Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Perpetrator of egregious racial disparities in law enforcement touted for Obama's cabinet

There is a prima facie case that the New York City Police Department has systematically denied rights protected by the U.S. Constitution to tens of thousands of individuals that it has arrested over the past decade for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. I asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the prima facie case of criminal and civil violations of these rights by the NYPD and its leadership two years ago.

This program is NOT the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD to look for illegal firearms by stopping suspects in high crime neighborhoods; this a completely different program of violating constitutional rights.

With the resignation of Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of the NYPD, Raymond Kelly, is being touted as a potential nominee to be her successor. His nomination by President Obama would be an outrage.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Marijuana and the free exercise of religion: The prosecution of Roger Christie

Marijuana, as a mild psychedelic drug, can lead to changes in perception that many people find are spiritually profound. For decades, people around the world have used marijuana as a sacrament. These practices have been organized in some cases as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church or the Israel Zion Coptic Church, and its adherents are often colloquially called the Rastafari (Some Rastafari consider the terms "Rastafarian" and "Rastafarianism" to be offensive.)

The New York Times on July 19, 2013 writes about the prosecution of Roger Christie, the founder of The Hawai'i Cannabis (THC) Ministry, in federal court in Hawai'i on charges of marijuana trafficking. Christie has been in federal custody for over three years having been denied bail repeatedly.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Do we have more religious liberty or less than the residents of the American colonies three hundred years ago? 

In the late 17th century, New Jersey was two provinces, East New Jersey along the west side of the Hudson River and the ocean coast south of New York, and West New Jersey along the east side of the Delaware River and along the Delaware Bay. Much of West New Jersey was settled by Quakers. In 1664, the Concessions and Agreements of West New Jersey, one of the earliest written constitutions in the world, provided a very broad protection for religious liberty.

[Sixth] Item. That no person qualified as aforesaid within the said province at any time shall be anyways molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any difference in opinion or practice in matter of religious concernments, who do not actually disturb the civil peace of the said province; but that all and every such person and persons may, from time to time and at all times, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their judgments and consciences in matters of religion throughout the said province, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others; any law, statute, or clause contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm of England to the contrary thereof in anywise notwithstanding.
 Later in 1676, a Charter and Fundamental Laws of West Jersey provided:


That no men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters, therefore it is consented, agreed and ordained, that no person or persons whatsoever within the said Province, at any time or times hereafter, shall be any ways upon any presence whatsoever, called in question, or in the least punished or hurt, either in person, estate, or priviledge, for the sake of his opinion, judgment, faith or worship towards God in matters of religion. But that all and every such person, and persons may from time to time, and at all times, freely and fully have, and enjoy his and their judgments, and the exercises of their consciences in matters of religious worship throughout all the said Province.
This liberty was affirmed again in 1681 in a document quaintly titled, "Province of West New-Jersey, in America, The 25th of the Ninth Month Called November. 1681," entered into by, "the Governor and Proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of West New Jersey, by mutual consent and agreement, for the prevention of innovasion and oppression, either upon us or our posterity, and for the preservation of the peace and tranquility of the same; and that all may be encourage to go on cheerfully in their several places: We do make and constitute these our agreements to be as fundamentals to us and our posterity:

X. That liberty of conscience in matters of faith and worship towards God, shall be granted to all people within the Province aforesaid; who shall live peaceably and quietly therein; and that none of the free people of the said Province, shall be rendered uncapable of office in respect of their faith and worship.
Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn.

In 1701, William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, signed a Charter of Privileges that provided great religious liberty to the inhabitants.
That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.
 The Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast in the 1750s in order to celebrate that Charter of Liberties!

It is inconceivable that Roger Christie or the members of his ministry would have been prosecuted for their use of marijuana in Pennsylvania or West New Jersey in those times. It is outrageous that he and has co-defendants are being prosecuted for using marijuana for religious and spiritual purposes today.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Race and Criminal Justice: the case du jour

Over the years, I have often been asked to comment on the conduct and outcome of popular criminal trials such as the O.J. Simpson and Trayvon Martin trials. I am a former criminal defense lawyer. One thing I know is that if you have not been in the courtroom for the entire trial, it is b.s. to express an opinion about the trial -- the correctness of the verdict or the conduct of the judge or the attorneys. A second hand report does not tell you how a witness actually comes across, or the impact of a particular ruling or argument.

If I wanted to retain my professional integrity I had to resist the attraction of the studio and the pleasure of puffing up my ego -- a T.V. camera and make-up did not qualify me to be an expert commentator on a trial I was not inside of.

It is also b.s. to extrapolate from any verdict a conclusion about American society or the American justice system.  I think Andrew Cohen from the Brennan Center on Justice does a very good job noting the limits of what a criminal trial is about in the context of the Trayvon Martin -- George Zimmerman trial.

It is data, not single high-profile criminal trials that tell us about how the justice system works, and how it is anything but colorblind.  Obviously relevant to the Martin - Zimmerman case, a very interesting study of the racial disparity in how courts in the nation find that fatal shootings are justified or not is discussed by John Roman at the Urban Institute here. He writes,

Black Americans are far less likely to be adjudicated as justified in using deadly force in a firearm-related death. The difference between rates of justifiable rulings in cases with a white shooter and a black victim and cases with a black shooter and a white victim are astonishing.
In fact, they dwarf every other racial disparity in an already racially unbalanced criminal justice system. The differences are so great that any notion that justice in America is color-blind is at risk.

Regarding the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman case, I think I can comment about the widespread commentary on this tragic case:

I am struck by how large a number of commentators on the Internet are convinced that their hypothesis about how the shooting took place is the truth. People are inclined to interpret bits of evidence to draw broad and certain conclusions. See this thread on The Crime Report, for example.

There is a great deal of white racism being expressed in the drawing of conclusions about the reasonableness of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin, the reasonableness of his suspicions, the suspicious character of Martin's presence in the neighborhood, Martin's background etc. The verdict of acquittal is being interpreted as a validation of such opinions.

A lot of white commentary is blind to the horror of Zimmerman's shooting of the 17-year old Trayvon Martin, and how how horrid is widespread acceptance by whites that a young black male walking down the street at night intrinsically merits suspicion. The proposition, "If there have been crimes and the suspects in those crimes were black, then any young black male is a suspect," is, to many whites, a reasonable one; even if to whites the alternate proposition, if it involved crimes with white suspects, and a young white male, would be absurd.

To me, many lines of the commentary such as this help explain why the criminal justice system routinely and regularly reveals racial discrimination through disparate treatment and disparate outcomes that work to the detriment of people of color and to the benefit of whites pervasively -- many whites simply do not see their prejudices.

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One year ago, Obama said he was going to look at Clarence Aaron's petition for commutation of sentence

One year ago, President Obama, responding to front page stories in The Washington Post by Dafna Linzer, said he would review the petition for commutation of sentence from Clarence Aaron. This was the petition that President George W. Bush's White House counsel was interested in granting, except that the Pardon Attorney misrepresented what was told to him by the federal judge and the U.S. Attorney.

The Pardon Attorney was subsequently condemned by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, but still has the job!

So far, crickets! In the Obama Administration the wheels of justice grind slooooowly.

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Global reduction in crime: The Economist magazine

The cover story in the latest issue of The Economist magazine reports on the global trend of dramatically reduced crime in the developed world.

Aging populations is one factor. Significantly improved policing, relying upon the analysis of data, and the proliferation of security cameras and devices have dramatically increased the likelihood that offenders will be caught. The best tool for deterring crime is to create the belief among potential offenders that they are likely to be caught quickly. A lot of the theoretical and practical application of this work has been explored by David Kennedy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in his books, Deterrence and Crime Prevention, and Don't Shoot, and Mark A.R. Kleiman, a very prominent scholar of drug policy, in his book, When Brute Force Fails.

What is least important in the decrease in crime are the increases in prison population, especially those increases due to massive long sentences adopted in the 1980s by the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures.

In the case of Congress, these sentences -- often mandatory minimums -- were enacted in 1986 after it created the U.S. Sentencing Commission, but before the Commission could develop the politics-free sentences that was a primary reason for the commission's creation. Congress had no evidence that long sentences might be effective -- they filled the need for sounding tough in partisan political fights over crime which was a high stakes conflict between Republicans and Democrats in key election years.

Now, at last there is bipartisan legislation that has a chance to help judges escape the mandatory minimums, the Justice Safety Valve Act, S. 619, introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-TN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

There are other hopeful developments elsewhere, too. In the House of Representatives, a bipartisan task force of the Judiciary Committee is now exploring the problems of over-criminalization and over-punishment. And in a recent letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the U.S. Justice Department finally concedes that sentencing reform is warranted.

Of course many states started pulling back from the orgy of imprisonment. In New York, the prison population has been cut by one-quarter since 1990 and crime has fallen to the levels of the 1950s and 1960s!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Partnership for a Drug Free America surrenders war on drugs

Thanks to Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, we know about a news release from the Partnership for a Drug Free America (now the Partnership at drugfree.org) concedes that marijuana will be legalized and sets forth some of the minimum regulations that its says parents want.

Here is the survey drugfree.org released today.

It is clear that they understand the distinction between use and abuse, at last!

It seems that they did not have the money to do a really good survey -- the margins of error are large 4.9 percent and for Washington and Colorado, 6.9 percent.

Half of parents have used marijuana.

32 percent of mothers and 37 percent of fathers support legalization of marijuana for social use by adults.

Parents don't want uncontrolled legalization.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Will Verizon stop sending my communication info to NSA on July 19?

The NSA global spying scandal broke a month ago.
Today I read the four page SECRET order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) (published by The Guardian newspaper in Britain) signed by Judge Rodger Vinson on April 25, 2013 directing Verizon to turn over to the NSA,

on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration
of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, 
an electronic copy of the following tangible things: 
all call detail records or "telephony metadata" 
created by Verizon for communications 
(i) between the United States and abroad; or 
(ii) wholly within the United States, 
including local telephone calls.
The order expires on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:00 p.m, ET.  
My home, office, Internet, GPS and cell phone service are all provided by Verizon. The "metadata" is highly revealing!

This is one of the most chilling things I have ever read -- a current official document that authorizes my government to spy on ME right now. It authorizes spying on me, my family, and everybody that I communicate with that is taking place RIGHT NOW!

The order expires on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:00 p.m, ET.  

What happens then?
Is the NSA going to the FISC to get an extension of the order? Perhaps the FISC is preparing the paperwork to get such an extension right now?

Or will I, and 144,799,999 other Verizon customers in the U.S., be "free" to communicate without the NSA monitoring our calls and communications after July 19? Should I feel "free" then, or should I presume that the spying will continue, this time, again secretly.

Those who read this blog know that I frequently criticize the government, especially President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, in often strong terms. To what extent is the routine spying on ME also being tagged or flagged to pull information aside about my political activities or my personal activities?

What kinds of routine pursuits of my curiosity would trigger some kind of profile that would result in more of an investigation of me? What kinds of lawful activities that I engage in might trigger a more intense review of my private communications?

What if I had looked up on the Internet the location of a gun store or gun show? Or a medical marijuana dispensary? Or the address of a government office building? Or made reservations to travel to Colorado or Washington, or Mexico? Do my communication with people in other countries about drug policy, politics, the economy, the criminal cartels, etc. trigger special surveillance? What about my appearance in movies like the currently-showing "How To Make Money Selling Drugs"? Is the government tracking my movements as reported on the GPS of my Verizon smartphone? Are my orders over the Internet of books and other things from Amazon.com or movies from Netflix being tracked? Is the government tracking my viewing of articles on the Internet?

Are there Americans who already see this surveillance as perhaps the ultimate reason to disengage from the political process and the responsibilities of citizenship? Keep a low profile! "Don't fight City Hall!"

One of the key features of a totalitarian state is that the public fears the state. To challenge the state is dangerous. The defining feature in the creation of that fear is extensive surveillance of private communication and travel. That surveillance was the hallmark of Stalin's regime, Hitler's regime, the Maoist regime, and the current repressive regimes in China, Russia and other nations.

Read the secret order yourself. . . if you dare!

Another interesting feature of the order is that it provides it shall be declassified on "12 April 2038." That's 25 years from now. If this secret order had not been leaked by Edward Snowden, none of us would have known about this massive spying operation for 25 years.

What would "declassification" mean in 2038? Does it mean that 4 pages of paper would be removed from a safe in a secret government building and placed into a file folder in cardboard box somewhere in a government warehouse?

Declassification on 12 April 2038. I will be 88 years old. Would I then have the energy to protest that old invasion of my privacy? (Or would I already be in prison for being too much of a citizen, namely, an enemy of the state?)

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Washington State Marijuana regulations -- latest

The Washington State Liquor Control Board has published almost final regulations for implementing Initiative 501 for legal marijuana in the state. They are almost 42 pages long.

There will be public hearings on the proposed rules August 6 to 8.
On August 14, the Board will adopt the final rules.
The rules will take effect on September 16.
At that point the Board will begin, for 30 days, accepting applications to be a producer (grower), a processor, or a retailer of marijuana.
Licenses will be awarded on December 1.
It is not clear when licensees will be able to start producing and distributing marijuana. 

Comments from the public can be sent to the board:
By mail:
Rules Coordinator
Liquor Control Board
P.O. Box 43080
Olympia, WA 98504-3080
By e-mail: rules@liq.wa.gov
By fax: 360-664-9689

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