A Fight Worth Ending: Why The War On Drugs Should End.

The war on drugs is a misnomer. It is not a war on drugs, it is a war on people and the people have to call for its end. It is hypocritical and racist for our government to attack the minority and poorer populations for drug use/sale when we see the use and abuse in every level of society.  Illegal drug use appears in every profession, in positions of trust within our government, and across all races and socioeconomic categories.  Drugs are not destroying our society; our reaction to illegal drugs within minority communities are destroying our society and the people’s trust in the criminal justice system.

Marijuana arrests for minor possession in NYC have skyrocketed in recent history.   The majority arrested are African American and Latino youth; yet the largest users of marijuana are young white males.  Cocaine is purchased by wealthy wall street brokers, lawyers, doctors and other ‘white collar’ professionals and used in the most expensive and elite clubs, restaurants and homes of Manhattan. Are the largely minority dealers who sell to these privileged adults really to blame for their use and/or abuse of a chosen narcotic?  More and more respected and intelligent members of society are advocating for the legalization of marijuana, calling into question why we deem certain drugs, like alcohol,  acceptable for use and others illegal and forbidden.

These heightened numbers of drug arrests and political rhetoric regarding splashy ‘large scale’ drug arrests actually come about in an atmosphere of reduced violent crime, prison closings and budget cuts.  We don’t need more police, more laws,  and more enforcement; we can actually do with much less. This should be a positive, and is,  except to those who stand to benefit from prosecutions and incarcerations.  The day my business shrinks because no one is being arrested for illegal drugs anymore will be a welcomed day of great significance.  It will mean we have finally given our minority and low income citizens a fighting chance rather than fighting them.

This post was originally published June 19th, 2011 by the author, Jessica Horani, on  http://horanilaw.blogspot.com/ and has been edited for content.

Kentucky v. King, or, how the Supreme Court thinks people should respond when the police bang on their door…

The Honorable Barry Kamins gave a great update on New York Search and Seizure Law last night for us lucky New York defense attorneys. One key Supreme Court case he discussed was Kentucky v. King, which states the Courts’ test for warrantless searches in ‘exigent circumstances’.  The case involved a pursuit of a suspect who disappears into an apartment building leaving the police, who are following closely behind, to decide which of two apartments the man has entered.  They smell marijuana coming from one apartment and bang on the door shouting, “Police, police, police!” No one comes to the door in response but the officers claim they hear the sounds of people moving and items being moved about. Determining that criminal evidence is about to be destroyed they announce they are coming in and knock down the door and enter the apartment.  The suspect they were originally chasing is, of course, not in this apartment at all, however they do find a few people, one smoking marijuana, as well as visible quantities of marijuana and cocaine inside.  In their decision determining whether the police created the exigent circumstances of the sounds of evidence possibly being destroyed, thereby nullifying the exception and creating a suppressible search, the court looked to whether the police violated or threatened to violate the 4th amendment prior to the exigency.  The Court framed it’s decision finding the warrantless entry by the police to be okay by narrowly focusing on the test to be used to determine when exigent circumstances have been caused by the police.  Here, they determined that the occupants of the apartment created the exigent circumstances prompting the police to enter by making the noises which suggested the destruction of evidence rather than answering the door and demanding a warrant or a reason for the police presence.  A  witty and critical review of the Court’s finding and the reality of how everyday citizens interact with the police can be found in Linda Greenhouse’s NY Times article, Justice in Dreamland. We as criminal defense attorneys advise people to ‘know your rights’ when dealing with the police, however, as many cases show us those rights are not always so clear and the black letter of the law versus how it is placed into practice and exercised in the real world is oftentimes quite different.  Police have incredible power in our society and sometimes a good offense, such as staying away from situations where the police may question you, obeying laws, etc. is not enough.  In that case, a call to your attorney and a great defense is your next best bet!

This post was originally published on June 14th, 2011 by the author, Jessica Horani, on http://horanilaw.blogspot.com and has been edited for content.

The Wrong Man

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Eyewitness (mis)identification played a key role in my most recent trial where an innocent man was prosecuted and taken to trial on the assumption that an eyewitness correctly recognized him from a momentary interaction with the suspect. Hitchcock fans may recognize the chilling storyline of an innocent man wrongfully accused of a crime because he resembles the actual suspect from “The Wrong Man” starring Henry Fonda.

The film was actually based on the true story of Christopher Emmanuel  Balestrero, a Bass player at the Stork Club in 1950′s New York who was arrested for a series of robberies which he did not commit. Hitchcock’s retelling of the musician’s harrowing ordeal before the real perpetrator is ultimately caught is no less powerful today than when it  was first released. These stories keep unfortunately repeating themselves in our legal narratives with the most press going to those who are freed on DNA evidence after decades in custody. How many others languish in jails without the benefit of DNA to free them?  How many others have taken pleas out of fear and have to live with the consequences and shame of criminal convictions for crimes they did not commit? How many more will there be before our system institutes meaningful and effective reforms to address the most glaring causes of wrongful convictions?  Hollywood may continue to retell this tale, but by working together with legislators, prosecutors and police and ensuring that changes take place, we can make more of the stories fictional rather than factual.

This post was originally published June 3, 2011 by the author, Jessica Horani, on http://horanilaw.blogspot.com/ and has been edited for content.