Search and Seizure

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Stingray: Privacy, Surveillance, the War on Drugs, and Your Phone [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by independent investigative journalist Clarence Walker, [email protected]

Raymond Lambis is a free man -- at least for now.

He was looking at 10 years to life on federal drug charges, but the case was built on a controversial technology -- "Stingray" -- and in a precedent-setting 2016 decision widely celebrated by legal experts and privacy advocates, a federal judge ruled that use of the device without a search warrant violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable search and seizure.

The decision -- and the technology -- has implications that go far beyond the shadowy world of drug dealers and DEA agents. Stingray is a generic term for a cell-site simulator, a device that can mimic cell towers as a means of tracking down cell phones. Law enforcement can use Stingray to pick up phone calls, voicemail messages, and text messages, and to pinpoint the physical location of a targeted phone to within a few feet.

In the Lambis case, federal prosecutors argued that they didn't need a warrant to use the wide-ranging Stingray, but federal district court Judge William H. Pauley shot them down.

"Absent a search warrant," Judge Pauley held in his 14-page opinion, "the government may not turn a citizen's cell phone into a tracking device."

But that's exactly what DEA agents did to build their case against Lambis. They used Stingray to locate his cell phone inside his family residence, then conducted a warrantless search of his bedroom and uncovered a large amount of cocaine.

Federal prosecutors had a fallback argument -- that even if a warrant were necessary to track Lambis' phone, once his father gave agents at his door permission to enter and Lambis then "consented" to a search, the search should be allowed -- but Pauley wasn't having that, either.

"The procurement of a 'voluntary' consent to search based upon a prior illegal search taints that consent," he held.

US District Court Judge William H. Pauley
But if federal prosecutors have their way, the DEA and other federal agents will be able to do it again. In September, prosecutors from the US Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York filed an appeal of Pauley's decision with the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We're obviously disappointed about that," Lambis' attorney Alan Seidler told Drug War Chronicle.

So is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Rebecca Jeschke, a digital rights analyst for the group, told the Chronicle that if the government wins on appeal, everyone's privacy will be eroded.

"As we use cell phones more and more, a successful appeal will touch nearly every American," she said.

A successful appeal would be salt in the wounds of legal scholars and privacy advocates who hailed Pauley's forceful decision in Lambis as a major victory against warrantless surveillance by the government.

"This is the first federal ruling I know of where a judge squarely ruled that the Fourth Amendment required police to get a warrant to use a Stingray, and further, suppressed evidence derived from warrantless use of the technology," ACLU Attorney Nathan Wessler told the New York Times at the time. "After decades of secret and warrantless use of Stingray technology by law enforcement to track phones, a federal judge has finally held authorities to account."

According to an ACLU report, at least 60 state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies in 23 states have used Stingray to suck up citizens' cell phone data.

Stingray in the Lambis Case

According to court documents, the trail to Raymond Lambis' front door began with a DEA investigation into an alleged drug pipeline importing large amounts of cocaine from South America beginning in early 2015. DEA agents obtained a wiretap warrant to glean information about the numbers dialed from a specific cell phone.

After agents obtained the warrant, they monitored messages off a Blackberry between two suspected drug traffickers. During one particular conversation agents overheard a voice referring to someone named "Patilla," whose phone had a 646 area code.

Messages between Patilla and the other, unnamed party indicated that Patilla could supply hydrochloric acid, which is used by traffickers in the heroin-refining process. DEA agents then got a warrant to order the phone company to provide "approximate location," or "cell-site location information" (CSLI).

A frequent complaint of defense attorneys and privacy advocates has been that law enforcement, and DEA agents in particular, will mislead judges into thinking the warrant they sign off on is to get specific cell-site information from a carrier when what agents are really doing is using Stingray to locate a person's phone or actual address. As the Chronicle reported in 2013, "The Stingray technology not only raises Fourth Amendment concerns, it also raise questions about whether police withhold information from judges to monitorcitizens without probable cause.That's what happened in Lambis.

In the Lambis case, DEA Special Agent Kathryn Glover obtained a warrant seeking cell-site data and location information for that 646 phone, but did not tell the judge DEA would be using Stingray to conduct a search to pin down Lambis' exact location.

"So they went to the effort to get a warrant, but then didn't tell the judge they intended to use that same warrant to use a Stingray," ACLU technology specialist Christopher Soghoian told Ars Technica. "It is so important for federal courts to recognize that use of a Stingray is a search of a Fourth Amendment-protected place, and not only is a warrant required, but the court authorizing the surveillance must be told they are authorizing the use of a Stingray."

But the phone carrier's CSLI data, which Agent Glover said in her warrant application would be used to track down the 646 phone, only guided DEA agents to the "general area" of Broadway and 177th Street in Manhattan. To pinpoint the 'house or building where the phone most likely resided with its owner the DEA unleashed Stingray to first zero in on the exact building and then on the exact apartment.

A DEA technician using a hand-held Stingray walked through the building until he picked up the strongest signal -- coming from inside the Lambis apartment. Then, DEA agents knocked on the door, and Lambis' father allowed the gun-toting agents inside. When agents asked if anyone else lived there, the elderly man knocked on his son's door, and Lambis opened it up only to be confronted by the DEA.

Faced by the agents in his home, he then consented to a search of his bedroom, where agents discovered a kilo of cocaine, empty ziplock bags, a scale, and eight cell phones. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and other drug-related charges. It was Lambis' defense motion to throw out that evidence as a result of an unlawful search that led to Pauley's ruling.

The States Aren't Waiting for the Federal Courts

The courts aren't the only place Stingray is running into headwinds. Thanks to decisions like that in the Lambis case, some states have begun passing privacy legislation aiming at protecting citizens' cell phone data from warrantless searches by Stingray or similar cell-site simulators used by police. Among them are California, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

"Citizens have the right to expect that they will not have their personal information investigated by police without a warrant," said Rep. Edith H Ajello (D-Providence) after passage of a 2016 Rhode Island bill that prohibits obtaining cell phone data by cell-site technology.

"Requiring a warrant won't make it difficult for police to do their job," concurred Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-North Providence). "It's essentially updating search warrant law for the information age."

"As advances in technology enable police to more efficiently investigate and solve crimes, it's important that we help them to know they are following state laws and the Constitution," said Illinois Sen. Daniel Bliss (D-Evanston) upon passage of similar legislation there in 2016. That law, the Citizen Privacy Protection Act, went into effect January 1.

While the states aren't waiting for the federal courts to provide protections, the Lambis decision and related controversies over Stingray technology have created such a firestorm that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are now requiring agents to obtain a warrant before using Stingray in investigations. But that could change if the appeals court rules in the government's favor. Stay tuned.

Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

Chronicle AM: At Least Four States Voting on MedMJ, Filipino Prez Could Face ICC, More... (8/25/16)

Michigan legalizers lose a court battle, Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates look to be heading for the ballot box, the 10th Circuit rules that having license plates from marijuana states is not sufficient reason for a stop and search, and more.

Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in at least four states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalizers Lose Court Bid to Get on Ballot. The backers of the MI Legalize legalization initiative have struck out in court in their bid to get their measure on this year's ballot. The group had collected some 354,000 signatures, well above the 220,00 required, but more than 200,000 of the signatures were gathered outside a 180-day window that the State Board of Canvassers was the only time signatures could be considered. The campaign argued that the 180-day rule was unconstitutional and unfair, but the state Court of Claims ruled Wednesday that the Board of Canvassers was correct. The campaign says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but the election clock is ticking and time is running out.

Medical Marijuana

These Four States Will Definitely Be Voting on Medical Marijuana in November. Get a look at the details of and prospects for medical marijuana initiatives that have officially qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. There is also an Oklahoma initiative that may still qualify (see below), a second Arkansas initiative that may qualify, and a Montana anti-marijuana initiative that is appealing come up short on signatures.

Arkansas Prohibitionists Go to Court to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. A group calling itself Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act from appearing on the November ballot. The measure has already qualified, but the group's lawsuit claims the wording of the proposal is misleading and omits key information.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Signatures, But Is Not on the Ballot Yet. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced Tuesday that a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has handed in 67,761 valid voter signatures. It only needs 65,987 to qualify for the November ballot, but there are still a couple more hurdles to overcome. The secretary of state's office must send a report on its findings to the state Supreme Court, which will then determine if the number of signatures is enough to put the initiative on the ballot.

Incarceration

Report Finds Women Increasingly Jailed for Drug Offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute for Justice finds that the arrest rate for drug possession for women tripled between 1980 and 2009 and that 29% of women in jails were there for drug offenses. Two-thirds of those women are black or Hispanic, and nearly 80% are mothers, largely single mothers. The report called for localities to adopt cite and release policies and/or decriminalizing drug possession.

Search and Seizure

Marijuana State License Plate is No Reason for Police Stops and Searches, Fed Court Rules. In a case involving a Colorado man pulled over in Kansas, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police violated his constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source." Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana. "It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.

International

Philippines President Could Face International Tribunal Over Drug War Killings, Senator Says. President Rodrigo Duterte could be charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the wave of killings of alleged drug users and sellers since he took office two months ago, according to Sen. Leila de Lima. "There are some experts who are saying that… if this spate of killings go unabated and unchecked, it could reach that point that the ICC could send a prosecutor to our country and investigate all these for possible prosecution under the Rome Statute," she was quoted saying. "This is not a joke. The last thing we need right now is for our dear president to be subjected to an investigation by an international tribunal like the International Criminal Court. I am not threatening the president. I am just stating a fact," she added.

License Plate from a Marijuana State? That's No Reason to Stop and Search, Fed Court Says

Drivers from pot-friendly West Coast states have long complained of "license plate profiling," claiming state troopers more interested in drug interdiction than traffic safety perch like vultures along the nation's east-west interstate highways pull them over on pretextual traffic stops -- going 71 in a 70 mph zone, failing to wait two full seconds after signaling before making a lane change, weaving within a lane -- because their plates make them suspected marijuana traffickers.

Since Colorado blossomed as a medical marijuana state around 2008 (and ever more so since it legalized weed in 2012), drivers bearing the state's license plates have been complaining of getting the same treatment. The practice is so common and well-known along the I-80 corridor in Nebraska that Omaha lawyers advertise about it.

Now, one Colorado driver has managed to get something done about it. Peter Vasquez sued a pair of Kansas Highway Patrol officers over a stop and search on I-70 that turned up no drugs and resulted in no arrest, and on Tuesday, a federal appeals court vindicated him.

On a 2-1 vote, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the two troopers violated Vasquez's constitutional rights by stopping and searching him based primarily on the fact that he came from a state that was a "known drug source."

Cops can't do that, the court ruled bluntly. To allow such a practice would justify searching drivers from the 25 states that allow medical or fully legal marijuana.

"It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the opinion. "Absent a demonstrated extraordinary circumstance, the continued use of state residency as a justification for the fact of or continuation of a stop is impermissible," he added.

And the troopers didn't really have much other basis for suspicion, the court noted. The troopers said their basis was that Vasquez was driving alone, at night, on a "drug corridor," from "a known drug source area," he had a blanket and a pillow in his car, the blanket might have obscured something, and he seemed nervous.

"Such conduct, taken together, is hardly suspicious, nor is it unusual," Lucero noted.

Vasquez was originally pulled over because the troopers "could not read Vasquez's temporary tag," and when that issue was dealt with, they issued him a warning ticket. What the law required, the court said, was that the troopers then end their contact with him and allow him to go on his way.

But instead, they asked him to submit to a search of his vehicle, and he declined. They then detained him for 15 minutes until a drug dog could be summoned -- another drug war tactic the US Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in April. The drug dog found nothing, and Vasquez was then released.

The troopers may have been done with Vasquez, but he wasn't done with them or what he saw as their unlawful conduct. He filed a civil lawsuit against the two troopers, Richard Jimerson and Dax Lewis, for violating his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case had been thrown out in federal district court, but Tuesday's decision revives it. It also sets legal precedent for the entire 10th Circuit, meaning that cops in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming can't pull you over and search you just because you have a pot-state license plate.

Kansas officials say they plan to appeal to the 10th Circuit's full bench, though, but for now, at least, it's the law.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM: CA Will Vote on Legalization, Veterans' MedMJ Fight Not Over Yet, More... (6/29/16)

That nation's most populous state will vote on marijuana legalization in November, federal legislators keep fighting for medical marijuana access for veterans, a New Jersey needle exchange bill nears passage, the ACLU goes after the Border Patrol for abuses at interior check points, and more.

Marijuana Policy

It's Official -- California Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A broadly-backed initiative to legalize marijuana in the country's most populous state will be on the California ballot in November. The secretary of state's office made it official Tuesday afternoon, certifying that a random sample of more than 600,000 signatures turned in showed there were enough valid signatures to qualify the measure. "Today marks a fresh start for California, as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself," said Jason Kinney, spokesperson for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA).

Medical Marijuana

Eleven Lawmakers Ask House and Senate Leadership to Restore Medical Marijuana Language in VA Bill. The move comes after language allowing VA docs to recommend medical marijuana passed both the House and Senate, only to be mysteriously dropped in conference committee. "We feel the failure of the Conferees to include either provision is a drastic misfortune for veterans and is contrary to the will of both chambers as demonstrated by the strong bipartisan support for these provisions," the supporters wrote to congressional leaders on Tuesday. Among the signatories were Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Other signatories to the letter, all Democrats, include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Dina Titus of Nevada and Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Illinois Judge Orders State to ADD PTSD to Medical Marijuana List. A Cook County judge has ordered the state Department of Public Health to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of diseases eligible to be treated with medical marijuana. The sternly worded ruling also said the department's director, Niray Shah, an appointee of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, had engaged in a "constitutionally inappropriate private investigation" before deciding to rule against adding PTSD after the medical marijuana advisory board had recommended adding it. The court accused Shah of applying his own standard of medical evidence that "appears nowhere in the Act or the department's rules" and "was contrary to the plain language of the department's rules."

Los Angeles County Extends Ban on Medical Marijuana in Unincorporated Areas. County supervisors voted Tuesday to extend by a year a temporary ban on medical marijuana cultivation and distribution in unincorporated areas. The county enacted a 45-day ban earlier this year and then extended it by another month before now extending it for another year. County planning officials said the ban was needed as they study how to regulate medical marijuana, but advocates retorted that the supervisors should concentrate on actually regulating the industry, not on extending bans.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill Nears Passage. The Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow localities across the state to enact needle exchange programs. The Assembly is expected to approve changes in the Senate version of the bill Thursday. The measure, Assembly Bill 415, would then await the signature of Gov. Chris Christie (R) to become law. The state enacted a law allowing pilot needle exchange programs a decade ago.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Accuses Border Patrol of Wrongful Detentions, Seizures The ACLU of Arizona Tuesday filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and its constituent agency, US Customs and Border Protection, demanding an investigation into "abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations." "At the same time the Justice Department and the Obama administration are rightly urging local police to adopt 'best practices' -- ending racial profiling, collecting stop data, and curbing police militarization and asset forfeiture abuses -- we see the nation's largest law enforcement agency, CBP, rejecting those commonsense reforms," said James Lyall, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The federal government is effectively saying, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' which leaves Border Patrol free to target citizens and non-citizens alike with these increasingly extreme and abusive practices."

Chronicle AM: Supremes Open Door to More Lawless Searches, CA Dems Endorse AUMA, More... (6/20/16)

The Supreme Court hands down a pair of rulings supporting law enforcement powers, the California and Arizona marijuana legalization efforts gain powerful endorsements, the feds give up on trying to bust Fedex for shipping prescription pills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Congressman Endorses Legalization Initiative. US Congressman Ruben Gallegos (D-Phoenix) announced Monday that he is endorsing the legalization initiative from the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Forcing sales of this plant into the underground market has resulted in billions of dollars flowing into the hands of drug cartels and other criminals," Rep. Gallegos said. "We will be far better off if we shift the production and sale of marijuana to taxpaying Arizona businesses subject to strict regulations. It will also allow the state to direct law enforcement resources toward reducing violence and other more serious crimes."

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Meeting in Long Beach over the weekend, the executive committee of the state Democratic Party voted to endorse the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The initiative would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, allow limited personal cultivation, and allow regulated commercial cultivation and sales.

Colorado Health Department Reports No Increase in Youth Use. Marijuana use among high school students in the state has not increased since legalization, the Health Department reported Monday. The report was based on a statewide student survey. It found that 21% of students had reported using marijuana, in line with earlier figures from the state and below the national average of nearly 22%.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Pot Fans, Foes Work Together on New Research Bill. Legalization opponent Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is joining forces with Congress's "top legal pot advocate," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to file a bill to overhaul federal policies on marijuana research. The bill would make it easier for scientists to conduct research on the medical use of marijuana. It hasn't been filed yet, but is expected this week.

Arkansas Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of the Arkansans for Compassionate Care medical marijuana initiative handed in more than 110,000 raw signatures to state officials in Little Rock Monday. The initiative only needs some 67,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. If as many as 30% of the signatures are found invalid, organizers would still have enough signatures to qualify.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Governor Delays Using Card Readers to Seize Money. In the wake of a furious outcry over the Highway Patrol's recent use of ERAD card-reading devices to seize money from debit and credit cards, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) last Friday directed the secretary of safety and secure to delay using the the card-readers until the state can develop a clear policy for their use.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Opens Door to More Lawless Police Searches. In a pair of decisions released Monday, the US Supreme Court again demonstrated its deference to law enforcement priorities, in one case by expanding an exception to the long-standing ruling requiring that unlawfully gathered evidence be discarded and in another by holding that drug dealers, even those engaged only in street-corner sales, are engaged in interstate commerce.The two decisions expand the ability of local police to skirt the law without effective punishment on the one hand, and allow prosecutors to use the weight of the federal criminal justice system to come down on small-time criminals whose cases would normally be the purview of local authorities on the other. Taken together, the decisions show a high court that once again give great deference to the demands of law enforcement.

Feds Drop Drug Trafficking Case Against Fedex. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco last Friday suddenly moved to drop all criminal charges against the delivery service, which they had accused of knowingly delivering illegal prescription drugs. In court, presiding Judge Charley Breyer said the company was "factually innocent" and that the DEA had failed to provide it with the names of customers who were shipping illegal drugs. "The dismissal is an act, in the court's view, entirely consistent with the government's overarching obligation to seek justice even at the expense of some embarrassment," Breyr said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Supreme Court Opens Door for More Lawless Police Searches [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In a pair of decisions released Monday, the US Supreme Court again demonstrated its deference to law enforcement priorities, in one case by expanding an exception to the long-standing ruling requiring that unlawfully gathered evidence be discarded and in another by holding that drug dealers, even those engaged only in street-corner sales, are engaged in interstate commerce.

The two decisions expand the ability of local police to skirt the law without effective punishment on the one hand, and allow prosecutors to use the weight of the federal criminal justice system to come down on small-time criminals whose cases would normally be the purview of local authorities on the other. Taken together, the decisions show a high court that once again give great deference to the demands of law enforcement.

In the first case, Utah v. Strieff, the Supreme Court held that evidence obtained from the illegal stop of Strieff should not be thrown out under the exclusionary rule, which requires that illegally seized be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." The exclusionary rule, which dates back to 1920 and values the rule of law even at the expense of seeing a guilty suspect go free, has long been a bane of judicial conservatives, who have been trying to chip away at it since at least the 1980s.

In Strieff, a Salt Lake City police officer investigating possible drug activity at a residence stopped Strieff without "reasonable cause" after he exited the home. During his encounter with Strieff, the police officer found that he was wanted on a traffic warrant, arrested him, then searched him subsequent to arrest. The police officer found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, then charged him with drug and paraphernalia possession.

Strieff argued to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop. He lost at the trial and appeals court levels, but the Utah Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that an exception to the exclusionary rule known as the "attenuation doctrine" did not apply. The US Supreme Court disagreed.

The attenuation doctrine holds that unlawfully obtained evidence may be used even if "the fruit of the search is tainted by the initial, unlawful detention…if the taint is dissipated by an intervening circumstance," as the Utah Supreme Court described it. In other words, if police acting in good faith violate the law and don't do it flagrantly, they should be able to use any evidence found as a result of that violation in court.

The Supreme Court divided 5-3 on the case, with Chief Justice Roberts joining justices Alito, Breyer, and Kennedy joined Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion. Thomas held that the police misconduct was not bad enough to warrant suppression of the evidence and, besides, police probably aren't going to abuse their powers to do mass searches.

"[The officer's] purpose was not to conduct a suspicionless fishing expedition but was to gather information about activity inside a house whose occupants were legitimately suspected of dealing drugs," Thomas wrote. "Strieff conflates the standard for an illegal stop with the standard for flagrancy, which requires more than the mere absence of proper cause. Second, it is unlikely that the prevalence of outstanding warrants will lead to dragnet searches by police."

Even if someone is unlawfully detained, evidence obtained from them can be used in court, the high court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
The Supreme Court's liberal minority was not nearly as sanguine. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with Justice Ginsberg concurring, cut right to the heart of the matter:

"The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," she wrote in her dissent. "Do not be soothed by the opinion's technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants -- even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent."

In the second case, Taylor v. United States, the high court upheld the ability of federal prosecutors to use federal law to prosecute people who rob drug dealers, even if the dealers are dealing only in locally-grown marijuana with no evidence of interstate sales. That 7-1 decision is in just the latest in a long line of cases upholding the ability of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce under the Constitution's "commerce clause" and to protect it from robbery or extortion under the 1951 Hobbs Act.

It was the "commerce clause" line of cases that led to the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the ability of the federal government to move against marijuana cultivation and sales even in states where it is legal. In that case, the high court ruled that California medical marijuana patient Angel Raich's cultivation of marijuana plants at her home in California for her use in California implicated interstate commerce and was therefore liable to federal jurisdiction.

Even marijuana grown and sold locally implicates the Constitution's commerce clause, the court has ruled. (flickr.com)
In Taylor, Taylor was part of a Virginia gang known as the "Southwest Goonz" who targeted and robbed marijuana growers and dealers. He was charged under the Hobbs Act with two counts of "affecting commerce or attempting to do so through robbery." In his first trial, which resulted in a hung jury, Taylor offered evidence that the dealers targeted only trafficked in locally-grown marijuana. In his second trial, prosecutors convinced the court to exclude that evidence, and Taylor was convicted on both counts. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that conviction, "holding that, given the aggregate effect of drug dealing on interstate commerce, the Government needed only to prove that Taylor robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds to satisfy the commerce element."

In an opinion authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court agreed.

"[T]he Government met its burden by introducing evidence that Taylor's gang intentionally targeted drug dealers to obtain drugs and drug proceeds," he wrote. "That evidence included information that the gang members targeted the victims because of their drug dealing activities, as well as explicit statements made during the course of the robberies that revealed their belief that drugs and money were present. Such proof is sufficient to meet the Hobbs Act's commerce element."

Only Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the whole line of "commerce clause" cases granted too much power to the federal government.

"The Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime to commit a robbery that 'affects' 'commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction," Thomas wrote. "Under the Court's decision today, the Government can obtain a Hobbs Act conviction without proving that the defendant's robbery in fact affected interstate commerce -- or any commerce. The Court's holding creates serious constitutional problems and extends our already expansive, flawed commerce-power precedents. I would construe the Hobbs Act in accordance with constitutional limits and hold that the Act punishes a robbery only when the Government proves that the robbery itself affected interstate commerce."

Two cases, two distinct lines of legal precedent, one outcome: Drug cases continue to provide a basis for the expansion of state law enforcement power.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: UK Public Health Groups Call for Decrim, MPP Endorses Gary Johnson, More... (6/16/16)

Busy, busy: There's movement on marijuana banking, Gary Johnson picks up MPP's endorsement, a leading California cannabis oil producer gets busted, the AMA casts on leery eye on patient pain reports, a congresswoman wants to drug test the rich, British public health groups call for decrim, the Thai government wants to end the war on meth, and more.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has won the endorsement of the Marijuana Policy Project because of his pro-legalization stance.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Ease Pot Businesses' Access to Financial Services. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16-14 to approve an amendment that would bar the Treasury Department from punishing banks that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The amendment is part of the FY 2017 Financial And General Government Services Appropriations Act, which now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Marijuana Policy Project Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson for President. MPP has formally endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying he was the obvious choice as the most pro-marijuana legalization candidate on the ballot. The group said its endorsement was based solely on his marijuana policies.

New York Assembly Passes Bill to Seal Records for Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions. The Assembly has passed Assembly Bill 10092, which will seal the conviction records of people charged with misdemeanor offenses. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the move was in response to New York City police charging people with misdemeanors for possession of marijuana in public. Simple possession is decriminalized in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted.Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences." Police accused the operation of using dangerous and illegal butane extraction for their oils, but Care By Design says that is not the case.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA Resolutions Aim to Curb Opioid Abuse, Will Ignore Patients' Pain Reports. At its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a number of resolutions aimed at curbing the misuse of prescription opioids. One called for removing any barriers to non-opioid pain therapies, one calls for promoting increased access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), but "the group also voted in favor of efforts to remove pain as a vital sign in professional standards, as well as disconnecting patient satisfaction scores from questions related to the evaluation and management of pain," a move that may not bode well for chronic pain patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Company Now Offers Asset Forfeiture Insurance to Cannabusinesses. CBZ Insurance Services is now offering coverage to protect state-legal marijuana businesses from the threat of seizure and asset forfeiture. The company's "search and confiscation" coverage applies only to entities that are state-legal and are found innocent of any raid-related charges. "A legally operating cannabis business has unique challenges other types of businesses don't have," said CBZ's Jeffrey Rosen. "One challenge is the threat of being shut down at any time by law enforcement. Whether you're a grower, distributor or manufacturer, search and seizure coverage is the best protection for a company's assets."

Drug Testing

Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the Rich Before Approving Tax Deductions. US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has called for requiring wealthy Americans to undergo a drug test before approving their tax deductions. Moore said she will file the bill because she is "sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the criminalization of poverty," referring to efforts pushed by Republican governors and legislators to impose drug testing requirements on people seeking public benefits. "We're not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off SNAP. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let's start on the other end of the income spectrum."

International

British Public Health Bodies Call for Drug Decriminalization. Two leading public health bodies say drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one, and have called for drug decriminalization. The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health said that criminalizing drug use has not deterred people from using drugs, and that those harmed by drug use are harmed again by punishment. "We have taken the view that it is time for endorsing a different approach," said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society. "We have gone to our stakeholders and asked the public and tried to gain some consensus from our community and the public, because that is very important." The society has detailed in its new line in the aptly named report Taking a New Line on Drugs.

Thailand Government Proposes Ending War on Meth and Regulating It Instead. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has suggested removing meth from the country's dangerous illicit drug list and putting it in the same category as medicinal drugs, with controls -- not bans -- on distribution, sale, and use of the drug. Current measures to suppress the drug have not worked, he said. Paiboon's comments came in a discussion of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which met in April. "The world has now surrendered to drugs, and has come to think of how to live with drugs. It is like a man suffering from cancer and having no cure and he has to live a happy life with the cancer," Gen Paiboon said. The government has drawn up a bill that would do that, he said.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.

The Care By Design product line includes these sublingual sprays. (Care By Design)
Although medical marijuana has been legal in the state since voters approved it two decades ago, it was only last year that the legislature moved to bring state-wide regulation to the rapidly growing industry, and that won't actually happen until 2018. In the meantime, medical marijuana businesses are operating in a sphere of unsettled legality where, as California NORML put it in an email alert about the raids, "there's plenty of gray area to generate busts between now and then."

The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences."

CBD (cannabidiol) is more sought after for medicinal purposes; THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the cannabinoid that gets you high.

Santa Rosa Police spokesman Lt. Mike Lazzarini told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that a hundred Santa Rosa police, Sonoma County sheriff's deputies, and DEA agents raided the operations because they were using illegal and hazardous production methods -- producing the oil with the use of butane, which is a fire and explosion hazard, and which is forbidden under state law.

"From a law enforcement standpoint this is not a legal process when it involves processes that are dangerous," Lazzarini said.

The police spokesman also said that Care By Design's facilities were in violation of Santa Rosa municipal codes and not properly permitted.

Care By Design, which is organized as a non-profit collective under the rubric of the CBD Guild, flatly rejected law enforcement assertions that it was illegally using butane to make the cannabis oil.

"Contrary to initial press reports, none of the Care By Design facilities are involved in the production of hash; nor is butane used in the company's extraction process," it said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Care By Design utilizes a non-volatile supercritical CO2 extraction method, and does not produce any hash, rosin, wax, shatter or similar products that are popular amongst recreational users."

And it was not pleased with the raids, in which police seized equipment, computers, product, payroll, and financial paperwork.

"This law enforcement action is unprecedented, unfortunate, and has the potential to deprive thousands of profoundly sick patients of much needed medicine," said collective spokesman Nick Caston. "We will cooperate fully with law enforcement in an effort to resolve this as quickly as possible, and hope to have our several dozen employees in Sonoma County back to work this week."

Later Wednesday, CBD Guild attorney Joe Rogoway, a veteran Santa Rosa marijuana attorney, reiterated the charge that police were mischaracterizing the business, which he said was above board and operating lawfully.

"They weren't using butane, they use a process that includes CO2 which is a flame retardant; CO2 is what's in fire extinguishers," Rogoway told the Press-Democrat. "It's not criminalized in California law."

The Guild suspects a disgruntled former employee provoked the raids by making false claims to law enforcement, Rogoway said.

Police attempted to play up the criminal element in their description of the man jailed in the sole major arrest during the raids. They described operations manager Dennis Franklin Hunter as a criminal with a history of evading arrest, justifying the $5 million dollar bail on which he is being held.

But what he had been busted for was -- wait for it -- growing marijuana in Humboldt County in 1998. But the feds couldn't find him until 2002, when he was sentenced to 5 ½ years in federal prison. On a second occasion, Hunter was the subject of a manhunt in Arkansas after US Homeland Security asked Little Rock authorities to detain him because they suspected he had drugs on his plane. But he took off after refueling as deputies approached and only later met with authorities.

Caston said Hunter's history was one of being a pioneer in California's marijuana industry.

"They're the folks that have been leading the way, breaking down the stigma, breaking down the misconceptions," he said. "He's really a visionary, along with the other folks in our company, trying to bring practices that are safe. This (law enforcement) action is very surprising."

And while this all gets sorted out, thousands of patients in dispensaries across the state who rely on Care By Design's products will just have to tough it out.

Santa Rosa, CA
United States

May Was a Bad Month for Drug War Deaths

At least seven people were killed by police doing drug law enforcement last month. Four were armed and two of them engaged in shootouts with police. Two were killed by police after vehicle chases where police claimed they were trying to run them over. One was killed during a physical struggle with police.

Four of the victims were white, two were black, and one was a Pacific Islander. The ethnicity of one -- Eugene Smith -- remains undetermined.

May's drug war killings bring Drug War Chronicle's count of drug law enforcement-related deaths this year to 21. The Chronicle has been tallying such deaths since 2011, and they have occurred at a rate of roughly one a week over that period. The Chronicle's count includes only people (police and civilians) who died as a direct result of drug law enforcement activities, not, for example, people who died in conflicts between drug sellers or people who died because they ingested bad drugs.

In May, drug war deaths occurred at a rate nearly twice the five-year average. The seven killings in May accounted for one-third of the killings tallied so far this year. Let's hope last month was an aberration and not a harbinger of a long, hot summer.

It's worth emphasizing that more than half the people killed last month were carrying firearms, and two of them turned them on police. Attempting to enforce widely-flouted drug prohibition laws in a society as heavily armed as this one is a recipe for violent encounters, as we saw last month. When the war on drugs intersects with the Second Amendment, the bullets fly.

Our count here also includes two deaths in March and one in April that had not yet been added to our tally.

Here are the latest drug war deaths:

On March 14, in Chicago, police investigating "possible narcotics activity" shot and killed Lamar Harris, 29, during a shoot-out in which three officers were also struck and wounded. When the cops approached Harris, he took off running through a dimly lit courtyard in the Homan Square neighborhood before reportedly turning and firing, hitting one officer in the back, one in the foot, and another in the chest. At least one officer returned fire, killing Harris.

On March 22, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Fredericksburg police officer shot and killed Travis Blair, 33, after he fled the officer's effort to pick him up for missing a court date on a drug possession charge. Officer Christopher Brossmer pulled Blair over, but Blair then drove away, dragging Brossmer with him before fleeing on foot after crashing in a ditch. A foot pursuit ensued, which ended with Brossmer shooting Blair in the leg as the pair struggled on the ground. Blair was hospitalized, but died five hours later. Police made no mention of a weapon being found, but they did find five packets of heroin inside a Marlboro package. Brossmer was later absolved of any criminal liability in the shooting.

On April 30, near Spanish Fork, Utah, a Utah County sheriff's deputy attempting to arrest Mark Daniel Bess on drug-related felony and misdemeanor warrants and a traffic-related warrant shot and killed him after he allegedly charged the officer with a knife. Police said Bess had fled from the deputy, but was found hiding behind a barn at a nearby residence. The deputy said Bess refused repeated commands to drop the knife and get on the ground and instead charged at him. The deputy fired at least two shots when Bess was 10 to 15 feet away, striking him in the head and body. He died at a local hospital hours later. He had been wanted for failure to appear in felony heroin possession case and failure to appear in another case where police caught him preparing to inject on the sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City.

On May 1, in Alamo, Tennessee, police finishing up a 3 AM drug raid at a private residence shot and killed Army veteran Ronald Branch, 28, when he arrived at the home carrying "multiple handguns." Two Crockett County opened fire on Branch, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police said Branch knew the homeowner, but they didn't know why he went to the house. The homeowner wasn't home, but police arrested another man on drug, drug paraphernalia, and marijuana possession charges. The officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending a review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

On May 5, in Gretna, Louisiana, police chasing a man who fled from them in a vehicle shot and killed Corey DiGiovanni, 36, who was the target of an ongoing heroin distribution investigation. DiGiovanni spotted narcotics officers outside a residence in Gretna and took off in his pick-up truck, leading police on a high-speed chase through the city. Police said they opened fire on him after he rammed several police cars and accelerated toward officers at an intersection.

On May 9, in St. Martin, Mississippi, police called to a Ramada Inn to investigate "possible drug activity" in a guest room shot and killed Christian Bowman, 23, after he became "aggressively combative" toward a deputy on the scene. One of the two deputies on the scene then shot him in the chest, killing him. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.

On May 11, in San Diego, police shot and killed Thongsoune Vilaysane, 30, at the end of a car chase that began when officers investigating drug and weapons activity at a Pagel Place residence followed the car he was driving as it left the home. Police learned it had been reported stolen and pursued the driver during a short pursuit before he crashed into a parked car. Police said officers with guns drawn ordered Vilaysane to get out of the car, but he instead put it in reverse, nearly striking two officers, police said. "In defense of their (lives), four officers fired multiple rounds at the driver to stop the threat of the moving vehicle," Homicide Lt. Manny Del Toro explained in a statement. He was hit multiple times and died at the scene. The officers were wearing body cams, and San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis has announced the videos will be released to the public after her office reviews whether the shooting was legally justified.

On May 19, in Miami, gang unit detectives on a narcotics investigation shot and killed Kentrill Williams, 22, after he allegedly grabbed a gun from his waistband. Williams was shot by Detective George Eugene. He died at a nearby hospital.

On May 24, in Park Forest, Illinois, FBI agents serving a search and arrest warrant on a high-ranking member of the Black P Stone Nation gang found him dead inside the home after a shoot-out that left two agents wounded. Melvin Toran, 50, committed suicide after the shoot-out, the medical examiner said. The raid was part of a federal sweep targeting drug trafficking by members of the Black P Stone Nation.

On May 26, in St. Paul, Minnesota, police doing a drug investigation at a residence shot and killed Eugene Smith, 29, after he allegedly fired at them from a bedroom. Police had been called to the home a week earlier on a drug complaint and had found meth, marijuana, and a rifle. When they returned the following week, they said Smith opened fire on them after they shot and killed a pit bull in the house. Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Video Killed the Drug Conviction: Chicago Narcs Busted Lying Through Their Teeth [FEATURE]

Part 10 of an occasional series on police and prosecutorial misconduct by Clarence Walker, [email protected].

It was just another marijuana bust by Chicago's crack dope squad and should have resulted in an easy conviction, but thanks to a forgotten camera, things didn't exactly work out the way the cops planned. Now, the pot dealer is free, he has a bunch of cash in pocket, and it's the cops who are facing justice.

It went down on June 6, 2013, when three Chicago Police narcotics officer and a pair of suburban Glenview police officers pulled over Joseph Sperling on the pretext that he had failed to properly use his turn signal, then claimed Sperling told them there were drugs in his vehicle. The cops said they found marijuana in plain view and arrested Sperling on marijuana possession and distribution charges. Business as usual, so far.

But when it came time to go to court the following March, things went south for the cops. Prosecutors had been questioning Chicago PD narcotics officer William Pruente, who said in sworn testimony that when police pulled over Sperling they immediately smelled marijuana and ordered him to exit the vehicle and stand at the rear of the car.

Then, defense attorney Steven Goldman asked the veteran narc if Sperling was handcuffed after he got out of the car.

"No, he was not handcuffed," Pruente replied. "He was not under arrest at that time."

Chicago narcotic officers Sergeant James Padar and Vince Morgan and Glenview Police officers James Horn and Sergeant Theresa Urbanowski backed up Pruente's story.

Then, as Urbanowski was testifying, defense attorney Goldman dropped a bombshell. He interrupted the testimony to inform Judge Catherine Haberkorn that he needed to offer a videotape into evidence.

In a moment of courtroom drama like something out of "Law and Order," Goldman revealed that the video came from Urbanowski's police cruiser and that it flatly contradicted the sworn testimony of the police officers. The police had been lying to the court and to the judge and the video would prove it, Goldman said.

As Goldman patiently took Urbanowski back over the events she'd testified about, he played the recording and asked her to describe the difference between her original testimony and what was happening on the tape.

The footage contradicted the testimony of the police officers. Pruente had testified that Sperling had not been arrested or handcuffed until the cops had found the dope in plain view, but the video showed Pruente walking up to Sperling's car, reaching in the open window, unlocking the door, pulling Sperling out, handcuffing him, and placing him in the back seat of a patrol car. Only then did the officers move to search the car.

The video clearly showed the officers spending minutes thoroughly searching Sperling's car before finding weed and a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms in a black duffel bag.

As defense attorney Goldman noted during questioning, if the drugs had really been in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle, the officers had no need or reason to search it because they already had the drugs.

The brazen distance between the officers' testimony and what the video revealed infuriated Judge Haberkorn, who immediately granted Goldman's motion to suppress the evidence because the video showed police had neither probable cause to arrest Sperling nor a warrant to search his vehicle.

"This is very outrageous conduct," Haberkorn said from the bench. "All the officers lied on the stand today. All their testimony is a lie. There is strong evidence it was a conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie."

Haberkorn then dismissed the criminal charges against Sperling.

"If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone," said Sperling, then 23, during a press conference with reporters after the release of his videotaped arrest. "I just happen to be one of the lucky few that had a video that proved the officers were wrong."

The Cook County criminal justice system may have been done with Sperling, but he wasn't done with it. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging illegal search and seizure against the Chicago and Glenview police departments. And he won. The two cities involved settled the suit, paying Sperling $195,000 for his troubles.

Others who have been similarly victimized could do the same. Under the US Code Section 1983, citizens are allowed to sue police in federal court as a result of an illegal search and arrest if the officer acted with malice "under color of law."

In Sperling's case, attorney John Loevy argued in the lawsuit that there was insufficient legal justification for officers to stop and arrest Sperling and search his vehicle, which was done without probable cause. Those illegal actions violated Sperling's civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments, as prescribed under Section 18 US Code 242. The argument was strong enough to force the cities to settle.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (twitter.com)
Former Houston Police homicide and narcotic gang investigator Rick Moreno told Drug War Chronicle the officers lied to protect an informant when they could simply have gone by the book and done their bust right.

"Once those officers had all the information about this guy having dope in his car they needed a warrant," Moreno explained.

But the narcs plotted a scheme disguised as a routine traffic stop to avoid having to obtain one.

"What they've done in this case was a 'wall off' technique." Moreno said, referring to a strategy most narcotic officers use to put a wall between the officer and the information provided by a snitch. And if everything goes as planned, the officer gets the dope without a warrant, they got the dope dealer and the snitch is protected."

"The biggest casualty in the war on drugs is the truth," said Chicago civil attorney Jon Loevy, who represented Sperling in his civil rights lawsuit.

"The ends justify the means," said criminal defense attorney Goldman, explaining the attitudes that drove the cops to lie on the stand. "So because they get the bad guy off the street or the drugs out of their hands, everybody's happy."

Well, not everybody, not when the lies are so blatant they cannot be ignored. The Cook County criminal justice system wasn't done with the cops caught lying on the witness stand. Sgt. Urbanowski's camera had caught them red-handed, and four of them were indicted by a Cook County grand jury on perjury, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct charges in June 2015. They all face up to five years in prison on each count. The three Chicago police officers were immediately suspended, and the Glenview police officer was later fired. Their trials got underway this week.

"The foundation of our criminal justice system rests on the concept of truthful testimony," said Cook County States' Attorney Anita Alvarez in a press statement announcing the indictments. "We expect it from our witnesses and we demand it from our police officers."

The criminal charges filed against the officers made headlines across the state and constituted another black mark against the much criticized Chicago Police Department. But the buzz around the courthouse was not just over the charges, but whether they would lead to the dismissal of other drug cases in which the charged cops were involved.

Calls to the Cook County prosecutor's office regarding whether the four indicted officers would be investigated for perjury or illegal tactics in previous drug cases have not been returned.

While Sperling won $195,000 in damages from his illegal search and seizure lawsuit, legal experts say such victories are rare. Defendants usually don't pursue such suits due to lack of funds, and if a case involving a bad search is dismissed, most defendants are just relieved the case is over and they no longer face charges, said Penn State University law professor David Rudovsky, a leading civil rights and criminal defense attorney and author of The Law of Arrest, Search, and Seizure.

Penn State law professor David Rudovsky (law.penn.edu)
Rudovsky told Drug War Chronicle there is also another reason such lawsuits are rare.

"Why would a jury award money for damages to a criminal already proven to have committed a crime?" he asked rhetorically.

Police perjury is nothing new -- the practice has even generated its own nickname, "testilying" -- but the Sperling case has renewed debate over why law enforcers resort to breaking the law.

"Police perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace," wrote former San Francisco police commissioner Peter Keane in a much-cited article on the topic.

"I've heard some police officers say in a social setting, 'If [the defendant] is going to lie to beat the case, why can't I lie too?" Cook County Public Defender, and former prosecutor Abishi Cunningham Jr. related.

"When police lie to make a case on someone they are saying the criminal justice system doesn't work... so I'm going to do it my way," Houston civil and criminal attorney Annie Briscoe told the Chronicle.

Briscoe recalled a drug case involving police illegal search where police recovered a sizeable amount of drugs from a client of hers. Houston police claimed he resembled a fugitive they were looking for. With her client facing up to life in prison, Briscoe convinced the trial judge to throw out the charge because of illegal search and seizure through the simple expedient of showing the judge a photo of the fugitive, who looked nothing like her client.

While the judge called Briscoe's client "one lucky guy," Briscoe had a slightly different take.

"The law should be enforceable by way of truth," she said.

Police are also incentivized by the war on drugs to cut corners so they can reap monetary rewards, whether through asset forfeiture or by earning federal anti-drug grants through aggressive enforcement actions. And each bust makes their numbers look better.

As NYPD Officer Adil Polanco once revealed through a surfeit of honesty, "Our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them. You have to write somebody, arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number is there."

Yes, there are numerous reasons cops lie. But none of them justify the lying, or the corrosive effect such behavior has on public trust and respect for law enforcement. These Chicago police officers are about to find out just how seriously the system takes such dishonesty, especially when it is so blatant the system can't pretend it doesn't see it.

Chicago, IL
United States

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