Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The private sector should foster the development of businesses that positively affect the lives of people in recovery by increasing employment opportunities for them. Residential treatment is a commonly used form of treatment. However, many states are facing a shortage of residential treatment beds. The shortage of beds is especially true for women with children seeking treatment.
In spite of efforts to increase funding for drug prevention and treatment programs, the United States continues to be the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2009 Monitoring the Future Survey, more 10th graders are smoking marijuana than cigarettes, because they view cigarettes as more harmful than marijuana. Yet, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic compounds, including tar, than cigarettes.
Marijuana is much more potent today than in the past. In recent decades, marijuana growers have been genetically altering their plants to increase the percentage of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana. THC impacts parts of the brain, triggering a series of reactions that ultimately lead to the “high” users experience when they smoke the drug. The average potency of tested marijuana from federal seizures more than doubled from 1998 to 2008.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Drug Use In America, 2008-2011: What It Costs Us, The Painkillers Pandemic, and Increase of Synthetic (Chemically Produced) Drugs.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Sentencing Reform Pushed In Congress
Key Quotes from the Reading Eagle, 1-5-14:
"About half of the nation's more than 218,000 federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes and virtually all of them faced some form of mandatory minimum sentencing."
"...the Smarter Sentencing Act. It would expand a so-called safety valve already on the books that gives judges discretion for a limited number of nonviolent drug offenders. The new law would give judges the same latitude for a larger group of drug offenders facing mandatory sentences."
On Jan. 5, 2014, the Sunday edition of The Reading Eagle published a story titled "Sentencing Reform Pushed In Congress." President Obama, along with his cabinet and Congress, raised the issue of a change in mandatory sentencing, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders. For my readers, does this ring a bell? As a result, Congressional sub-groups are pursuing are pursuing the elimination or the drastic change in mandatory minimum punishments amid growing concerns that the sentences are both unfair and expensive on the dollars again, does this ring a bell?
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
People with great authority do sometimes abuse it and this has been seen many times in many places, including police departments, both large and small. That’s the other side of the coin. The tragedy is that some of these abuses have resulted in years of punishment for people who could not be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt without such police misfeasance. The sadness continues when the abuse by the officer is sometimes justified by saying: ‘He’s just a thug and is probably guilty of something or will be in the future. What’s the harm?’ That is a discussion for another time. Most importantly, these are exceptions to the norm; in fact, the vast majority of police officers do their job in a fair, professional and ethical manner.
But with regards to this case, is the strange behavior/ actual or attempted abuse, a combination or neither? You be the judge.
Nature’s call or not, trooper guilty
Judge ignores testimony on a hurry-up call – claimed and denied – as an excuse for speeding, and levies fines on the state officer for speeding and fleeing.
Eagle/Times (published in the mid 90s)
Nature’s call had no bearing in a case against an off-duty Pittsburgh-based state trooper found guilty of failing to pull over properly after being clocked for speeding.
Trooper Nelson Bryant, 38, a 13-year police veteran, was in Berks County Court Wednesday hoping to wipe out a summary charge that he fled police or purposely failed to pull off the road.
After a 2 ½ hour hearing, Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher denied the request and fined Bryant $67 for speeding and $200 for fleeing police.
Trooper Michael J. Mescavage, who is now retired but who was assigned to the Hamburg barracks at the time of the incident, testified that he clocked Bryant at 76 mph in a 55 mph zone March 14 on westbound Interstate 78 in Tilden Township.
Mescavage, a trooper for 23 ½ years, said he pursued Bryant for about two miles with the cruiser lights flashing before Bryant pulled over. The retired trooper said Bryant told him he had diarrhea and was not trying to outrun the pursuit car.
Bryant disputed that, claiming he pulled over as soon as Mescavage turned on the overhead light of the cruiser. Bryant also said he never offered a reason for speeding.
He did not contest the speeding citation, but he denied he was driving 120 mph during the chase, as Mescavage claimed.
After Bryant pulled over, he displayed a state police identification card in his wallet when asked for his license and registration, Mescavage said.
“I told him I didn’t want to see an identification card,” Mescavage said.
He said Bryant explained he had diarrhea and got out of the car and walked into the weeds along the road to relieve himself.
Mescavage said he contacted a supervisor, who indicated he could issue the citations later. He said he returned the next day to search the weeds where he believed he stopped Bryant, but found nothing.
Bryant said his identification card was near his driver’s license in his wallet, and he did not offer it to Mescavage. And, he said, he went into the weeds to urinate…
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
1) Mandatory-minimum sentences are imposed by either the legislature or the prosecutor, not the judge. The three branches of government balance and check one another: legislative, executive, including the prosecuting district attorney, and the judiciary. How is it constitutional for another branch to mandate that the judiciary impose a minimum sentence in a case if there is a guilty plea or verdict?
2) The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing recommends sentences that unfortunately we judges consistently follow 90 percent of the time in all sentences imposed in Pennsylvania. A sentencing commission concept is at best a good idea going terribly wrong. They have existed in every state and in the federal government.
I continually inquire as to who does the sentencing in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania is not alone, as Pitts points out. He cites other examples of injustice from different parts of the country. Please keep in mind that the term ‘prison overcrowding’ is a recent phenomenon that began immediately after the Pennsylvania Commission of Sentencing became law in 1982. Within two years, Pennsylvania began building more new prisons (16 in the next 14 years) than the eleven built during the entire 160 years before 1982!
Nation Got Tough on Crime and Hard on Justice
By Leonard Pitts Jr. (published 5-25-12)
The people got sick of it, all those criminals being coddled by all those bleeding heart liberal judges with all their soft-headed concern for rights and rehabilitation. And a wave swept this country in the Reagan years, a wave ridden by pundits and politicians seeking power, a wave that said, no mercy, no more. From now on, judges would be severely limited in the sentences they could hand down for certain crimes, required to impose certain punishments whether or not they thought those punishments fit the circumstances at hand. From now on, there was a new mantra in American justice. From now on, we would be tough on crime.
We got tough on Jerry Dewayne Williams, a small-time criminal who stole a slice of pizza from a group of children. He got 25 years. We got tough on Duane Silva, a guy with an IQ of 71 who stole a VCR and a coin collection. He got 30 to life.
We got tough on Dixie Shanahan, who shot and killed the husband who had beaten her for three days straight, punching her in the face, pounding her in the stomach, dragging her by the hair, because she refused to have an abortion. She got 50 years. We got tough on Jeff Berryhill, who got drunk one night, kicked in an apartment door and punched a guy who was inside with Berryhill’s girlfriend. He got 25 years.
Now, we have gotten tough on Melissa Alexander. She is a Jacksonville, Fla., woman who said her husband flew into a violent rage and tried to strangle her when he found text messages to her first husband. She fled to her car, but in her haste, forgot her keys. She took a pistol from the garage and returned to the house for them. When her husband came after her again, she fired into the ceiling. The warning shot made him back off. No one was hurt.
Like Shanahan before her, Alexander was offered a plea bargain. Like Shanahan, she declined, reasoning that no one would convict her under the circumstances. Like Shanahan, she was wrong.
Alexander got 20 years for aggravated assault. And like Shanahan, like Berryhill, Williams, Silva and Lord only knows how many others, she received that outlandish sentence not because the judge had a heart like Simon Legree’s, but because the judge was constrained by mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines that tied his hands, allowing no leeway for consideration, compassion, context or common sense.
Judge Charles Smith, who sent Shanahan away, put it best. The sentence he was required to impose may be legal, but it is wrong.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. In a nation where we execute people based on nothing but eyewitness testimony, it is hard to imagine what meaning that prohibition holds. But assuming it means anything, surely it means you can’t draw a 20-year sentence for shooting a ceiling.
In restricting judges from judging, we have instituted a one-size-fits-all version of justice that bears little resemblance to the real thing. It proceeds from the same misguided thinking that produced the absurd zero-tolerance school drug policies that routinely get children suspended for bringing aspirin to class. There is this silly idea that by requiring robotic adherence to inflexible rules we will produce desirable results.
It should be obvious how wrong and costly that reasoning was and how urgently we need to roll back the wave that swept over us. It is understandable that the nation wanted to get tough on crime. But we have been rather hard on justice, too.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
In Part I last week, I included The New York Times editorial published in June 2012, which highlighted this imbalance of enforcement of drug laws in the cities but nowhere else. Logically, one might hypothesize this tactic is used to arrest hardened, violent criminals. But that could not be farther from the truth. In New York State, possession of a small amount of marijuana was reduced in seriousness to simply a violation that is similar to a speeding or traffic ticket. In fact, for the last 35 years, it has been downgraded to only a violation of the law. Yet in New York City in 1990 - 13 years after the penalty reduction went into law. This law enforcement crackdown is not found anywhere else in the suburbs of New York State. This is why it is a direct attack on the inner-city population, as is the stop-and-frisk program.
In addition to my message that we have discriminatorily declared war on our cities, this article also communicates that it is acceptable for police to stop and frisk 700,000 citizens and arrest 50,000 for possession of a small amount of marijuana. But despite this extensive and intensive drug enforcement tactic, America has been made unable to declare victory on its declared war on drugs. We've lost the war because it was always unwinnable. This is after increasing arrests for dangerous drug in the drug "crisis' - from 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2011.
The question is If that's the result of our war on drugs scorecard with regards to an "introductory" drug like marijuana, then how successful has the war on drugs been with substances like heroin, methamphetamine or prescription pain medications or alcohol or...?
This increase from 1,000 to 50,000 arrests for marijuana possession during a 21-year span raises many more questions, not the least of which are: what has been accomplished, what was the original intent of the war on drugs, an finally, what was the point of it all? And didn't anyone in law enforcement or public office in New York City analyze this illogical statistic?? Have they done so now? Will continue happen every year?
Among the many understood facts that led only to this conclusion is the astronomical rise in costs in the United States to incarcerate 12 times the number of inmates in 40 years from when president Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971. The Reading Eagle's front-page report on March 9, 2014 titled 'The Heartache of Heroin' quotes the special agent in charges of the state's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control that "heroin use has reached the entire state [of Pennsylvania]", It used to be found only in "pockets" throughout the state. The gist of the article revealed that in three years the number of deaths from heroin use increased in Pennsylvania by 149% from 332 in 2000 to 827 in 2012. On page 54 of my book Justice or Just This?: A Constitutional Trespass, published in late 2011, I posed the question: Is this the best policy to declare war on drugs when alcohol and tobacco use are far more damaging to society? In fact, legal prescription drugs send more people to the emergency room than the illegal drugs we are spending billions to fight!
How was America benefited from its current 43 year old war on drugs? Equally important is the question of how has our country suffered because of it? Drug use is the same regardless of race, yet three times more blacks are in jail for it than whites. It fact, we can summarize in general, that disproportionately more blacks and Hispanics are in prison, while fewer whites are behind bars for other crimes as well.
Why is that? Is it because the authorities that make and enforce the criminal drug laws prioritize arrests in cities but not in the suburbs? We do know that when blacks fled the south for the north in the 1960s, many relocated in the ghettos of the cities. Does this statistic have anything to do with why we are fighting the drug was in our cities?
In March this year, we learned about Newark, N.J. which has an African American population of 52%. The op-ed piece in the N.J. Star Ledger states that " Newark cops appear to be targeting mostly black men in searched that often lead nowhere." And Newark police are worse than New York City police when it comes to stop and frisk. In 2011, New York's rare was 89 police stop 1,000, while Newark arrested 91 per 1,000 citizens. Seventy-five percent of those stopped and frisked in Newark were black.
I ask again, has anyone in the government or law enforcement in Newark or New York City, or in the national spectrum for that matter, seen and honestly analyzed these numbers?
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
From recent archives of op-ed pieces published in the New York Times is the editorial from June 5, 2012, titled 'No Crime, real punishment.' I invite you to read it and evaluate what good had been accomplished with this particular front of this country's 40-year war on drugs. Action has a reaction and that the reaction may not always be favorable. Expert testimony is not necessary to help form thoughts and opinions on this matter. Everyday Americans have been witness to the four decade war on drugs and its carious components and can testify to its impact. Increased drug law enforcement has cause record incarceration, which removes more citizens from their homes and drains state and federal prison budgets. Please apply your common sense and everyday knowledge in evaluating the drug wars history in New York City and then contemplate how common this law enforcement tactic has been particularly in other cities in America.
Gov. Cuomo's proposal to curb low-level marijuana arrests is a start (published 6-5-12), New York Times' Op-ed section
New York State decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the late 1970s. But last year , in New York City, 50,000 people- the majority of them, young African-American or Hispanic men - were still arrested for possession because of overzealous policing and a weakness in the law.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view - a sensible step that should decrease the number of those arrests and lessen the damage to those young lives. Now Mayor Micheal Bloomberg, who has endorsed the governor's proposal, must rein the city's runaway stop-and-frisk program that is also disproportionately stopping young black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
In 1977, hoping to relieve court congestion and allow prosecutors to focus on more serious crime, the State Legislature made possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation - something akin to a traffic ticket- punishable by a $100 fine for the first offense. Possession in public view was a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in a jail an a $500 fine.
Marijuana arrests initially declined, but they exploded from less than 1,000 in 1990 to 50,000 last year. Of the nearly 12,000 16 to 19 year olds arrested in 2011, nearly half had never been arrested before; 94 had no prior convictions.
Public defenders have repeatedly charged that the police are entrapping young people, stopping them for no cause and then requiring them to empty their pockets to bring their marijuana into public view. And former police officers now speak openly of being pressured to drive their arrest rates.
Last fall, Commissioner Raymond Kelly of the New York Police Department tacitly admitted there was a problem, instructing officers to arrest people only if they revealed the marijuana on their own. According to city data, the number of arrests declined nearly 25 percent over the next eight months. While that is encouraging, without a change in the law, the department could fall back into its old ways.
The Legislature should take up Mr. Cuomo's proposal and pass it swiftly. People with minor convictions can be denied public housing and federal student aid and written off by prospective employers. The numbers for the stop-and-frisk program are even more disturbing- 700,000 last year, about 85 percent of those involving Blacks and Hispanics, who make up about half the city's population.
Decriminalizing public possession of small amounts of marijuana will address only part of that problem. For that sake of fairness and public safety, the stop-and-frisk program, which breeds fear and distrust of the police in minority neighborhoods must be reformed.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
A Mandatory Minimum Sentence from Louisiana – not what the judge wanted to do, but was forced to impose
Each week, Pennsylvania lawyers and judges receive the judicial decisions from the appellate courts. Before I continue, allow me to provide some background information. Judges at the trial level are not called the appellate court. The trial court in Pennsylvania is the court of common pleas. It is the only court where a record is maintained because we judges, in non-jury trials, or jurors in jury trials, are the finders of facts in each case. In other words, either a jury or a judge tries the case and renders a verdict. All disputes are litigated in the trial courts. This means that all evidence and arguments are presented in each and every trial. What do I mean by stating that we are the only court of record in Pennsylvania? The trial court records testimony, motions, exhibits and rulings on evidence all of which is reviewed by the appellate courts when an appeal is filed.