The Legal Wrap

Our session on the morality of legislating behavior rambled at times, but produced a lively conversation, and I think we all took something from it. The Junta would like to thank Dave for sharing his personal episode of confrontation with the war on drugs. It was powerful to hear a man speak openly about a situation in which he is most certainly going to jail.

The gravity of Dave’s position naturally occupied our attention for the majority of the session. He was arrested with over 30 pounds of marijuana hidden in a rental car he was driving across the country. The D.A. offered him 12 years but he thinks it’s more likely he’ll do 2 or 3. He has a surprisingly upbeat attitude about it, and mentioned twice his interest in training to be a mechanic while in the joint.

Dave’s defense, such as it is, relies on a series of steps in which he contends his rights were violated. He was first pulled over for speeding, though he was certain he wasn’t speeding at all. The officer asked him to sit in the squad car while he wrote out the ticket. Dave’s first mistake was acceding to this bizarre request.

As he wrote out the ticket, the officer said he thought Dave was nervous, and he wanted permission to search the car. Dave refused, and so the cop called in the canine unit. The dog did four laps around the car, sniffing it out, and somehow did not alert, and so Dave was allowed to go.

Two states later he was pulled over again, this time accused of passing another vehicle without signaling – again, something Dave denies doing. They called in another dog, for some reason, and found the weed. Busted.

What was the reason Dave was pulled over twice and both times a dog was called to sniff his car for drugs? According to Dave: profiling.

Not the Driving While Black that Obama has spoken of – Dave is white – but the fact that he was a single guy with way-out-of-state plates driving on a major highway through the flatlands, at night.

In the course of researching his defense, Dave came across a commercial website operated by a police officer, aimed at other police officers. It sold a video how-to guide for making major drug busts.

“Are you envious of the officers in your precinct taking down the big criminals and getting big promotions?’ the sales-cop asked.

He mentioned the federal budget, and the competition among state and local police and other emergency forces for money from Washington. “All of that funding escalated immensely after 9/11, and now it has to be justified.”

Civil Liberties

The loss of individual rights was a strong thread throughout the discussion, with Dave citing several court decisions that affect his case, including:

  • Illinois v Caballes – Here the court ruled that a drug dog alerting on a car constitutes probable cause to search the car, even if there was no probable cause to use the dog in the first place. Or, as this blog puts it, “the total decision as to whether there was sufficient reason for a search was to be determined by a dog anxious to please his or her law enforcement master.”
  • Arizona v Gant – This essentially said that if you get arrested while driving, or while near your car, police may search the car without a warrant.

Here the discussion prompted an animated argument from Tim, who contended that a certain population of law enforcement personal have been so effectively “programmed” to bust people for weed, that they cannot comprehend the case for legalization or decriminalization. In his view, this kind of cop is little more than a tool of society’s master planners, a “brain dead” individual who does not think for himself but merely relies on his institutional training for all decision-making. Or, as Ice-T Ice Cube once put it, “Fuck the po-lice!”

The burgeoning prison population in this country is largely a result of increased incarceration of drug offenders. An interesting facet of this is that prisoners cannot vote, yet they count as population in the area where they are incarcerated, skewing the congressional numbers and providing a perverse incentive for states to build prisons.

However, the rising costs of housing prisoners has led to several changes. One is the increasing privatization of the industry, where states outsource the building, running and maintaining of prisons to powerful corporate donors. Another is plans to release prisoners due to the overwhelming costs of housing them.

The media play into the scenario by sensationalizing crime and police work. MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator” lures paedophiles to hotel rooms by posing on the internet as children. When the targets show up expecting a minor, they are faced with TV personality Dan Hansen and a host of lights and cameras. The show’s webpage invites you to “meet the men of ‘To Catch a Predator'”, and reminds us today not to miss the 2-hour premiere…

The obvious contradiction between legal and illegal drugs was mentioned, and needs no further comment here except to say that while booze and tobacco kill way more people than weed, this line of logic gets dicier when you get to heroin and methamphetamine. Those looking to expand their repertoire of legal highs are advised to study salvia divinorum.

We gravitated back to Dave and his predicament, concentrating on jail. Those who do time in Texas have “Felon” permanently stamped on their ID cards, which makes it tough to get a job later. The cruelty of this scarlett letter is made worse by the knowledge that even those who exonerate themselves, who have been proved innocent by DNA evidence while serving long sentences, still have “Felon” on their driver’s license. Meanwhile, they are even worse off than released felons who were actually guilty because, having had their records cleared (except for their IDs), they are no longer eligible for post-prison services offered by the state.

One participant boiled down the war on drugs to the following: domestically, it means aggresively incarcerating the population (and mostly the underclass); overseas, it means funding the slaughter of peasants. See Colombia.

At some point, human beings ought to be responsible for taking care of themselves, even if we need to collectively protect those who can’t protect themselves.

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