Drug Laws Are Destroying Justice In America!
In the last few years the government has radically changed the rules in drug cases so that the traditional concepts of American justice no longer apply. The Constitutional right to bail has been replaced by routine preventive detention. The Constitutional requirement of due process prior to seizure of property has been replaced with forfeiture laws which allow seizure of up to $ 100,000 in property without a judge, seizure of all property before conviction, and even allowing the government to keep the property if the individual is acquitted. Individual sentencing and parole are being replaced by mandatory sentences, determinate sentencing, and the abolition of parole. The dice have been so loaded that the results of drug cases are generally preordained.
As if that were not enough, the tactics being used by the U.S. Department of Justice are undermining effective assistance of counsel. According to a survey of 1,648 criminal defense attorneys, 24% of those who specialize in drug cases have been subpoenaed to testify against their own clients, 33% have faced attempts to disqualify them, 41% have had informants for the government invade the defense camp and 28% have had their legal fees questioned. Attorneys now must give their clients Miranda-Wke warnings because of the likelihood of being forced to provide the government with information about their client.
The mies are changing so that it is no
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Destruction of Personal Privacy
The drug war has also undermined privacy by eroding the Fourth Amendment, increasing electronic surveillance, expanding data banks of personal information, and utilizing high-technology searches. As Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell noted in a recent dissent: “After today, families can expect to be free of official government surveillance only when they retreat behind the walls of their homes.”
Recent Supreme Court decisions in marijuana cases have held police can get a search warrant based on an anonymous tip, conduct warrantless aerial searches of backyards, search a locked briefcase in a locked trunk of a car without a search warrant, and search private property without a search warrant. In that latter case, the police were allowed to ignore trespassing laws and walk a mile on private property before finding any marijuana.
These decisions have helped to bring about vastly expanded police powers and have created an atmosphere in which mass urine testing for drug use can flourish. Mass random searches for drugs are the opposite of what the Constitution stands for. There is no individual suspicion, no probably cause, no grounds for a search, but a very personal, invasive search which takes place. You are presumed guilty unless you can disprove a test result. Up to a 66% inaccuracy has been reported with urine tests, and that tenuous line is a person’s reputation, career, or even liberty.
Also on the increase is electronic surveillance. Many methods of electronic surveillance do not need a court order, but the 784 wiretaps approved in 1984 was a 32% increase over 1980. Over 55% of wiretaps are for drug cases. A Presidential Commission recently went further and recommended that laws limiting wiretaps be weakened, even though all but two requests for wire taps were given judicial approval.
Loss of Respect for
Perhaps the most dangerous effect of the drug laws is that they undermine respect for tile rule of law, in part due to extreme enforcement tactics and corrupt public officials, but also because they are based on exaggerated claims about the effects of drugs and are viewed as hypocritical.
Some of the soldiers in the drug war are acting like anything they do is acceptable. In the last year police officers in New York City have been convicted of burning the flesh of a high school student accused of a petty marijuana offense with an electric stun gun. Marijuana raiders in California have been put under court supervision to prevent them from abusing the rights of local residents. The justice system was not designed as a weapon of war; it was designed as a method of finding the truth and administering justice. Its misuse as a weapon of war is inefficient and destructive.
Another example of diminishing respect for the law is the widespread corruption of
public officials. Over the last three years at least 300 elected or appointed public officials in the U.S. have been indicted or convicted of drug offenses. That is an average of two each week. Charges include petty sales, major smuggling, selling of information, and murder.
All of this fas done nothing to bolster confidence in laws which many view as hypocritical to begin with. Marijuana is a milder intoxicant than alcohol and much less addicting than tobacco. Indeed, while there are over 400,000 d&ths each year from tobacco and alcohol (not including accident fatalities), there las never been a single death caused by marijuana.
Anyone who reviews the various reports of impartial commissions that lave analyzed marijuana policy will abo note the hypocrisy of marijuana prohibition. Hie meat recent review erf marijuana policy was conducted by lia National Academy of Sciences. In Jura of 1982 the NAS recommended that marijuana immediately be decriminalized and in the long run, be neguiaied and taxed. On the same day President Reagan announced his escalation of the marijuana war.
The NAS report was only the most recent to recommend reform. In 1972, much to his surprise, a Commission appointed by Richard Nixon did the same, recommending marijuana decriminalization, as have the Canadian LeDain Commission of 1970, Great Britain’s Wooten Committee of 1968, the LaGuardia Commission of 1943, and the Indian Hemp Commission erf 1894. The marijuana laws are based on labe information, not on rational antilysis of empirical evidence or scientific data, »
The nass violations of the drug laws result in loss of respect for all laws. Over thirty million Americans use marijuana each year. There are more marijuana consumers than there are people over the age of 65 years old. These people are “criminals.” In order for them to get marijuana they are often forced to deal with criminals and are introduced to other illegal drugs. Criminality becomes an accepted way of life and even if marijuana consumers do not become robbers or burglars, they have lost respect for the law and view My>olice as an eroftiy* '
The Overburdened, Overcrowded System of Justice
The administration of justice has become increasingly grid locked. This breakdown in justice has developed as the drug war has escalated. The failure begins on the street. In 1984 there were 4,700 unsolved murders; 53% of violent criminab did not get caught, nor did one out of two rapists. But at the same time police were busy arresting an average of 81 drug offenders per hour, 49 of them for marijuana. Indeed, more than twice
as many people were arrested for marijuana as for rape, robbery, and murder combined. Even more shocking is the fact that 85% of marijuana arrests are for mere possession and not sale of marijuana.
The courts lave abo become severely overworked with long backlogs in many jurisdictions. Indeed, in 1983 29% of criminal cases in federal courts were drug «oses, nearly 2,000 for marijuana. Drug offenses make up 24% of pending cases in U.S. Attorneys’ offices (the next closest category is fraud, making up 6%).
The prison system is overcrowded not only because of preventive detention but because misplaced priorities result in an average sentence for a drug offerier of 40.8 while tihe average for first degree murder b 36 months, for second degree murder 24 months, and for assault, 30.3 months. The incarceration rate for the U.S. population is now at an all time high. When the tirtig war began in 1969 less than 100 out of 100,000 persons were in jail. Today over 160 are jailed. In 1972, 19% of federal prisoners were drug offenders; today one-third are. A federal report recently announced that a historic one out of every 35 men in the U.S. is on probation, parole, or in prison.
Getting Deeper Into Injustice
Recently a Presidential Commission argued that the drug problem is caused by our “friends, relatives and colleagues—and other ‘respectable people,' ” and went on to declare war against these “respectable” American citizens. This call for escalation in the drug war continues in the face of failure because the current administration refuses to examine alternatives. Ironically, the more enforcement fails, the more power and money it is granted.
Don’t expect this treadmill to end. We are living through a period of blindness and desperation in drug policy. Leaders do not want to admit that they cannot stop Americans from using marijuana and other drugs. Indeed, instead of telling the American people the truth about the limits of government drug policy they prefer to whip up hysteria whenever an election is coming. It is good for politicians to have an ongoing war to keep peoples’ minds off of the economic and social injustices of modem American society. They need the drug war almost as much as Americans want drugs.
If you are unlucky enough to be one erf the 800,000 Americans arrested for drug offenses each year, do not expect justice or due process: expect injustice. #
For further information contact'the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at 2001 “S” Street, N.W., Suite 640, Washington, D.C. 20009 or (202) 483-5500 or the Oregon Marijuana Initiative at P.O. Box >8698, Portland, Oregon 97207 or (503) 239-5134.