Supreme Court’s GPS tracking case back in federal court

A drug distribution case recently took center stage in a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue was whether the police needed a warrant to gather evidence of cocaine trafficking via GPS surveillance (the police put a tracker on the defendant’s vehicle).

Legal commentators are saying that it’s a landmark Fourth Amendment case concerning privacy in light of technological advances, which all started when a joint local and federal law enforcement task force began investigating the defendant, a club owner, in 2004.

The police suspected that he was engaged in trafficking cocaine.

Apparently a search warrant was issued to install a GPS device on the defendant’s vehicle, but the task force did not actually install it until the day after the warrant expired. The tracking device provided 24-hour surveillance – the defendant’s comings and goings, exactly where and when, without the police having to be bothered to actually get into a squad car.

Based on information obtained from the tracking device, the defendant was linked to a drug house and later convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

He was given a life sentence.

But last year an appeals court overturned the conviction, ruling on grounds that GPS surveillance was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, which sent the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2012.

The Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, a victory for the defendant, unanimously stating that in this case the defendant’s vehicle was constitutionally protected from the warrantless search, while a concurring opinion recognized GPS tracking as having the potential to seriously invade citizens’ privacy.

The case is back in the lower courts, where prosecutors are attempting to get cell phone tower data introduced as evidence.

Source: Prosecutors Gear Up For GPS Drug Case, Sans Tracking Data

D.C. remains tough on marijuana policy

As Tim Craig reports for the Washington Post, D.C. law prohibiting the use of marijuana for recreational purposes isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Caught on a possession charge, a person in D.C. currently faces harsh punishment: up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.

Maryland, on the other hand, recently eased up on possession charges (though it hasn’t eased up that much), reducing the amount of time spent behind bars to a possible three months (but still imposes a heavy $1,000 fine, according to Craig). Other states in the D.C. area have taken similar measures.

So what’s going on in D.C.?

It’s the U.S. Attorney, who wields significant “clout” in the lawmaking process. While the D.C. mayor appears to support easing up on harsh punishment for the recreational use of marijuana, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen is a representative of the federal government – and the federal government hasn’t been exactly soft on crime when it comes to marijuana.

Machen prosecutes the marijuana possession cases in D.C., and he’s a “player” in debating bills. “Any bill that goes through here, the U.S. Attorney is a player in the legislative process,” said D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, as Craig reports. “I would suppose they would oppose any weakening.”

If you have been arrested for a drug crime, contact a Maryland criminal attorney before you talk to police or anyone else.

 

Source: Marijuana decriminalization unlikely in D.C., officials say

Historic legalization of recreational marijuana use in Nov. election

November 6, 2012, was a historic election for a number of reasons. Our nation’s first African-American president was re-elected, Maryland voted to uphold state law legalizing same-sex marriage, and two other states legalized marijuana use – recreational marijuana use.

But as Alan Duke reports for CNN, Colorado’s governor warned would-be recreational marijuana users not to “break out the Cheetos” just yet, as the federal DEA still cracks down on the drug that causes the munchies.

Marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance under federal law, meaning that possession charges still exist, even if the possession of marijuana is legal inside certain states’ borders.

The two states that legalized recreational marijuana use on Nov. 6 were Colorado and Washington.

This is a classic case of the legal and political concept of “federalism,” in which states that have exercised their sovereign authority to make law run up against the law of the federal government. Indeed, the DEA issued a press release reiterating that it will still continue to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act.

As Duke reports, Colorado’s governor said, “The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will … This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

 

Source: 2 states legalize pot, but ‘don’t break out the Cheetos’ yet

‘This Is My Jail,’ Says Gang Leader Inside Baltimore City Detention Center

“This is my jail,” said the leader of the Black Guerilla Family while on the phone from inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. “You understand that? I’m dead serious. I make every final call in this jail.”

Not only was it apparently his jail – at least before federal authorities brought drug charges (for smuggling) – but the leader is thought to have gotten four guards pregnant, fathering five kids.

Federal authorities believe that there was a scheme between members of the jailhouse gang, as reporters with the Mail Online characterize it, and the guards charged with keeping watch. This scheme involved a not insignificant amount of sex, apparently, in an effort to get four of the guards, who gang members say were specifically targeted for perceived low self-esteem, to cooperate.

The gang smuggled drugs, mobile phones and other things into the jail, and reaped financial rewards, too, which allowed for the purchase of a BMW and Mercedes. Some of the guards drove those cars outside of work.

Specific charges include conspiracy, drug possession, drug distribution, and money laundering.

In Maryland, federal drug charges are generally more serious than state charges, though that is by no means the rule.

Source: Jailed gang leader fathered five children with four female prison guards

Hearing Today To Discuss Gang Activity Inside The Baltimore City Detention Center

Eric Tucker for the Associated Press has an update to an older story involving a gang leader operating from inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. He is alleged to have said: “This is my jail,” in connection to the numerous activities he is said to have been involved in during his time behind bars, including getting four female guards pregnant.

There’s a hearing today that has resurrected this story, given what Tucker describes as the embarrassing nature of a situation where the men behind bars are controlling the guards who are supposed to be guarding them.

It’s “widespread dysfunction,” apparently, at the center in downtown Baltimore, where there are thousands of people jailed after having been arrested and waiting for trial, or who are serving short-term jail sentences.

This dysfunction has earned Gov. Martin O’Malley some heat from Republicans (O’Malley is a possible 2016 presidential candidate, according to Tucker), a dysfunction which apparently allowed the gang leader, Tavon White, to not only have sex with the guards but to smuggle drugs and mobile phones and put the guards to work on behalf of the gang.

Source: Sex, drugs and cellphones: Criminal indictment exposes major problems at Baltimore jail

Drop In U.S. Cocaine Use: Success Of War On Drugs?

It’s been awhile since we’ve run across a story about drugs that wasn’t about marijuana.

Two days ago, National Public Radio published a story about cocaine, and how its use here in the U.S. has gone down by nearly half since 2006, from 1% of the population to 0.5%. NPR says that this drop equates to Americans saying “no” to cocaine, as though 1% to 0.5% is a big deal. But with only 1% using it in the first place, a drop by half does seem to be significant.

NPR quotes a professor with the University of Maryland:

“The drug went out of vogue a long time ago. Lots of people experiment with it, but very few of the people that experiment with it in the last 20 years have gone on to become regular users of it.”

When the good professor says cocaine went “out of vogue,” we are of course talking about the 1980s, when cocaine use was big among moneyed circles in NYC (and, presumably, elsewhere). NPR references the novelist Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, in which, according to McInerney, “The ethos in fashionable Manhattan was that you worked hard all day and you stayed up and partied all night, and cocaine seemed to facilitate that kind of approach to life.”

Of course, the other thing cocaine facilitates is serious drug charges. The War on Drugs may seem to be dimming when it comes to marijuana (at least where the public seems open to ending marijuana prohibition), but remains strong on cocaine.

Major drug bust arrests nine in Baltimore

According to local police officials, nine Baltimore residents were recently arrested on a variety of drug charges. Police officers are calling it a major bust, characterizing the nine arrested people as large players in the local drug scene who have been “terrorizing” the community for years.

Police say the nine people are part of a drug-related organization, though they haven’t disclosed which one. All nine were arrested on suspicion of dealing heroin and cocaine.

According to police officers, the neighborhood in which the nine were arrested has become something of a hotbed of illegal activity in recent years. The drug organization to which they belonged is believed to be responsible for over 60 violent crimes since 2010. One street in particular has seen three shootings in the past three weeks.

With the arrest of these nine people, police hope to help alleviate the violence problem in West Baltimore. None of the arrested people appear to have been charged with a violent crime, however; they are currently only facing drug charges.

They may face additional charges in the near future, however. During a press conference, one prosecutor was asked what could be done about the “revolving door” of city jails. The prosecutor replied that he plans to add a conspiracy charge to some of the other drug-related offenses, which would drastically increase the amount of time the suspects would be incarcerated if found guilty.

Of course, charges related to drug dealing can already bring very long jail times; the addition of a conspiracy charge would likely boost the potential sentence even further.

 

Source: 
WBFF-TV, “Baltimore City Police Dismantle Major Drug Operation” No Author Given, Sep. 13, 2013

Maryland ranks high in marijuana possession arrests

The rate of arrest for marijuana possession in the state of Maryland is among the highest in the nation, leaving several legislators pondering potential decriminalization laws. Official reports show that about 378 residents per every 100,000 in the state of Maryland are arrested for marijuana possession every year. In fact, since 2007, the state has ranked in the top five for marijuana possession rate in the nation.

Experts say that the problem likely stems from a focus on petty marijuana possession, not busting larger-scale dealers that could end up facing federal charges. Carryover laws from the ‘tough on crime’ movement in the 1990s stress a zero-tolerance policy throughout the state; during that decade, possession arrests increased by 157 percent. Although statewide numbers stabilized after 2000, the rate of arrest in Baltimore continues to climb, with a 155 percent growth between 2000 and 2007.

Although many of the politicians who pushed for the ‘zero tolerance’ mandate have since left office, some of the controversial techniques introduced during their tenure live on. Take, for example, the ‘stop and frisk’ method, which permits officers to effectively choose people to search at will; officers only have to suspect that the individual is carrying a concealed weapon. This tool has reportedly been used in a variety of cases to check for marijuana possession. Now, though, news reports say that Maryland residents are becoming more tolerant of marijuana use and possession, which means that ‘stop and frisk’ could soon become a thing of the past.

Advocates throughout the state say that decriminalization may be the wave of the future, however, as the state has already passed a medical marijuana bill. That provision, admittedly quite conservative, could be a first step toward legal changes that would limit unfair arrest and incarceration for minor drug crimes. Such changes could have important implications for those accused of drug violations, perhaps even changing police strategies through a comprehensive reform movement. Criminal defendants who are facing drug charges may benefit from consulting a qualified criminal defense attorney, who may help them learn more about how this potential legislation could change the nature of their cases.

19-year-old Maryland man arrested on felony drug charges

Police in Maryland have arrested a 19-year-old man on drug charges. According to authorities, over $300,000 in cash, guns and drugs were seized during the arrest. The man must now face felony drug charges in court, which can have serious penalties upon conviction

The arrests were made following an investigation into the suspects. The investigation, which was conducted during the last month, was focused on a 19-year-old man, and it related to marijuana distribution. Through evidence gathered during the investigation, authorities obtained a search warrant to enter the man’s home.

Allegedly, police discovered and seized a wide variety of items during the operation. They claim to have found a small amount of pot, a digital scale and drug paraphernalia. They also say they discovered drug packaging materials, $3,500 cash and four different firearms. The man was charged with a variety of felony drug charges, including marijuana possession, marijuana possession with the intention to distribute and illegal firearm possession related to drug trafficking.

It is important for anyone accused of felony drug crimes — no matter if it involves drug charges, burglary or some other crime — to remember that no Maryland resident will ever be considered guilty of a crime until he or she is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. Indeed, during criminal defense proceedings, the defendant in this case will have the opportunity to cast doubt upon the version of the facts brought against him by the prosecution.

Depending on the facts of his case, he may also wish to enter into a plea bargain arrangement with prosecutors in order to reduce the severity of potential punishments relating to his alleged crimes. However, a plea bargain is not a good choice for every defendant and should only be entered into after careful consideration.

Source:  WBALLTV11, “Police: Suspected drug dealer arrested in Edgewater” Saliqa Khan, Apr. 22, 2014

Drug charges for paraphernalia but not marijuana?

Maryland has officially passed a marijuana decriminalization measure, much to the delight of many criminal defense activists. However, a new set of problems have cropped up because lawmakers and officers are now having to deal with legal inconsistencies. The changing nature of drug offenses in Maryland may lead to some confusion while the measures await official implementation.

Official reports show that the new law would still classify marijuana as an illegal substance. However, those who are found with amounts smaller than 10 grams of the drug would only pay civil fines rather than facing serious criminal drug charges. These civil programs would allow drug charges to be treated like traffic violations. The measure was passed during the closing days of the legislative session in April.

One of the major inconsistencies in the law is the fact that the possession of drug paraphernalia is still considered a criminal offense. These can include rolling paper, pipes and other objects used to consume marijuana. In other words, once the law goes into effect, some people may be arrested for possessing the paraphernalia, even though the drug is not criminalized.

Attorney generals in the state say that they must follow the letter of the law, not just its spirit. The written law may need to be modified to be more realistic. That is what had to happen in Ohio, according to some advocates; in that state, paraphernalia was still considered illegal until just a couple years ago, even though the state had decriminalized the drug decades ago.

It is important for lawmakers to understand the unintended consequences of the laws they pass. Criminal defendants will almost certainly benefit from the new, lenient guidelines for marijuana possession. However, they may still find themselves in legal hot water after being caught with associated paraphernalia.

Source:  Herald-Mail Media, “Maryland’s marijuana decriminalization law leads to questions about inconsistencies” Kaustuv Basu, Apr. 27, 2014