Tag Archives: Drug War

But is justice being served?

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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is an advocacy organization that pushes for criminal sentencing reform. They have had successes:

Twice since 2011, FAMM and its members have successfully campaigned for the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce guideline sentences for drugs—and to make those guideline changes retroactive. In 2011, the Commission voted to make its FSA-conforming amendment retroactive, a policy change that affected 12,000 federal crack-cocaine prisoners. In 2014, after receiving more than 60,000 letters, the Commission voted to make All Drugs Minus Two apply retroactively, allowing more than 40,000 prisoners to petition for resentencing.

I think the very fact that the U.S. Sentencing Commission can even consider retroactively changing sentences implies that the sentences themselves were most likely unjust. Furthermore, this problem seems to be inherent in crimes which have no identifiable victim. Since there is no identifiable victim, there is no basis for which to calculate damages. And since there is no basis to calculate damages, what foundation is there for deciding a sentence?

It is thus absurd to designate punishing victimless criminals under the rubric of “justice.” Really, justice has nothing to do with it; rather, punishment in this case is a tool that the state uses for social engineering purposes. Incarceration is not about giving the offender what is due to him, it is about bending the individual to the will of the state. Once this is generally realized, we can begin the move towards victim justice, rather than this confused notion of criminal justice.

Senator James Risch on Drugs

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1015_steve-mcqueen-dead-celebs_485x340Perhaps the above title is ambiguous. Today’s post involves an email I received from Senator Risch regarding the Drug War. Personally, I find the War on Drugs to be an extremely bad policy. Drug criminalization, along with “Get Tough on Crime” measures such as mandatory minimum sentencing and three strikes laws, can explain over 90% of the explosive increase in US incarceration rates over the last four decades (please contact me if you are interested in getting a copy of the research paper I wrote on this).

This is very expensive, and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that people would be far more willing to end the Drug War if they knew how much it cost them, or at least reduce it by a dramatic extent. It costs around $20,000 per year to incarcerate a man (a figure provided to me by a criminal justice professor of corrections), and more for women (because there are fewer incarcerated women, economies of scale don’t apply as much). This is in addition to the money spent by the DEA and other law enforcement on actually catching drug users (rather than solving or preventing crimes with identifiable victims), as well as the court costs of prosecuting the huge numbers of drug offenders.

Also important to consider are the extreme costs to our civil liberties. Even though I have never used drugs, I consider myself a victim of the Drug War because of the fact that my car has twice been searched by the police using a drug sniffing dog. (It is my belief that the dog was not faulty, but that these officers lied about the dog alerting; there is no way I can prove that the dog didn’t alert, and there is no penalty to them for finding nothing. Thus, they are able to illegally search any vehicle at will.) Other than the War on Terror, nothing has eroded our civil liberties to the extent that the Drug War has.

And, ultimately, I don’t think it’s any business of the government what adults choose to put in their own bodies. As long as they are not harming anyone else, they should be left alone. There is a lot more one could say about the evils of the War on Drugs, but we’ll get into what James Risch has to say:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding drug legalization.  I really appreciate hearing from you.

I oppose the legalization of illicit drugs.  Legalization could encourage experimentation among those who currently do not use illegal substances and could lead to addiction and criminal activity.

It is ironic that Risch believes legalization could lead to criminal activity, as it is the nature of black markets that encourages criminal activity to surround drugs. We can see this in several ways:

  • It is because they are illegal that the prices of drugs are so high. Without these high prices, drug users would have less of an incentive to engage in criminal activity to support their habits.
  • Generally, businesses in competition with one another will tend to provide lower prices or higher quality of service. Due to the black market in drugs, cartels have a greater incentive to engage in violence to increase market share and less of an ability to resolve disputes peaceably (you can’t take a dealer to court for ripping you off).
  • The threat of imprisonment, all else equal, incentivizes violence against law enforcement where there would otherwise be none.

I generally support a reduction in government authority, but in the case of drug legalization it is important dangerous drugs are prohibited or regulated to ensure their safe use for the intended purposes for which they were developed as well as for general public safety.

Again, it is ironic that Risch would point to prohibition as a measure that would ensure safe use. It is because of alcohol prohibition that we have such unsavory terms such as “rot gut.” Again, if there is no tort system available, the costs of selling unsafe substances decreases because of lower accountability.

Drunken driving is a serious problem in this country.

His fellow senator from Idaho should know!

If more illicit drugs were legalized, the problem of impaired motorists would increase significantly—which can have devastating impacts far beyond just the individual who used the drug.

Of course, this is a bald assertion rather than a rigorously supported claim. But even if this is accurate, how could it possibly be the case that public safety would be decreased on net? It is highly doubtful that drug-related violence (how many have died in Mexico’s civil war?) would be outweighed by any increase in impaired driving.

The economic benefit that could be derived from additional drug-related taxes cannot justify the risks associated with legalizing dangerous substances.

The economic ignorance of James Risch is concerning. If he thinks the only economic benefit of drug legalization is more tax revenue, he is grossly misinformed. As mentioned above, a huge amount of money spent on law enforcement is spent in pursuit of the Drug War. Furthermore, it is quite a statist notion to think of increased tax revenue as being an economic benefit. Indeed, in many situations it would be far better if tax revenues were burned rather than allowed to distort the economy as they do (examples include farm subsidies, student loans, bank bailouts, the military-industrial complex, etc.).

Again, I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do.  Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.
Very Truly Yours

James E. Risch
United States Senator

Website: Risch.senate.gov

My offices:

Boise – 208.342.7985
Coeur d’Alene – 208.667.6130
Idaho Falls – 208.523.5541
Lewiston – 208.743.0792
Pocatello – 208.236.6817
Twin Falls – 208.734.6780
Washington, D.C. – 202.224.2752

Another Dispatch from the War on Drugs

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From Tom Woods’ blog:

I mentioned this while hosting the Peter Schiff Show yesterday. John Horner, a 46-year-old fast food restaurant worker, lost an eye in an accident in 2000. He wound up not using all of his pain medication. Years later, he made friends with a man who appeared to be in pain himself. This man offered to buy Horner’s pills. The man was a police informant, of course.

The nonviolent Horner, whose several children must now be raised without a father, is now serving a 25-year prison sentence, thanks to Florida’s minimum-sentencing law.

There are a few things I want to say about this.

First is that I seem to come across terrible stories such as these way more often than anyone should (the ideal number of times would be zero). It seems that things such as this, which, unlike natural disasters or accidents, are 100% preventable. Yet I know not how many media outlets cover such events as these. Obviously, if people don’t know about it then they can’t really demand for it to stop.

Secondly, I would like to point out that real, tangible individuals are suffering from this. Real lives are being affected and their story deserves to be told. When the pain comes at the expense of people we don’t know and live far away, it’s easy to abstract away from the fact that this is happening to an actual person and his family. Remember that.

Third, if you support the drug war, seriously consider whether you have responsibility for this. You may say, “Well, I only want hard drugs to be illegal, not someone who simply sells unused pain meds. And I would never put anyone in jail for 25 years just for using drugs!”

What I want such a person to realize is that the State will gladly take whatever you give it and then some. Once you open the door for a faceless institution to be able to tell people what substances they can possess and put in their bodies under penalty of law, this is the outcome that will eventually come to pass. Once it’s realized that the current laws of the State will not keep people from possessing and using drugs, the proposed action is to double down: create stiffer penalties, have more surveillance, more searches and seizures, more drug dogs, more enforcement. Once it’s found that this won’t prevent the problem either, what’s next?

A Case Study on Nullification: Marijuana Laws

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I’ve written a few of posts mentioning nullification: Tom Woods on NPR, Tom Woods’ article on anti-nullifiers, and challenging the notion that the Supreme Court ought to have a monopoly on Constitutional interpretation.

Tom Woods wrote the book on this subject and has FAQ.

But the first thing I would like to ask in today’s post is: “How much does it matter that nullification has a Constitutional or historical basis?” The more I think about it, I find that my answer is: “It matters only to the extent that people will accept its use as a method for decentralizing power.” If it were to be shown, beyond a doubt, that nullification is, in fact, unconstitutional, that wouldn’t matter one bit to me in terms of its legitimacy. I took no oath to uphold the Constitution; I was forced under it at birth.

It seems ridiculous that the same people who accept no limits on federal power are often the same ones who declare nullification unconstitutional. But most of what is considered “constitutional law” has nothing to do with the Constitution, but with legal precedents. For example, judicial review is not in the Constitution. It was a precedent set by Marbury v. Madison (1803).  In the same way, why can’t states nullifying federal laws set a precedent? According to the anti-nullifiers’ own logic, nullification would have to be acceptable.

Photo of Mark ThorntonAnd we have several precedents of states doing just that. A recent example is of Washington and Colorado decriminalizing marijuana and Mark Thornton writes a fantastic article about it.

One particularly interesting point he makes is that, in doing this, Washington and Colorado are effectively nullifying a UN Law as well. He says,

In effect, the voters of Colorado and Washington have placed themselves and their states on equal legal footing with both national and international governments. This is important, because, if thanks to nullification, governments have to obtain acceptance, or at least acquiescence from subsidiary governments, rather than just imposing their dictates on them, they are more likely to act in a less threatening and harmful manner.

Read the rest of this entry

Why Do People Want to Believe in the Police?

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Jarvis DeBerry recently wrote about a New Orleans police officer who has had many complaints about him yet irrevocably remains employed. DeBerry documents a condemning case against Officer Jayson Germann, citing accusations of excessive force, theft, false reports, verbal intimidation, and unprofessionalism. I found this claim by his attorney to be pretty amazing:

Germann’s attorney, Raymond Burkart III, said, “It’s not uncommon for people to make false allegations against police officers. It’s a way to retaliate and besmirch the officer.” 

I find this to be quite hard to believe, to say the least. Think about the relationship here: you have on one side the private “civilian” whose only legal recourse is to complain to the police department’s internal affairs, likely to consist of people who know and could be friends with the officer about whom he or she is complaining, or the officer, who has an incredible amount of discretion to use violence. Who exactly has more legal routes for “retaliation” here? Of course, that’s his attorney and they are paid to make bad arguments.

I do appreciate DeBerry’s concluding comment:

Complaints made against officers are typically hard to prove, so police defenders generally insist that we only pay attention to complaints that were substantiated. But as police monitor Susan Hutson counters, “If a suspect is arrested for something and has a long arrest history, regardless of whether he’s been convicted, it would be touted by the police.” Exactly. A series of complaints against a civilian is offered as prima facie evidence of guilt. A series of complaints against an officer is described as irrelevant, and most of us shrug and move on.

We want to believe that the system’s still reliable even when we see an abundance of evidence to the contrary.

It is insightful regarding the benefit of the doubt given to police at the expense of everyone else; I’m not sure why that is the general attitude of people who are not police. I suspect it has to do with the unending onslaught of TV shows about police who are never wrong about the innocence of suspects and are never shown making mistakes that result in the violation of rights or the ending of lives. I am sure he uses “we” in the last sentence rhetorically rather than literally. Acknowledging the abundance of evidence to the contrary, I think, is an admonishment of the uninitiated to get their heads out of the sand and see that real life doesn’t resemble TV in this instance.

But perhaps a fuller explanation of why people want to believe in the American criminal justice system is necessary. Though I think most people really don’t care about the corruption until it affects them directly (I feel as though I can guarantee there wouldn’t be a drug war if people knew what it cost them individually), maybe people don’t want to face the discomfort of knowing that the legal system is unnecessarily unjust. Maybe there is a rational irrationality in that there is little point in getting upset about such things if one doesn’t believe she can change it. Ignorance is preferable.

But I don’t know the exact reason(s) why people want to believe in the police. Maybe you can tell me.

August 16 Gem County Sheriff’s Office SWAT raid

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I would strongly advise before watching this video to read William Norman Grigg’s explanation of what happened over at his blog, Pro Libertate. What I find surprising about this incident is that it took place in rural Idaho, which I don’t think is yet considered a hotbed of drug dealing. Yet I have personally had problems with the police state in Meridian, Idaho, where my vehicle has been searched twice by what I strongly suspect of being fabricated evidence (“The K9 alerted on your door handle. Have you been giving rides to people who use drugs?”). Likewise, in this case there were officers conducting an illegal search for marijuana, as well as assaulting an innocent couple.

When will people realize that you don’t have to be involved with any illegal substance to be a victim of the State’s war on drugs?

Giving a Pair of Shoes Covers a Multitude of Sins

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I hope you can forgive me on this one. I found this as a draft from long ago that I didn’t publish until now. I thought about tossing it out, but decided it was better to document an instance (of a large pool of examples) of policemen shooting unarmed people, whether it happened this week or two months ago. (Also, I was asked by a member of a Meetup to which I belong to help promote the radio host in the video, Josh Tolley. Not sure that his style suits my tastes, but do with it what you will.) It seems particularly curious that innocents getting killed by police garners much less attention than a single police officer giving a homeless man a pair of shoes. Is it because the former has become so commonplace that it seems hardly newsworthy? Are commendable acts by police officers so rare that one being photographed merits national attention?

<br /><br />	This photo provided by Jennifer Foster shows New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo presenting a barefoot homeless man in New York's Time Square with boots Nov. 14, 2012 . Foster was visiting New York with her boyfriend on Nov. 14, when she came across the shoeless man asking for change in Times Square. As she was about to approach him, she said the officer came up to the man with a pair of all-weather boots and thermal socks on the frigid night. She took the picture on her cellphone. It was posted Tuesday night to the NYPD's official Facebook page and became an instant hit. More than 350,000 users "liked" it as of Thursday afternoon, and over 100,000 shared it. (AP Photo/Jennifer Foster)<br /><br />

Obviously, it is possible that some police officers are capable of acts of kindness and not all of them desire to break down your door and shoot you and/or your dog. However, the frequency of such acts of violence by those with badges should lead us to seriously challenge the notion that the problems can all be chalked up to a few bad apples. I would like to offer this alternative: the institutional framework of the existing statist policing regime should lead us to expect such results. Firstly, think of the tremendous power afforded to police officers. Such power will immediately appeal to those who desire to use it, leading to a pool of candidates that is biased in terms of those who have a lust for dominance. I should know: I have obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and know the people who want to be cops.

Secondly, the official checks upon police power continue to be diminished (I say “official” because the rise in widespread carrying of devices that are capable of recording video may make officers think more deeply about what actions they will take when in the public eye). In furtherance of the drug war, as well as the war on terror, the courts have continued to decide in favor of police power over constitutional protections.In my own experience, police have searched my vehicle twice (at least to my knowledge). It used to be the case that such an invasion of property required a warrant supported by probable cause and the approval of a judge (and even in this frequently idealized procedure, it doesn’t take an anarchist to realize that cops and judges play for the same team and the deck is already stacked against you). Then judges decided that the 4th Amendment didn’t apply to motor vehicles in the same way that it did to other property and decreed that police were no longer required to obtain a warrant to search a vehicle. To further whittle away any privacy or security in one’s car, the courts then decided that all it took was a drug-sniffing dog to alert on a car and it could be legally searched. This is what happened both times in my case. I have never even handled elicit substances, yet somehow they found their way onto my door handle. Twice. I think a more plausible explanation is that the police know I cannot prove that either their dog is faulty or, more likely, the dog never alerted to anything at all. Thus they are given free reign to go on fishing expeditions. Find something and they’ve got a bust. Find nothing and there is no penalty to them, yet if I did the same thing as a non-badge carrier I would be considered guilty of false imprisonment, car burglary, and robbery (for giving people bills and then threatening to revoke their license and put them in jail should they not submit).

Thirdly, undesirable behavior is officially incentivized. Drug units in many police departments are given grants by the federal government that are partially based on the number of drug arrests. Thus, the most extreme way to handle a problem is the way of choice when something such as a warning may do. (Not to mention the fact that drug and vice “crimes” don’t have a victim. Why aren’t there more people asking why the State has a right to use violence against non-violent people in the first place?)

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, police have a monopoly on violence. The reason why you don’t really hear about cases of security guard brutality (none come to mind) is that they face the likelihood of immediate termination because people don’t want to do business with others who beat them up. Taking your business elsewhere is a powerful check. Yet that option is not officially available in regards to government police. Their paycheck is obtained through the theft called taxation. You are not their customer. You are their potential suspect.

Given only these considerations, the rampant violence and corruption that are commonplace among American police departments should be expected. So the question baffling me is why do people continue to revere policemen as selfless heroes, or at least give the institution the unmerited benefit of the doubt?