Police are using a flawed scientific test in drugs busts that gives ‘false positives’ to strongarm citizens into plea bargaining
(GUARDIAN) As if America’s highly-publicised “war on drugs” were not already facing a credibility gap, two US superior court judges – one in Washington, DC, another in Colorado – are raising questions about whether the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and police departments are using “pseudo-scientific” drug identification methods to bust hundreds of thousands of suspected drug users, many of them inner-city minority kids. A flawed drug test means that innocent people are being locked up as suspects, deprived of their due process rights, and then pressured to accept plea bargains, whether they’re guilty or not.
At issue in the growing controversy is whether current drug identification methods, including the widely-used “Duquenois-Levine test“, can verify – and how accurately – that the substance police seize during an arrest is the one they say it is. The test, a variation on simple techniques first employed in the 1930s, exposes the suspect substance to a liquid chemical, and if it turns a certain colour – purple, in the case of marijuana – it’s deemed likely to be the real thing.
But according to leading defence experts, including Heather Harris, a highly-trained chemist who’s gone head-to-head with DEA lab “experts” and won, there are hundreds of legal substances, many of them readily available commercially, or in nature, that would normally turn purple under the exact same test conditions. Which means the Duquenois test, while ruling marijuana “in” as one theoretical possibility, perhaps, can’t confirm its presence, either – at least, not “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the legal threshold required for a conviction.
But that hasn’t stopped police from using the test widely. In one recent case in Florida, police descended on a middle-aged woman bird-watcher in a public park and busted her after noticing a leafy substance in a package in her purse, which later turned out to be sage she’d purchased as incense for her home. The woman tried to inform the police about sage’s medicinal and spiritual uses, and even Googled the manufacturer’s website on her laptop, which matched the branding on the package. But the police busted her anyway, after the substance turned purple in a lab test. She’s now planning to sue for damages.
In fact, the problem of “false positives” in drug tests isn’t just limited to substances that appear to resemble marijuana. In Canada, the owners of a family-based chocolatier business were fingered as dangerous drug dealers by a Duquenois field test, and found themselves in jail.
The chocolate case may seem extreme but it’s happening all across America, experts say. That’s, in part, because of the pay incentives involved. Police can earn large amounts of overtime pay by conducting routine drug busts, especially after hours; they even have a name for the practice: “collars for dollars”. In New York, where possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized some years ago, marijuana drug busts have not declined; they’ve skyrocketed – from 5,000 to roughly 30,000 annually – in part, because police find the practice so lucrative.
Of course, Duquenois-Levine is not the only DEA-approved drug test available. A far more conclusive test, known as GC/MS, using far more advanced techniques, can also be performed, but defendants and even many lawyers are rarely aware that they can insist on such a test, or have much incentive to do so.
And, in fact, even the GC/MS test is increasingly under fire, because the DEA doesn’t have standard lab protocols to govern its use, and has angered judges, including those in Washington and Colorado, by overstating the test’s reliability in court. In one recent case, a Colorado superior court judge threw out all of the DEA’s testimony in a drug case after its witness, under cross-examination, failed to demonstrate that the GC/MS testing conducted at one of its 18 national labs was reliable. It’s a legal precedent that has the DEA reeling, experts say.
Of course, many people arrested for drug use and possession are undoubtedly guilty as charged – how many is unclear, though, because plea bargaining is so commonplace. But using manifestly flawed drug identification tests to charge defendants, or pressure them to plead guilty, is hard to square with a defendant’s right to due process. And the DEA and local police, by relying on such methods, are in danger of damaging even their “good” cases, making a further mockery of the “war on drugs”, while leaving ordinary citizens more at risk than ever.
Federal officials are circulating to all 18,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies a… civil rights video??!!
O’Reilly of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance says the video was developed after incidents of excesses by some police departments. In 2008, for example, it emerged that the Maryland State Police had classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered information on them into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects.
O’Reilly, who oversees a national Suspicious Activity Reporting program, says that police should be recording specific behavior that may be a precursor to terrorism, not listing people as suspicious based on their personal backgrounds. The new video is being distributed by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The video says it provides “positive and negative examples of privacy, civil rights and civil liberties-protection encounters with law enforcement officers.” O’Reilly noted that because state and local laws on privacy and civil liberties differ, the video does not attempt to make definitive statements about what police officers may and may not do. He spoke at a session of the IJIS Institute, a government-industry collaboration that promotes information-sharing in criminal justice. The meeting concluded Saturday in Jersey City, N.J.
(POLITICO) The federal government is planning to introduce new behavior detection techniques at airport checkpoints as soon as next month, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said Thursday.
TSA already has “behavior detection officers” at 161 airports nationwide looking for travelers exhibiting physiological or psychological signs that a traveler might be a terrorist. However, Pistole said TSA is preparing to move to an approach that employs more conversation with travelers—a method that has been employed with great success in Israel.
“I’m very much interested in expanding the behavior detection program, upgrading it if you will, in a way that allows us to….have more interaction with a passsenger just from a discussion which may be able to expedite the physical screening aspects,” Pistole said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “So, we’ve looked at what works around the world, some outstanding examples and we are planning to do some new things in the near future here.”
Pistole declined to elaborate on the enhanced behavior detection program but said it would “probably” be announced in August. During an on-stage interview with CNN’s Jeanne Meserve, Pistole acknowledged that the Israeli techniques have been carefully examined.
“There’s a lot—under that Israeli model—a lot that is done that is obviously very effective,” he said. However, critics have said the Israeli program is too time consuming to use consistently at U.S. airports and may involve a degree of religious and racial profiling that would draw controversy in the U.S.
Pistole also said TSA is planning to test out some new methods for screening children in the wake of highly-publicized videos of children screaming as they were patted down at airport checkpoints. The TSA chief said adults have used children as suicide bombers before in other contexts and could do so through an airport, but there may still be better ways to screen kids.
“I think we can do a different way of screening children that recognizes that the very high likelihood they do not have a bomb on them,” Pistole said. “I think under our new protocols we would see very few patdowns of children.” Instead, parents would be more involved in the process of helping TSA personnel figure out why a child is setting off alarms.
Pistole said adjusting screening for the elderly is more complicated because a large number of people on terrorist watch and enhanced screening lists are older. However, another pilot program is underway underway to identify people who have traveled very frequently for years and who could get an expedited screening.
Boston MA police outlaw citizens from taking pictures of them by claiming it’s a violation of the “wiretap law.”
(CN) A federal judge refused to issue a restraining order for a man who says Boston police routinely persecute citizens who photograph cops in public, allegedly in violation of wiretap law, but the lawsuit can proceed in its entirety.
Max Strahan claimed to have been taking pictures of a crane truck and construction crew near Boston Commons in August 2008 when out-of-uniform Boston Police Department officer Kenisha Stewart ordered him to stop.
Strahan said he may have inadvertently snapped a picture of Stewart, and she ordered him to delete images of her from his digital camera because it is a violation of the wiretap law to photograph police officers without their consent.
But Strahan said he would not comply until Stewart could prove she was actually a police officer by showing a badge or gun. Since Stewart allegedly ignored Strahan’s questions, he said threatened to file a complaint with Internal Affairs, took more pictures of her to prove she was not in uniform and fled to a nearby pizzeria.
“Stewart screamed at him that she was going to get those pictures,” according to the court’s summary of his complaint.
Stewart caught up with the photographer while he was eating two slices of pizza, so he fled again and was eventually apprehended after another BPD employee allegedly “rammed him with his bicycle.”
As more police arrived on the scene, Strahan said the group threatened him with beatings and arrest unless he destroyed the photographs of Stewart.
“One defendant with whom Strahan had had a previous encounter (identified as ‘John Doe Motorcycle’), stated to Strahan that if he did not destroy the pictures immediately, he was going to ‘beat your ass,’ while grabbing his gun,'” U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said, quoting Strahan’s complaint.
Fearing for the safety of his camera and his property, Strahan said deleted the offending pictures.
Strahan filed suit and sought a restraining order, claiming that the emotional toll of the incident caused him to vomit and that he now avoids Boston Common because he still feels threatened and intimidated by BPD officers.
Judge Woodlock agreed to let Strahan proceed in forma pauperis and to consolidate his case with Glik v. Cunniffe, which also alleges threats of arrest for photographing BPD employees in public.
But Strahan will not get a restraining order compelling an emergency hearing with all the parties to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Calling Strahan’s motion an attempt to “side-step” the rules of service of process, Woodlock said he did “not find that requiring the defendants to forego their rights to proper service of process under Rule 4 is justified under these circumstances.”
The court noted that the police have done nothing to Strahan in the three years since the alleged incident.
“I find that his assertion that he is under imminent threat of harm by the BPD to be speculative,” Woodlock wrote on July 15.
Because Strahan lacks sufficient funds, U.S. Marshals will complete service only on the named defendants in 120 days, as instructed by Strahan, and to advance the costs of service.
Strahan can effect service on the other defendants, such as John Doe Motorcycle, once he has identified them.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that it’s ok to collect DNA from those arrested but not convicted
(POST GAZETTE) The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that it’s ok to collect DNA from those arrested but not convicted.A closely divided 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found that the collection of DNA samples from people arrested but not yet convicted of crimes is constitutional, in an opinion released today.
In a precedent-setting ruling, the appeals court rejected U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone’s 2009 order finding that law enforcement could not collect DNA from Ruben Mitchell, who faces a federal charge of attempting to possess and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. Judge Cercone had found that requiring pre-trial detainees to submit DNA samples, which is done under the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, violates the 4th Amendment’s search and seizure rules.
In an 8-6 ruling, the circuit judges found that people who are arrested have “a diminished expectation of privacy in their identities.” Outweighing their privacy, they found, is the importance to law enforcement of correctly identifying people who are charged with crimes, determining their criminal history, potentially linking them to unsolved crimes and promptly ruling out involvement in a crime in cases in which the DNA does not match that found at the scene.
The majority opinion, by Judge Julio M. Fuentes, said that DNA matching “promptly clears thousands of potential suspects.”
“In sum, under the totality of the circumstances, given arrestees’ and pretrial detainees’ diminished expectations of privacy in their identities and the Government’s legitimate interests in the collection of DNA from these individuals, we conclude that such collection is reasonable and does not violate the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Fuentes wrote.
Judge Marjorie O. Rendell wrote for six dissenting judges who found that the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 overreached.
“The privacy interests of arrestees, while diminished in certain, very circumscribed situations, are not so weak as to permit the Government to intrude into their bodies and extract the highly sensitive information coded in their genes,” Judge Rendell wrote. “Moreover, the Government’s asserted interest in this case — the law enforcement objective of obtaining evidence to assist in the prosecution of past and future crimes presents precisely the potential for abuse the Fourth Amendment was designed to guard against.”
(UPI) A New York woman’s lawsuit against airline JetBlue claims she was embarrassed by a worker who asked about her underwear and was later removed from the flight.
Financial consultant Malinda Knowles, 27, said in her city Supreme Court lawsuit she was flying to Florida for a business meeting July 13, 2010, when she was approached by a JetBlue supervisor, the New York Post reported Friday.
Knowles, who said her dark denim shorts were concealed by her baggy T-shirt, said the supervisor placed the antenna of his walkie-talkie between her legs.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to see your panties or anything but do you have any on?'” Knowles said.
“I didn’t want to show him anything. He wanted me to basically show him my crotch. I was completely humiliated. It was vulgar. It was macho. It was rude,” she said.
Knowles said she was escorted off the plane and taken to a John F. Kennedy Airport hanger, where she showed workers she was wearing shorts.
She said she returned to the plane but a worker then told her she had to exit because the pilot was refusing to fly with her aboard.
JetBlue declined to comment.
(WASHINGTON POST) Atlanta entrepreneur Mike Mondelli has access to more than a
billion records detailing consumers’ personal finances — and there is little
they can do about it.
The information collected by his company, L2C, comes from
thousands of everyday transactions that many people do not realize are being
tracked: auto warranties, cellphone bills and magazine subscriptions. It
includes purchases of prepaid cards and visits to payday lenders and
rent-to-own furniture stores. It knows whether your checks have cleared and
scours public records for mentions of your name.
Pulled together, the data follow the life of your wallet far
beyond what exists in the country’s three main credit bureaus. Mondelli sells
that information for a profit to lenders, landlords and even health-care
providers trying to solve one of the most fundamental questions of personal
finance: Who is worthy of credit?
Federal regulations do not always require companies to
disclose when they share your financial history or with whom, and there is no
way to opt out when they do. No standard exists for what types of data should
be included in the fourth bureau or how it should be used. No one is even
tracking the accuracy of these reports. That has created a virtually
impenetrable system in which consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, have
little insight into the forces shaping their financial futures.
Wakefield, NH- Police chief Ken Fifield justifies DUI checkpoints by claiming driving is suspicious behavoir
(MASS PRIVATE I) Ossipee, NH — A Carroll County man is questioning authorities about the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. But local police chiefs say that question has been settled.
The topic came up at Wednesday’s county commission meeting when Ed Comeau, of Brookfield, asked commissioners whether they considered the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when they signed off on some paperwork for a state grant to fund the sheriff’s office involvement in an upcoming sobriety checkpoint.
“When you were sworn in as commissioners, did you swear an oath the the constitution?” said Comeau. “The Fourth Amendment states you need probable cause in order to pull someone over if they haven’t done a crime. Was that taken into consideration?”
Comeau films county commission meetings for his website, www.governmentoversite.com.
In order to conduct a checkpoint, police must get approval from a Superior Court judge. Right now Wakefield police are in the process of writing the application to seek approval from the Superior Court.
The application to the court includes a detailed accounting of the purpose of the checkpoint, how long the checkpoint will be conducted, how long each stop can last, how the vehicles will be pulled over, and what the officer will do when he or she has someone pulled over, said Fifield.
“This is very much the same as a warrant for a search or an arrest because it’s done with cause and court approval not just the whim of an executive who says go stop cars on Route 16 and let’s see what we get,” said Fifield. “It’s not what I think, it’s what the courts have already determined.”
During a stop, an officer has several responsibilities, said Fifield. Those include: informing the motorist of the checkpoint, identifying the motorist, and checking license and registration. The person is let go within three minutes if there’s no problem. Police will not be looking for broken headlights and overdue inspections.
“I’m still trying to get over the Fourth Amendment issue of where is the probable cause,” Comeau replied. “Where is the suspicion.”
But Fifield said the standard isn’t probable cause, it’s actually “reasonable and articulable suspicion.” Officers need that standard to make a stop. Officers need to meet the higher standard of “probable cause” to make an arrest or do a search warrant. Fifield stressed that the checkpoints are legal because they have gotten permission from a judge.
(Carlos Miller) Earlier this week, we reported that the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was encouraging citizens to report people taking pictures in public as suspicious activity.
Now we’ve learned that the U.S. Coast Guard is doing the same.
On a website called America’s Waterway Watch, described as a “combined effort of the Coast Guard and its Reserve and Auxiliary components,” citizens are given several scenarios that describe “suspicious activity,” including a few that involve people taking pictures of the shoreline or of bridges.
Citizens are informed that while this may have been acceptable behavior prior to September 11, 2001, it is now considered suspicious.
The Coast Guard is taking the same stance that various other agencies have done in the past, including the Transportation Security Administration and the Chicago Transit Authority, assuming that terrorists would photograph their targets beforehand.
But that’s nonsense, according to security expert Bruce Schneier
Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.
Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.
(INFOWARS) In the Soviet Union and communist countries, photography in public was considered suspect. It is now the same in the New Soviet Union, the United States of America, formerly the land of the free and the home of the brave, now land of the surveilled and home of the cowed.
As the web form below demonstrates, photography is now considered suspicious and possibly criminal, the same as theft and physical intrusion.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office may actually believe a certain number of photographers are working for al-Qaeda – or the Sovereign Citizens movement – but the actual reason for listing such normally innocuous behavior as suspect is to get subjects of the state to realize they are living in a dictatorship… minus all the Stalinesque statues.
The entire Stasi rat-out-your-neighbor form can be viewed here.