego Supervisors explaining why California's medical marijuana laws are not preempted by federal law is online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23565lgl20060119.html California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's opinion issued to the state's Department of Health Services affirming the validity of the state's medical marijuana laws is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/21194res20050715.html Additional background on the case can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23587prs20060124.html
Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States

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