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How High Bail Costs Contribute to Systemic Poverty

Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.

Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.

A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.

When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.

Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle

Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.

This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.

Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.

These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.

When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.

Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.

Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals

Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.

Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.

Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.

Julian Adorney


Julian Adorney
Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.
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NYC Prosecutors Pledge to Dismiss 700,000 Minor Warrants

Four of New York City’s district attorneys say they will file motions in coming weeks to toss out 700,000 old warrants issued for low-level offenses like drinking in public and riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, reports the New York Law Journal. Prosecutors in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan will move to dismiss warrants that are 10 years old or older that stem from NYPD summonses. The mass clearance will dismiss a significant portion of the city’s roughly 1.5 million outstanding warrants.

When warrants aren’t cleared, those who have them are subject to automatic arrest for years and decades to come, even if they come in contact with police because they were involved in a minor traffic accident or while reporting a crime. Bronx DA Darcel Clark said the motions for clearance should not be viewed as mass amnesty. “We’re not telling everyone it’s OK to get a summons and not show up,” Clark said. But she said many of the cases are unprosecutable because of legal sufficiency issues.

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Fired Texas Police Officer who killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards Indicted on Murder Charge

The fired Balch Springs cop who fatally shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury.

Jordan’s family and their attorney said they were “cautiously optimistic” after Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment against 37-year-old Roy Oliver.

Oliver was also indicted on four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant for firing his rifle into a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29. Jordan, who sat in the front passenger seat, was struck in the head. His two brothers and two friends were also in the car.

Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the Chevrolet Impala was aggressively reversing toward Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross, but body camera footage contradicted that story. Oliver was fired and arrested on the murder charge in May.

Johnson said prosecuting Oliver is not a “political statement” but rather the right thing to do, something she believes most police officers would agree with.

“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,'” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”

Oliver’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said he was pleased to see Johnson go forward with plans to prosecute Oliver, something that other district attorneys might not do in similar police shootings.

“Far too often we see cases where there’s been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving,” Merritt said after the announcement. “We are satisfied with this step.”

Oliver was also indicted last month on two aggravated assault charges following accusations he pulled a gun on two people in an unrelated road-rage incident weeks before Jordan’s death. The district attorney called Oliver a “danger to the community.”

That case was investigated more thoroughly after Jordan’s death. Originally Dallas police said no crime occurred.

The attorneys for Jordan’s family have been critical of how Dallas police handled the road-rage incident.

“Had Dallas taken some action on that particular night when they knew that this officer placed a gun to someone’s head, Jordan would be with us here today,” said attorney Daryl Washington, who also represents the family.

A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury(Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)
A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury (Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)

Oliver faces up to life in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him. Although no date has been set for Oliver’s trial, Johnson said prosecutors will first pursue the murder charge against Oliver.

Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the case, but said she is dedicated to “seeking justice for Jordan.”

“We believe we have a very strong case,” Johnson said. “We’re planning to win this case.”

Many who have been strongly advocating that prosecutors move forward with the case have questioned whether the district attorney’s office could win a conviction after so many officers nationwide have been acquitted in shootings of unarmed black men.

But another attorney for Jordan’s family, Jasmine Crockett, said she is no longer one of them.

“There’s no question now in my mind whether he’s going to be locked up,” she said.

In the meantime, Oliver is free on a $700,000 bond related to the murder charge and aggravated assault charges stemming from the road-rage incident. A judge did not increase that bond for the four new aggravated assault charges.

<p>Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge.</p>(Edwards family)
Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge. (Edwards family)
Oliver and Gross were at the Balch Springs home after a 911 call about reports of drunken teenagers. But they arrived and found no alcohol or drugs in the home. The officers were inside when they and party-goers heard gunshots. Oliver and Gross ran outside. Oliver went to his patrol car for his rifle, and Gross ran toward where he thought the shots came from.

The shots everyone heard while inside the house, investigators later learned, came from the parking lot of a nearby nursing home.

Oliver grabbed his rifle from a patrol car as Jordan, his brothers and two friends got in a car to leave the party. Gross walked up to the car, yelling for them to stop. He broke a window of the car with his gun. The kids drove off.

Oliver, a six-year veteran of the force, shot through a passenger window and killed Jordan.

Jordan’s mother, Charmaine Edwards, described the teen Monday as “a great kid, a great football player, a straight-A student, somebody that was gonna go somewhere.”

She and Odell Edwards said their sons who were with Jordan when he died have been struggling since the shooting. Some days they’re OK, other days they’re not. 

‘Smile that could light up a room’

Jordan was a Mesquite High School freshman who had begged his parents for weeks to attend the party. He was there with his two brothers and two friends, who were in the car when Oliver fired into it.

His football coach Jeff Fleener has said he was “crushed and heartbroken” when he found out Jordan had been killed. He said Jordan was a good kid who never got into trouble and had a GPA over 3.5.

Fleener has been at the school only two months, but he said that Jordan introduced himself on his first day and that the two became “quick friends.” Jordan played on the freshman team and was supposed to begin playing defensive back this spring.

Jordan had many friends and a “smile that could light up a room,” Fleener said.

“The best thing in the world, or the worst thing in the world, would happen, and he’d smile, and everything would be OK,” the coach said. “You create a checklist of everything you would want in a player, a son, a teammate, a friend, and Jordan had all that. He was that kid.”

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Standing on the Backs of the Poor

Kitia Harris is a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter in Detroit. Recently, she picked up a minor traffic ticket for “impeding traffic” totaling $276 in court fines and fees. Living off just $1,200 a month in disability payments—not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other basic needs—she was unable to pay her traffic fines.

Because she cannot afford her outstanding court debt, Michigan suspended her license.

Kitia has never committed a crime, and for many years she worked hard in low-wage jobs to support herself and her daughter. In 2014, she was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition with no cure that prevents her from working.

Without a driver’s license, everything is more expensive. Kitia’s disability requires regular medical treatments. Now, instead of driving herself to her appointments, she must pay others to drive her. And because Detroit has the worst public transportation system of any major city in the country, she must also pay for rides for daily tasks like grocery shopping, or picking up her daughter. By forcing her to pay more just to get around, Michigan has trapped her in a cycle of poverty.

This is not fair, and it’s not justice.

Like Kitia, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have lost their driver’s licenses simply because they are poor. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt or failure to appear.

These residents have not been judged too dangerous to drive; they are not a threat behind the wheel; they have not caused serious injuries while driving. In the vast majority of cases, their only “crime” is that they are too poor to pay.

Michigan’s model creates two different justice systems based on wealth status. For the rich, a minor infraction (like changing lanes without a turn signal) would result in a fine of maybe $135. For those who are poor and unable to pay, the same infraction could eventually lead to a license suspension. This suspension scheme violates our commonly held standards of justice: States should not dole out punishment simply based on wealth status.

But perhaps more importantly: Michigan’s scheme is terrible public policy.

These suspensions laws are trapping productive residents in a cycle of poverty. It’s crushing for Kitia and her daughter, and it is especially bad for Michigan. As a state famous for its poorly managed fiscal situation, Michigan should help its residents pay back their court debt. Instead, the state is making it much harder for them to do so.

On May 4, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Michigan for this wealth-based suspension scheme. Our lawsuit seeks to return licenses to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who have had their licenses suspended solely for the inability to pay court debt, and it asks the state to cease poverty-based suspensions in the future. We are not asking Michigan to change the way it treats drivers who are truly a threat on the road. Nothing we’re asking would allow a driver to commit reckless driving offenses.

We’re only asking that the state stop punishing people for being poor.

We are also asking that Michigan consider alternatives that many other states successfully employ. There should be an ability-to-pay hearing before any license is suspended. If someone is unable to pay due to poverty status, they should be given alternatives, like community service or payment plans. Some states offer payment plans as low as $5 per month.

Some supporters of Michigan’s suspension law claim that those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets should drive more carefully. But this argument is exactly the kind of unequal justice we must fight against. Our justice system should not be premised on the notion that the rich get to buy their way out of trouble while the poor live under a sword of Damocles for not using a turn signal.

Others say that it’s unfair for poor people to get out of fines just because they’re unable to pay. What I ask of those folks is empathy. For many people—including Kitia Harris—poverty is not a choice. Kitia was raised without a mother or father, spending the majority of her childhood in foster care.

Now 25, she has never had a reliable, supportive adult in her life. She has lived her life in poverty. Calling it “unfair” that Kitia keep her driver’s license even though she cannot pay her court debt misses the fact that Kitia is doing everything in her power to make ends meet.

If she could pay her court debt, she would.

Instead of punishing someone who cannot pay their court debt, Michigan—and every other state—would be better off if people like Kitia were helped to break the cycle of poverty and repay the debt they owe.

Phil Telfeyan

Rather than making life harder and more expensive for Kitia, Michigan could provide her with the tools she needs to get back on her feet. Especially in a place like Detroit, which offers no meaningful public transportation option, Kitia needs a way to get around.

She needs empathy from us, and justice from our justice system.

 

Phil Telfeyan is founding director of Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, DC based nonprofit that challenges “wealth-based discrimination.”  He served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice for five years, where he specialized in employment discrimination and immigrants’ rights. He welcomes comments from readers.

 

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Racial Imbalance in Louisiana Murder Charges is ‘Systemic’

Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.

The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a  “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.

Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.

He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.

“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.

“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”

An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.

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If We Step Up the Drug War, You’ll Be a Victim

What word best describes the War on Drugs? Inane? Lunacy? Indecent? Harmful? Thuggery?

The right answer is All of the Above. Politicians have ruined lives and wasted money in a futile campaign to stop people from recreational drug use.

It may be true that people who use drugs are being stupid. Or even immoral. But the key thing to understand is that it’s a victimless crime.

Actually, that’s not true, there are victims. They’re called taxpayers, who have to finance the government’s drug war. And there are secondary victims thanks to bad laws (dealing with asset forfeiture and money laundering) that only exist because of the drug war.

Speaking of which, here’s another horror story from the drug war:

A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns … the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures.

Here’s the jaw-dropping part of the story:

… $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

In other words, the government took people’s money even if they weren’t charged with a crime, much less convicted of a crime.

Drug users also can be victims. Heck, sometimes people are victims even if they’re not users, as we see from this great moment in the drug war:

“They thought they had the biggest bust in Harris County,” Ross LeBeau said. “This was the bust of the year for them.” A traffic stop in early December led to the discovery of almost half a pound of what deputies believed to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested LeBeau and sent out a press release, including a mug shot, describing the bust. According to authorities, the arrest was due to deputies finding a sock filled with what they believed to be methamphetamine … After the arrest, LeBeau was fingerprinted and booked into a jail where he spent three days before being released. The problem came after two field tests, performed by deputies, came back positive for meth. Later a third test was conducted by the county’s forensic lab which revealed that the kitty litter was not a controlled substance. The case was later dismissed.

And more bad things like this are probably going to happen because the Justice Department now wants a more punitive approach to victimless crimes.

C.J. Ciaramella of Reason reports on the grim details:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and maximum possible sentences available, reversing an Obama-era policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug crimes … the overall message is clear: Federal prosecutors have the green light to go hard after any and all drug offenses … The shift marks the first significant return by the Trump administration to the drug war policies that the Obama administration tried to moderate. In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain low-level offenders with drug charges that triggered long mandatory sentences. The federal prison population dropped for the first time in three decades in 2014, and has continued to fall since.

Some Republicans are unhappy about this return to draconian policies:

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice … Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), although he did not directly criticize Sessions, wrote in a tweet Friday morning that “to be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

For what it’s worth, Sessions isn’t the only one who deserves blame:

While it’s easy to point the finger at Sessions … Congress ultimately passed the laws the Justice Department is tasked with enforcing. Lawmakers in Congress had a golden window of opportunity over the past three years to revise federal sentencing laws—with bipartisan winds at their back and a friendly administration in White House—and failed miserably.

And there is a tiny bit of good news:

… the Office of National Drug Control Policy … Trump plans to reduce the agency’s budget by 95 percent … there are plenty of actual harm reduction advocates who would be happy to see the agency close up shop.

Though don’t get too excited:

… you know what federal agency with drug policy ramifications is not dormant? The Justice Department … In the grand scheme of the drug war, who might occupy the ONDCP’s bully pulpit matters less than the army Sessions is building.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for better policy.

Here’s another reason why the war on pot is so absurd. As reported by the Daily Caller, people without access to marijuana are more likely to get in trouble with opioids:

Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ. The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.

Last but not least, an article in Reason explains how greedy politicians are undermining the otherwise successful pot legalization in Colorado:

Colorado … voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, transforming the popular stuff from a prohibited vice to a substance that could be produced, bought and sold without the hassle of hiding dealings from the authorities and the fear of arrest for voluntary transactions. Yet the marijuana black market is still going strong over four years later, with many sellers and customers willing to take a chance on legal consequences rather than make a risk-free deal … the driving force behind the black market … is taxes so sky high and regulations so burdensome that they make legal pot uncompetitive. “An ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars,” according to PBS correspondent Rick Karr. “At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.” Colorado also piles on expensive regulatory requirements to get a license.

This is not a surprise.

I wrote back in 2015 that the tax burden was excessive.

Indeed, I even wondered if legalization in Colorado was a good thing if the net result was a big pile of tax revenue that could be used to expand government.

The libertarian part of me says Colorado made the right decision, though the fiscal economist part of me definitely sees a downside.

And that downside may become an even bigger downer:

Governor John Hickenlooper wants to increase the marijuana sales tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. “It seems kind of odd that at the same time they’re trying to do something about the black and gray markets they’re going to ratchet up the taxes and drive more people to the black and gray markets,” state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) commented.

P.S. I wonder if Senator Steadman realizes he just embraced the Laffer Curve?

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that voices as diverse as John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, John McCain, and Richard Branson all agree that it’s time to rethink marijuana prohibition.

Daniel J. Mitchell


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

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Sessions’ Dream of Resurrecting Reefer Madness Foiled by Congress

If ever one feels the need to dole out criticisms, Congress is reliably low-hanging fruit. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, once in a blue moon Congress does something that is not a complete affront to liberty.

Having Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General in the era of Trump has had civil liberty advocates on edge from the get-go. As one of the last remaining champions of marijuana prohibition, Sessions would erase all progress made toward decriminalization over the last several years—if given the chance.

Luckily, Congress has taken precautionary measures to ensure that the Trump appointee cannot get his regulatory claws on medical marijuana legislation passed by 29 states.

Congress is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization. Saved by the Amendment 

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was included in the newly revealed Congressional budget, would block any federal impediment on state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana by barring any federal dollars from being spent on enforcing national drug laws.

Slipped into the budget bill that would keep the government sufficiently funded until September, the text of the amendment clarifies that states that have legalized medical marijuana  are safe from federal intrusion, specifying:

“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana

Nothing about this amendment is particularly out of the ordinary since medical marijuana has been subtly protected in budget bills since 2014. However, this year’s inclusion represents more than a symbolic gesture, given Attorney General Sessions’ outdated views on marijuana legalization.

Sessions had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine. In a rare turn of events Congress, the governing body known for having little to no respect for American civil liberties is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization, at least for medical purposes.

Sessions’ track record on the issue has done little to assure opponents of the drug war that states will continue to make strides towards allowing patients to seek and use marijuana for medical purposes.

Reefer Madness

As recently as February, Sessions made comments expressing his dissatisfaction with states exerting their sovereign right to make laws in the best interests of their constituents. Clarifying his stance he stated:

“States, they can pass the laws they choose, I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

Demonstrating just how out of touch he is on the issue and denying medical research to the contrary Sessions also had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine.

As more states have legalized pot, opiate use is down nationwide. While this statement would be outlandishly false regardless, to make say such things while an opiate epidemic is plaguing the country is not only ignorant, it’s especially dangerous considering Sessions’ powerful position when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

In fact, as more states have legalized marijuana, opiate usage is down nationwide. But apparently, Sessions does not see this as a positive development even though heroine is estimated to have been the cause of over 13,000 deaths in America in 2016.

Fortunately, this move represents Congress’ reluctance to roll back any victories seen on the marijuana legalization front, at least medically-speaking, which, albeit small, is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, this amendment only protects medical marijuana laws, meaning Sessions could potentially make a power grab and go after the eight states that have legalized pot on a recreational level, nine including the nation’s capital, although doing so would be wildly unpopular and out of line with an American public that now largely skews in favor of marijuana legalization.

While Sessions is surely the personification of the uneducated reefer madness era, he has yet to act on the issue aside from veiled threats that rhetorically resurrect an archaic sentiment.

Brittany Hunter


Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at FEE. Brittany studied political science at Utah Valley University with a minor in Constitutional studies.

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Sotomayor sees ‘disturbing trend’ of failing to intervene on behalf of victims of police shootings

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday complained about a “disturbing trend” in which the U.S. Supreme Court appears more likely to intervene on behalf of police officers than the people they shoot.

Sotomayor lobbed her complaint in a dissent from a cert denial (PDF) in an excessive force case. The dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, included a footnote that read, “Some commentators have observed the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.”

Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted a case that involved Ricardo Salazar-Limon, who was shot in the back by a Houston police officer as he walked back to his car. The officer said he shot Salazar-Limon in October 2010 because the suspect ignored his order to stop, turned toward the officer, and raised his hands toward his waistband. Salazar-Limon had said he was trying to walk away from a confrontation.

The shooting happened after Salazar-Limon was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and then resisted being handcuffed. Salazar-Limon sustained “crippling injuries” as a result of the shooting, according to Sotomayor.

Because there were competing accounts of the incident, the case should not have been decided by summary judgment, Sotomayor said.

The cert denial, Sotomayor wrote, “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. … But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred in the cert denial in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said Salazar-Limon never refuted the officer’s claim that he had reached with his waist.

“It is clear,” Alito wrote, “that the lower courts acted responsibly and attempted faithfully to apply the correct legal rule to what is at best a marginal set of facts.”

Alito also said that Sotomayor had not cited any cases in which the Supreme Court failed to grant cert on behalf of an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct that was similar to the cases in which it granted relief for police officers.

“This is undeniably a tragic case,” Alito wrote, but the court rarely grants review when a petitioner alleges a lower court erred in applying a settled rule of law to particular facts.

The case is Salazar-Limon v. Houston. SCOTUSblog has coverage.

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Police Racism, Even on the Autopsy Table.

Autopsy photo was taken with a chicken bone placed on the table because the victim was a black man.

Twenty-three years after the fact, incontrovertible evidence that officers at both the street and command levels allowed their professionalism to be compromised by the cavalier treatment of evidence at the scene of a murder is on the brink of being put on the public record as the result of a lawsuit brought by two current members of the Fontana Police Department.

The mishandling of evidence – the body of the deceased – was the product of, at best, a racially insensitive moment of jest on the part of one or more officers and, at worst, a manifestation of racism that may have allowed the perpetrator of murder to escape being brought to justice.

The larger implication of the incident, now nearly a quarter of a century in the past, is that not only the members of the department who were involved, many of whom are now retired but the department’s administration and now by extension the city’s municipal management, political leaders and its attorneys have been brought in on what amounts to 23-year running cover-up, which they are seeking to perpetuate into the future.

What all this comes down to at this point is whether Superior Court Judge Wilfred J. Schneider, Jr. will permit the evidence that will establish the tampering with evidence took place, delineating the Fontana Police Department as a bastion of racism that is devoted more to perpetuating a culture of prejudice than to ensuring equal protection under the law.

On June 30, 2016, David J. Moore Sr. & Andrew Anderson, represented by attorneys Bradley C. Gage and Milad Sadr, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the City of Fontana, alleging discrimination, retaliation and failure to take corrective action.

According to the suit, the 189-member Fontana Police Department is comprised of sworn officers who are predominantly white, such that it has never had more than four African American officers on the force at any given time, despite African Americans comprising more than 10 percent of the city’s population, while employing fewer than thirty Latino officers – roughly 15 percent – even though Hispanics comprise nearly 70 percent of the city’s population. According to the suit, the police department’s administration is even more lopsidedly out of step with the city’s demographics, which has perpetuated an atmosphere in which the department has condoned the mistreatment of minorities.

Manifestations of the culture include, according to the suit, officers referring to African Americans as “niggers, “silverbacks” and “wild monkeys” and to Hispanics using derogatory terms such as “wetbacks and beaners and pink panties.”

The suit maintains that because of the general dearth of minority officers on the force and because of the growing reluctance of the department’s white officers to engage in certain enforcement activities involving blacks and Latinos, Moore, who is African-American, has been detailed to an overwhelming number of calls involving Fontana’s minority community. Among those are what the lawsuit designates as difficult and politically sensitive cases such as those referred to by department members as Acute Political Emergency (“APE”) cases. It is alleged that several of these APE cases are racially charged. If these cases are not handled properly and with the utmost care and correctness, it could cost the investigator his or her career. Other corporals in the department are not assigned to these cases. This has led to the perception that the department’s upper chain of command is engaging in some “strategic planning” to better the chances of Corporal Moore making a mistake and being terminated, according to the suit.

Anderson, who is of mixed background but self-identifies as a Latino, has sought to become a field training officer with the department. Those efforts have met with rejection, based upon the department’s assertion he lacks the requisite experience. Several Caucasian officers with less experience than Anderson have been given field training officer assignments.

Moreover, according to the lawsuit, the Fontana’s Police Department’s administration has reserved plum assignments and its most prestigious positions for white officers, with just a few token promotions of Hispanics. One such example cited in the suit is that of the Special Enforcement Detail (SED), the most hallowed of the department’s divisions and from the ranks of which all, or nearly all, of the department’s commanders, are promoted. Currently, in the SED, there are 19 white members and one Hispanic. There are no African American Members.

The suit alleges that in 2006, upon receiving an electronic Martin Luther King doll which played the “I have a dream” speech as a retirement gift, Lieutenant Tim Newsome mutilated the doll’s speaking mechanism and Lieutenant Bob Morris tied a noose around the doll’s neck and then lynched it in effigy from a ceiling rafter inside the department’s crime prevention unit.

Moving beyond atmospherics, one element of the case Gage and Sadr are attempting to present is how the ingrained racist policies in the department endangered public safety by interfering with a murder investigation. According to the suit, in 1994 an African American male murder victim, Jimmy Earl Burleson, was discovered behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery on Sierra Ave in Fontana. A cop while at the scene of the murder thought it would be funny to place a piece of chicken in the Burleson’s hand, to make it look like he was stealing a chicken from the restaurant before he was killed. A photograph was taken, and then circulated around the department for years.

This behavior by a Fontana Police Department officer or officers would potentially have been prosecutable as a felony under PC 141, which pertains to the planting or tampering of evidence, which is an obstruction of justice crime. In the specific instance of the deceased man at KFC, the manipulating of his body could be viewed as tampering with evidence.

In this case, the tampering with evidence was done as some order of a joke or prank, intended to be taken in a comical spirit among police officers. This action on the part of a police department member or members was also potentially prosecutable as a violation of the California Health and Safety Code Section 7070.5, which states that every person who knowingly mutilates, disinters, wantonly disturbs, or willfully removes any human remains in or from any location is in violation of the law.

Best Best & Krieger attorneys Howard B. Golds and Joseph Ortiz, who are seeking to defend the City of Fontana and the police department in the face of the Anderson/Moore lawsuit, will be filing court papers, referred to as motions in Limine, seeking to exclude certain evidence from being considered at the trial. One of those items of evidence for which exclusion will almost certainly be sought is the photo of the deceased Burleson, Kentucky Fried Chicken leg in hand.

Coming as it does at this time, the Anderson/Moore suit has even greater implication than it might at another point. In April, a date for the trail will be determined. The case will go before a jury in April, even as advocates of removing Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren from office will be turning what is anticipated to be the final corner in attempting to obtain a sufficient number of signatures of Fontana voters to put a recall question against her on the ballot.

In most city governments, municipal departments work hand in hand with one another to ensure the safety of the city and its citizens. The fire department and the police department usually function as a well oiled machine under the ultimate control of municipal administration and in unison with the other city divisions to make sure this happens. The fire and police departments, along with the city government, work collaboratively and with the best interest of the other departments in mind. In Fontana this is no different. Fontana’s mayor, Acquanetta Warren, as commander and chief of the city, works with the city council, the city manager, Ken Hunt, the police department, fire department, as well as other entities to make sure that the city is protected, prospering and, as the mayor is often quoted as saying, on the, “up and up.”

Ethics in any type of government is a pillar of its success. When the people in the important positions like mayor, city manager, city council, and police chief have a sense of duty and ethics in the way they conduct themselves, it shows in their productivity. At all stages of government, there is an occasional occurrence of unethical behavior. The philosopher David Hume stated that the mental faculties, secret propensities and animal passions of man are so interwoven, it is sometimes difficult from his actions to detect the impulses, or nominate the emotions, by which he is incited or induced to act; and he often acts under a combination of influences. Because there are so many different forces and factors that encompass a person and weigh on him, such as societal, social, and behavioral elements, making the rightful and honest choice in any decision is difficult.

Hume also stated that man is naturally selfish and this quality of human nature is dangerous to society and seems on a cursory view incapable of remedy; and there is no element in human nature which causes more fatal conduct than that which leads us to prefer what is present to the distant, which makes humans desire objects more according to their immediate situation than their intrinsic value. Because of this, men will falsify reports, steal, be negligent, or engage in a host of other wrong actions to do anything that assures their continuity in the present. The problem with this is that they are not worried about the important intrinsic fundamental values that are overall more important than one individual, especially in the community sense. Those values are honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.

Some see in the Anderson/Moore lawsuit an attempt to hold government officials accountable, to register in the public record that the leaders of a city government – in this case Fontana – have been presented with information about a systemic problem – racism – within the city. Whether Judge Schneider will permit Gage and Sadr to paint as stark of a picture of that systemic problem as they intend is a yet outstanding question. Whether Mayor Warren and other city officials such as city manager Ken Hunt will choose to close their eyes and look the other way is another question that is pending. Given the current accusations of negligence lodged against her as a consequence of the recall, Warren is in the position of being perceived as an accessory after the fact to the activity in the police department that is now about to go under a microscope.
Penal Code 32 states the definition of accessory: When a person not actually or constructively present but contributing as an assistant or instigator to the commission of an offense —called also accessory before the fact. Second, a person who knowing that a crime has been committed aids or shelters the offender with intent to defeat justice —called also accessory after the fact.

Gage and Sadr are looking to make a case that police department supervisors knew a crime occurred but failed to act, or failed to report the illegal actions of the racist officer who altered a crime scene. Later they aided in the crime by demanding or otherwise arranging that the evidence of the altered evidence – the photos of Burelson – be removed from booking, Gage and Sadr allege. They maintain this cover-up formed into a major conspiracy to obstruct justice. California Penal Code Section 182 PC makes it illegal to be part of a criminal conspiracy. Conspiracy is a felony-level offense that can carry severe consequences for those convicted.

The Sentinel has confirmed that the photo of Burleson, with a chicken bone in his hand, does in fact exist. The half-eaten chicken leg was visible in the decedent’s hand as the autopsy was being performed. One photo taken during the autopsy clearly depicts an African American man cut open on the coroner’s table, while the chicken bone remained in his hand. According to witnesses at the time, the bone was placed in Burleson’s hand as a cruel, racist joke.

The photos in question were brought to the attention of, and submitted to, Fontana Police officials. Once this information reached the command level, there was no investigation of the incident. Instead, the offending photos were removed from the compendium of photos which were to be booked into evidence. This was the first attempt to cover-up the crime of tampering with a corpse and police evidence. Nevertheless, the photos were allowed to circulate within the department and many cops passed the photos around and made fun of the horrible crime. This showed, according to Gage and Sadr, the openly racist environment of the Fontana Police Department during that time. The supervisors who covered up the crime rose in ranks and were promoted at the Fontana Police Department, composing what is today the police department’s top administration.

Moreover, the incident has implication beyond the confines of the Fontana Police Department. In one picture, the deceased, an African American with the partially eaten chicken bone clenched in his hand, is shown lying filleted on an autopsy table at the San Bernardino County Morgue. The photo shows the corpse on the examiner’s table and that an autopsy was conducted or is in the process of being conducted. The photo was taken from behind his head while he was lying on the autopsy table.

This crime occurred while those who perpetuated it were on duty, during the time, while, as agents of the law, they were sworn to professionally investigate the Burleson’s violent death. Unknown, precisely, was when the chicken bone was placed into the deceased’s hand, whether it was prior to or after arrival at the morgue, where a licensed doctor was present.

One Fontana police officer would go on record, or at least attempt to do so, protesting the desecration of a human corpse and the tampering with evidence. Former police Corporal Ray Schneiders did bring the incident to the attention of his supervisors, but he was ignored. Later he found himself targeted for retaliation for speaking up.

Schneiders was ostracized and harassed for years. Ultimately, he filed a civil lawsuit against the department and was subsequently granted a medical retirement. Using taxpayer money, the city used its hired legal guns – the law firms of Best Best and Krieger and the Jones and Mayer – to keep the word of the alteration/destruction of evidence relating to a homicide under wraps. Burleson’s murder was never solved.

According to sources inside and outside of the Fontana P.D, information pertaining to the police department’s alteration of evidence impacting a homicide investigation and the racist motivation behind it was provided to Mayor Acquanetta Warren, city manager Ken Hunt, the city council, former chiefs of police Larry Clark and Rodney Jones and other police officials.

Warren finds herself in a dilemma. She stands at a political crossroads, with a growing number of her constituents seeking to remove her from office. At the same time, she has wedded herself to the city’s establishment, which includes the police department. It is unclear what political, personal and ethical calculations she will make. She can maintain her alliance with the establishment, which might offer her support against the grass roots organizations looking to dislodge her. At the same time, she lives in a city where 81 percent of the population is either Hispanic or African American. If, on behalf of Anderson and Moore, Gage And Sadr succeed in pushing into the public consciousness the details about how the police department has operated, political expedience and her own desire for political survival may persuade Warren to join the chorus seeking reform in the Fontana Police Department and show, in her own words, that she really is on the “up and up.”

Written by Carlos Avalos

Carlos is an Investigative Journalist focusing on Police Corruption. A graduate of Cal State San Bernardino-B.A Political Science/ International Relations. California Democratic Delegate 47th District 2012-2016 Arizona State University- Masters in Public Policy.

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The Racist Roots of Marijuana Prohibition

The history of marijuana (or cannabis/THC) stems back over 10,000 years and is widely recognized as one of the most useful plants on the planet. Yet it was made illegal in the United States in the early 20th century due to political and economic factors.

History of The Drug

Let’s get one thing clear: marijuana was not made illegal because it caused “insanity, criminality, and death” as was claimed by Harry J. Anslinger. It was made illegal in an attempt to control Mexican immigration into the United States and to help boost the profits of large pharmaceutical companies.

Humans have been using the plant for almost 10,000 years to make necessary items such as clothing and pottery. But the first direct reference to a cannabis product as a “psychoactive agent” dates back to 2737 BC in the writings of the Chinese emperor Shen Nung.

Southern states feared the plant so much, it was called the “marijuana menace.”

The focus was on its healing powers, primarily how it healed diseases such as malaria and even “absent-mindlessness.” The plant was used recreationally by Indians and Muslims as well.

Marijuana in America

The drug was introduced into America by the Spanish in 1545, where it became a major commercial force and was grown alongside tobacco. Farmers mostly grew hemp instead of cannabis (a form of the plant that is very low in THC), and by 1890 it had replaced cotton as the major cash crop in southern states.

Hemp continued to flourish in the States until the 1910s when Mexicans began popularizing the recreational use of cannabis.

At the time, cannabis was not primarily used for its psychoactive effects. However, and quite frankly, many “white” Americans did not like the fact that Mexicans were smoking the plant, and they soon demonized the drug.

Around 1910, the Mexican Revolution was starting to boil over, and many Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. to escape the conflict. This Mexican population had its own uses for cannabis, and they referred to it as “marihuana.” Not only did they use it for medicinal purposes, but they smoked it recreationally – a new concept for white Americans. U.S. politicians quickly jumped on the opportunity to label cannabis “marihuana” in order to give it a bad rep by making it sound more authentically Mexican at a time of extreme prejudice.

It worked. Southern states became worried about the dangers this drug would bring, and newspapers began calling Mexican cannabis use a “marijuana menace.”

During the 1920s, many anti-marijuana campaigns were conducted to raise awareness about the many harmful effects the drug caused. These campaigns included radical claims stating that marijuana turned users into killers and drug addicts. They were all obviously fake, made up in an attempt to get rid of Mexican immigrants.

“A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say that there is no hope of saving the children’s lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life,” read a New York Times story from 1927. It was clear the newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant, and much of it has been said to be based on racist ideologies against Mexican immigrants.

The “war against marijuana” arguably began in 1930, where a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.

Anslinger realized that opiates and cocaine would not be enough to build his new agency, so he turned towards marijuana and worked relentlessly to make it illegal on a federal level. Some anti-marijuana quotes from Anslinger’s agency read:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

“Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”

“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

Yes, every single one of these claims is outrageous, but the strategy worked.

(Harry Anslinger got some additional help from William Randolph Hearst, owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. First, he hated Mexicans. Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. Third, he had lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa and blamed Mexicans. Fourth, telling lurid lies about Mexicans [and the devil marijuana weed causing violence] sold newspapers, making him rich.)

The war on marijuana intensified in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed.

The two were then supported by the Dupont chemical company and various pharmaceutical companies in the effort to outlaw cannabis. Pharmaceutical companies were on board with the idea because they could not standardize cannabis dosages, and people could grow it themselves. They knew how versatile the plant was in treating a wide range of medical conditions and that meant a potentially massive loss of profits.

So, these U.S. economic and political powerhouses teamed up to form a great little act called The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

This act testified to the many harmful effects of marijuana and was obviously opposed by many. But it was ultimately the committee chairman who got this act passed in congress. 

The chairman decided that

“high school boys and girls buy the destructive weed without knowledge of its capacity of harm, and conscienceless dealers sell it with impunity. This is a national problem, and it must have national attention. The fatal marihuana cigarette must be recognized as a deadly drug, and American children must be protected against it.”

And there you have it: 1937 marks the year where marijuana became illegal in the United States of America.

Epilogue 

A man by the name of Harry Anslinger became the director of the newly established department — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Anslinger teamed up with William Randolph Hearst (a newspaper company owner) and some big-time pharmaceutical companies, and together they launched an anti-marijuana campaign to profit off of manufactured medicine and deport thousands of Mexicans.

Marijuana was not made illegal because of its negative health impacts. It was these men who manipulated the public into believing the herb was deadly, and their impacts are still felt even today.

The war against marijuana intensified in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed.
The future for marijuana is looking very bright.

During this time, marijuana, heroin, and LSD were listed as “schedule 1” drugs (having the highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use). Obviously, this goes against thousands of years of human knowledge where it was widely known that cannabis was one of the most beneficial herbs on the face of the planet.

Congress has repeatedly decided to ignore history to the benefit of big pharmaceutical companies, which bring in billions of dollars annually from selling cheaply manufactured medicine.

The “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush years resulted in the passage of stricter laws, mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of marijuana, and heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The “war on drugs” brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation.

It wasn’t until 1996 when California legalized marijuana for medical use. Alaska, Oregon, and Washington eventually followed suit. However, it has taken well over a decade for marijuana to reach recreational legalization in these states. 

With all this being said, the future for marijuana is looking very bright. Marijuana advocates believe there is a chance for at least 11 more states to legalize recreational marijuana in the near future, which would be a huge leap forward in the grand scheme of things.

It has taken far too long to break the stigma attached to marijuana. Yes, like any drug, it can be abused. But to ignore its obvious health benefits in order to maintain large scale pharmaceutical operations and a monopoly on the health industry is ludicrous. 


David McDonald

David McDonald is a 20-year-old student at the University Of Guelph.