“Jonathan Wall, a 26-year-old cannabis entrepreneur, has been confined at a federal supermax facility in Maryland for nearly 20 months, awaiting a May 2 trial that could send him to prison for life. Wall is accused of transporting more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from California, where cannabis is legal for recreational use, to Maryland, which allows only medical use.
Wall’s case illustrates the draconian penalties that can still be imposed on people for selling pot at a time when most states have legalized marijuana businesses. As far as the federal government is concerned, all of those businesses are criminal enterprises. But depending on how federal prosecutors choose to exercise their discretion, selling pot can make you millions of dollars as a state-licensed supplier, or it can send you to prison for decades.”
“The Senate delivered former President Donald Trump a bipartisan criminal justice reform deal shortly after the last midterm election. Staging a sequel for President Joe Biden this year won’t be so easy.
Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are still in talks over finalizing a package that would serve as a more narrow follow-up to the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act. But both senior senators acknowledge it’s not a glide path forward, particularly given the GOP messaging on rising crime ahead of the 2022 midterms — a focus that was on full display during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings last month.”
“While both Durbin and Grassley say the sequel legislation is necessary to fully implement and expand on the sentencing updates in the First Step law, the campaign-season politics surrounding criminal justice reform threaten broader GOP support. Though 38 Republican senators backed the 2018 bill, it took Trump’s personal appeals to get many on board. And with Democrats in full control of Washington, Republicans’ emerging midterm message — that liberals are to blame for rising violent crime — could make sentencing changes that much harder.”
“”One of the many pernicious things about civil forfeiture nationwide is that the government has the power to seize your cash, and your cars, and your home, but unlike in a criminal case, you don’t have a right to appoint counsel,” says Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice and a lawyer for Abbott. “So if you want to defend your cash, or your car, or your homes in a civil forfeiture action, you typically just have to pay for a lawyer yourself, and that’s not surprisingly economically infeasible for lots of people who are targeted in civil forfeiture actions.”
It is not an exaggeration to say that the state or the federal government can try to take you for nearly all you’re worth in the process. People in Indiana may know that quite well. The state was the setting for one of the most high-profile forfeiture showdowns after Indiana took possession of Tyson Timbs’ new Land Rover in 2013 following his arrest for a drug crime, setting in motion an almost decade-long legal circus between Timbs and the government. State officials were eventually required to return the vehicle in 2020. But prosecutors continued to fight, arguing before the Indiana Supreme Court in 2021 that there should be no proportionality—no limit—on what the government can seize in cases like Timbs’. (The state’s highest court rejected that winning argument last summer.)
Yet civil forfeiture continues apace and is a source of police funding, with local and state departments able to keep the vast majority of the funds they take. Just last year, the Indiana Senate passed a bill to allow cops to seize assets from people suspected of committing “unlawful assembly,” a charge so vague that whether or not someone committed it is somewhat in the eye of the beholder—who, in this case, would be an arresting officer.
Civil forfeiture is also used at the federal level, and it presents many of the same problems. In May 2020, the FBI seized almost $1 million from Carl Nelson after informing him he was under investigation for allegedly committing fraud. Two years later, no criminal charges have been filed, and the government returned some of the cash. Not unlike Abbott, however, the government’s action made it a Herculean task for Nelson to push back, as he had been temporarily bankrupted. “If you can’t afford to defend yourself, let alone feed yourself, it becomes complicated,” Amy Nelson, his wife, told me in February.
As for the Hoosier state? “The ball is very much in the Indiana Legislature’s court,” says Gedge.”
“There is also the massive accountability issue here. The CBP has authorization to use force against not just foreign travelers at the border but also against Americans within 100 miles of border crossings, and yes, some of them have gotten overly violent with citizens, just like members of other law enforcement agencies. As a federal government agency, the CBP is supposed to operate with transparency about its behavior and the behavior of its agents.
The communications between officers can help establish intent to engage in misconduct or violent behavior. The ability of a government agent to conceal or delete these messages impacts the ability to investigate and, when necessary, prosecute bad behavior. And when the federal government fails to police misconduct on its own, the ability to delete these messages also makes it harder for outside media outlets or accountability organizations like CREW to monitor what’s going on.”
“After rejiggering its speed cameras to fine any car caught traveling as little as 6 mph over the posted speed limit, the city of Chicago collected record-breaking levels of revenue last year.
Chicago’s army of 160 speed cameras issued more than 2.81 million tickets last year and collected $89 million in revenue from motorists, according to data from the Chicago Department of Finance published this week by the Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank. That’s more tickets than there are residents of the city, and translates to one ticket issued every 11 seconds during the entire year.
Those numbers shatter the city’s previous speed camera ticket and revenue totals, likely due to the fact that Mayor Lori Lightfoot in March 2021 ordered the cameras to start targeting slower drivers. Previously, the speed cameras had been programmed to issue tickets and $100 fines to drivers going more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Those fines remain in place, but the city’s cameras now also issue $35 fines to drivers going between 6 and 10 mph over the speed limit.
Those $35 tickets accounted for more than two-thirds of the tickets issued by Chicago’s cameras during 2021, according to the Department of Finance data.
Lightfoot and other advocates of the speed cameras argue that they make Chicago’s streets safer by discouraging high-speed driving, but the Illinois Policy Institute points out that more people died in car accidents in the city during 2021 than in 2020 or 2019.
“The safety argument seems weak in light of the various studies and increase in accident deaths, especially when the cameras are generating so much money for a city with massive pension debt and spending it can’t seem to control,” writes Patrick Andriesen, a staff writer at the institute. “Speed cameras might be more accurately called cash cams.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the poorest parts of Chicago are where most of the city’s cameras are located and, as a result, are hardest hit by the fines. Andriesen points out that nearly half the tickets issued to drivers in low-income neighborhoods were not paid on time; with late fees, those $35 tickets for barely speeding become $85 tickets.”
“Police in Rochester, New York, seized $8,040 from Cristal Starling during a raid on her apartment in October 2020. Starling was never charged with a crime, but she may never see her money again due to missing a court deadline during the complicated process of challenging the seizure.
Starling’s apartment was one of two locations Rochester police hit while investigating her former boyfriend, who was suspected of dealing drugs. The police didn’t find any drugs in the apartment, but they did find and take Starling’s cash. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity. (Starling’s ex-boyfriend was arrested for drugs found at a separate raid in the same investigation, but he was later acquitted.)
Starling, who runs a food cart and says she was saving up for a food truck, began trying to fight the seizure without a lawyer. She managed to get her seized car back, and she thought that, with no criminal charges pending in the case anymore, she would no doubt soon get her cash back, too.
Instead, she got a nasty surprise. The Rochester Police Department had sent her money to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and although she had filed a notice with the Justice Department that she was challenging the forfeiture, she had missed a deadline to do so in federal court, meaning the government could move to forfeit her money by default.
After a judge rejected Starling’s request for an extended deadline, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, announced this week that it will file an appeal on her behalf, arguing that people like Starling should have greater opportunity to challenge government seizures.”
“What Starling has learned the hard way is that asset forfeiture laws not only allow police to seize one’s property without an accompanying criminal charge, but that the process to challenge a seizure is tilted in favor of the government. It’s extremely hard for everyday people to navigate the labyrinthine process to get their money back without paying for an attorney, which in Starling’s case would have probably cost enough to make a victory in court negligible.”
“Eight seconds after a Minneapolis SWAT team entered the apartment where Amir Locke was sleeping on a living room couch, Officer Mark Hanneman shot him dead. A joint report that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman released yesterday uses footage from six body cameras to break those seconds down into tiny pieces, describing what each officer was doing and what he could see at any given moment. The bottom line: Ellison and Freeman say criminal charges will not be filed against Hanneman or any of the other officers who participated in the deadly February 2 raid, because they reacted appropriately to what they reasonably perceived as a lethal threat—the handgun that Locke picked up after the cops stormed into the apartment.
At the same time, Ellison and Freeman describe Locke as “a victim” and concede that his reaction to the pre-dawn, no-knock raid “was not per se unreasonable.” In fact, they say, “We recognize that Mr. Locke may have been sleeping and that he, like others in the apartment, may have perceived the officers’ entry to be someone breaking into the apartment. We do not dispute this and believe that it is possible that is exactly what happened here.”
The implication is that Locke and Hanneman both acted in self-defense: Locke was justified in grabbing his gun, and Hanneman was justified in responding by shooting him. That perplexing situation, which is similar to what happened during the March 2020 drug raid that killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, underlines the dangers of police tactics that aim to reduce the risk of violence but often have the opposite effect.
The SWAT team was assisting the St. Paul Police Department in a homicide investigation, but Locke was neither a suspect nor a person of interest. The cops were looking for his cousin, Mekhi Speed, who lived on a different floor of the same apartment building. Locke, a 22-year-old aspiring hip-hop artist, was staying with Mekhi’s brother, Marlon Speed, who shared the apartment with his girlfriend. St. Paul police originally obtained “knock and announce” warrants for Mekhi Speed’s apartment, his brother’s place, and a third unit where “the suspect and his associates often convened.”
Minneapolis SWAT officers refused to participate unless the warrants were changed so that they were authorized to enter early in the morning without first announcing themselves. From their perspective, that was a prudent precaution, since their main target was a murder suspect who was known to be armed. Ellison and Freeman note that police knew “the primary suspect and two other suspects had recently made social media posts in which they were seen with multiple firearms; that the suspects were associated with multiple armed robberies and carjackings; and that the .223 caliber rifle used in the homicide had not yet been recovered.””
” the problem illustrated by Amir Locke’s senseless death goes beyond no-knock warrants. Even when police knock and announce themselves before they enter, they can easily be mistaken for criminals when they burst into a home at an hour when the residents are likely to be sleeping.”
“The problem in both cases was not the officers’ split-second decisions so much as the situation that made them necessary. The strategy of discouraging resistance by deliberately discombobulating people while serving warrants has for years led to similar outcomes in cities across the country. Such tragedies are completely predictable in a country where people have a constitutional right to keep guns in the home for self-defense and commonly do.
This well-established hazard has to be considered every time police enter a home, regardless of whether the warrant notionally requires that they give the residents a chance to answer the door. When police decide to surprise people by serving warrants in the middle of the night with an overwhelming show of force, there is little practical difference between banging on the door and quietly unlocking the door before charging in. Either approach creates a substantial risk that people will not understand what is going on. And if they dare to defend themselves, even “an objectively reasonable officer” is apt to perceive a danger that justifies the use of deadly force.”
“Recent progress on criminal justice reform indicates that there’s still bipartisan interest in narrower policies.
Republicans’ backing for the Equal Act — a pretty limited bill — is still significant. It’s not yet clear if the legislation will move forward in the Senate, though it now has sufficient Republican support.
In the past, Republicans have similarly been open to very targeted policies.
The First Step Act, for example, enables just a subset of federal inmates to shorten their sentences. Other more ambitious reforms, meanwhile, have floundered.”
“GOP senators who are attacking President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court pick seem weirdly unaware of how our justice system works. By focusing in part on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s former role as a criminal defense attorney, they act as if it’s wrong to provide a defense to people accused of a crime—and that if the government levels a charge, it must be right.
Hey, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear—or something like that. “Like any attorney who has been in any kind of practice, they are going to have to answer for the clients they represented and the arguments they made,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) said in reference to Jackson and other Biden nominees. Apparently, defense attorneys should only defend choirboys.
Yet I guarantee if Hawley—known for his fist pump in support of Jan. 6 protestors at the U.S. Capitol—became the target of an overzealous prosecutor who accused him of inciting an insurrection, he’d be happy to have a competent defense attorney to advocate on his behalf. That attorney shouldn’t be forever stained for defending someone as loathsome as Hawley.”
“Jackson will be the nation’s first Supreme Court justice to have served as a public defender, with Thurgood Marshall being the last justice to have criminal defense experience.”
“A study last year by the libertarian Cato Institute found the Trump administration’s judicial appointments tilted in favor of prosecutors over those who represented individuals by a 10-to-one margin. Only 14 percent of the liberal Obama administration’s appointees defended individuals. Most judges strive to be fair, but their backgrounds color their worldview.”