Marijuana Laws Creating Criminals And Considerable Judicial And Financial Costs

June 6, 2012

NEW YORK – More than 50,000 people in 2011 were arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana — the majority of whom were black and Latino — at a considerable judicial and financial cost. New York City spends about $75 million every year on arresting people for recreational marijuana possession.

But what many people don’t know is that the state decriminalized this offense more than 30 years ago, making private possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana a violation punishable by a $100 fine. Possession of the same amount in public view remains a criminal misdemeanor.

Despite this change in law, arrests for small quantities of marijuana over the last decade have skyrocketed, with more than 400,000 people arrested and unceremoniously run through the criminal justice system. Marijuana possession is now the No. 1 arrest category in New York.

Why is this happening?
Hakeem Jeffries
Hakeem Jeffries
New York decriminalizing marijuana?
Is it time to legalize marijuana?

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people in New York are stopped, questioned, frisked and searched, often without justification, under the “stop and frisk” policy. The vast majority of these people live in communities of color, and almost 90% are immediately released without arrest or even a summons.

Often, however, the police approach young people and instruct them to empty their pockets immediately and show the officers anything they have. People who have a small quantity of marijuana in their pockets take it out and hold it up. The marijuana is now in public view. Thousands of people are then arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession, punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Given the change of law in 1977, had the marijuana remained in the person’s pocket, possession would not have been a crime at all. But in complying with a police officer’s request, otherwise noncriminal behavior is instantly transformed into an arrest and unceremonious journey through the criminal justice system.

This is fundamentally unfair. Many view it as classic entrapment.

A majority of these arrests happen only in certain neighborhoods. Indeed, compounding the injustice is the fact that 85% of the people arrested are black and Latino. Yet studies consistently show that younger and affluent whites use marijuana in equal if not greater numbers.

The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately subjected to criminal justice system intervention and incarceration. An arrest creates serious barriers to going to college or getting a job, and that person’s future may begin to spiral downward. The damage to police and community relations cannot be overstated.

Another serious problem is that these needless and inappropriate arrests detract from arresting and prosecuting serious criminals. Millions of dollars in law enforcement resources are wasted. Thousands of lives are damaged with the contamination of having a criminal record.

But New York is prepared to take a significant step forward to solve this problem. With the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, we are on the brink of finishing the job that the state Legislature started in 1977. We want to reduce the classification of possession of small quantities of marijuana in plain view from a misdemeanor to a violation.

Justice demands this change. The possession of small quantities of marijuana is either a crime or it is not. But it cannot be criminal activity for one group of people and socially acceptable behavior for another when the dividing line is race.

The connected and powerful — including many in high political office — have frequently admitted to smoking marijuana when they were young. We didn’t unmercifully penalize them. We should stop needlessly criminalizing tens of thousands of our young people for doing the same thing.

Appeared Here

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Lawmakers Look Into 9th Federal Circuit Court Of Appeals Plan For $1 Million Maui Hawaii Getaway At Taxpayer Expense

May 21, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of the scandal surrounding one government agency’s lavish Las Vegas conference, federal judges in the western U.S. circuit are catching flak from Congress for a planned Maui getaway that could cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

The Maui meet-up is scheduled for August under the banner of the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, and will include judges, attorneys, staff and “special guests” from various federal courts spread across nine western states — including judges on the California-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While in Hawaii, the guests are scheduled to stay in the upscale Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. And they’ll have the chance to kick back with an array of recreational activities — sport fishing, golf, paddle-board lessons, yoga, Zumba, even a floral design workshop.

The official website for the conference stresses that “government funds are not used for any recreational or sporting activities.”

But Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter to Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, called the activities “unrelated to the business of the court” and questioned whether the Ninth Circuit really needed to ship everyone out to the islands — a trip that incurs substantial costs in travel and lodging alone.

“The programs read more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice,” they wrote. “We are concerned about the overall cost of this conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii.”

A statement from the senators estimated the trip could cost more than $1 million — pegging the cost of accommodations alone at more than $500,000. That factors in room rates of between $230 and $250 per night for four nights.

The government also provides a per diem — according to the conference website, this per diem starts at a base level of $289.

The hotel itself is situated on Kaanapali Beach, in the northwestern corner of the island on the outskirts of the island’s lush rainforests. The resort features a full-service spa, a salon, 1,800 feet of beachfront property, two pools with waterfalls, a rope bridge and an outdoor whirlpool.

The GOP senators, in their letter, fired off a slew of questions for the Ninth Circuit about the cost of past conventions and the rationale for the upcoming one. They referenced the scandal over the General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas, which cost taxpayers more than $800,000.

“Technology is so advanced that people are earning college degrees online and soldiers serving halfway across the world use Skype with their families at home,” Grassley said in a statement.

“Likewise, a judicial circuit court should be capable of using technology to share information without requiring a trip to an island paradise. It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle. The taxpayers can’t sustain this kind of spending, and they shouldn’t have to. The court should re-examine whether this is the best use of tax dollars.”

A representative with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has not returned a request for comment.

Appeared Here


Broke State Of Alabama May Stop Having Court Sessions On Fridays To Save Money

April 14, 2011

HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – An empty courtroom at the Madison County Courthouse could become the norm, at least one day a week. Attorney, Chris Wooten says, “basically what the Chief Justice is having to do, is because of state budget cuts, is give every chief judge in every county the option of closing down the county courthouse on Fridays.”

Wooten says that decision along with an order to reduce the number of weeks allotted for trials will slow down the justice system. “The court, in addition to having to cram everything into four days instead of five, would only be able to hear half as many trials in any given year,” says Wooten.

According to Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, it’s a cost cutting measure. She says employees will still work five days a week. But, they need the extra day to make up for last year’s layoffs and another 150 employees losing their jobs on May 1st. Wooten says, “Everybody that is left at the courthouse is going to be doing their job plus the other folks job. So, that is when this Friday paperwork catch up time, that is when they are actually going to do it.”

Jurors will also be asked to voluntarily forgo juror pay and mileage for trips to the courthouse. Former juror, Jim Rozell says, “people that work for themselves like me won’t be making anything and be losing money and half to pay for gas to come down there.”

Giving up juror pay is not the only way Alabamians might be asked to chip in. Cobb says she hopes the legislature will provide money to the court system by increasing Alabama’s cigarette tax by one dollar per pack. But, Madison County resident, Oneal Seagrobes says, “There’s other ways to cut costs, raising taxes is not going to solve it.”

Wooten says any way you look at it, these changes will only slow down a process that is already slow in the first place. “The current average time from when a case is filed to when it is finally adjudicated here in Madison County is between 18 and 24 months.”

Madison County Circuit Judge Karen Hall says she hopes to keep the Madison County Courts open five days a week as long as she can. She is going to meet with all Madison County judges early next week.

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