view full story- In heroin debate, a detour from sentencing reform
BILL PROPOSES TWO-YEAR JAIL MINIMUM FOR USERS
The scourge of heroin is difficult to overlook in southeastern Louisiana, from an exponential increase in overdoses to an alarming spike in trafficking. The highly addictive narcotic has emerged as an affordable drug of choice and a killer to be reckoned with, gaining new users and fueling the state’s violent crime rate.
Heroin-related deaths soared last year from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, and the drug has shown no signs of loosening its grip as the epidemic spills into more and more parishes. On the verge of panic, authorities are warning of a public health crisis that demands new methods of deterrence.
“When we’re getting to people, they’re dead,” said Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent. “When we’re getting to people, the needle is still hanging out of their skin.”
Against this backdrop, law enforcement officials are supporting legislation to drastically increase prison time for heroin dealers and users, including a bill backed by the influential Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association that would impose a mandatory minimum of two years behind bars — without parole — for anyone caught possessing even a small amount of heroin.
House Bill 332 sailed through the House Criminal Justice Committee last week and is attracting bipartisan support, even among lawmakers otherwise skeptical of the “tough-on-crime” policies that have been blamed for Louisiana’s nation-leading incarceration rate.
“I think everybody understands the danger of heroin,” said Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, the committee’s chairman and the author of the bill. “I don’t want to put them away for the rest of their lives, but from the other standpoint, I want to make it enough of a deterrent that when they do get out of prison they say, ‘I’m staying away from that stuff.’ That’s the purpose.”
The proposal, which also would double the mandatory minimum sentence for heroin distribution from five to 10 years, stands in sharp contrast to a package of other legislative measures that aim to reduce the state’s teeming prison population, in part by shortening jail time for nonviolent offenders. And it comes at a time of growing recognition among conservatives and liberals alike that mandatory minimums for drug offenses have strained state coffers while doing little, if anything, to curb crime.
“Louisiana already has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, and part of the reason for that is their history with mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses,” said Lauren Galik, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, who has studied the state’s sentencing laws. “It clearly hasn’t served as a deterrent effect if people are still using drugs.”
State Police patrols along Interstate 10 on the lookout this past weekend for drug trafficking, possibly from Mexico, confiscated more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana valued at about $1.5 million in three traffic stops between Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
“We’re hoping that people realize that there are a lot of narcotics traveling through our state,” Trooper 1st Class Jared Sandifer said.
Sandifer described the stops as “proactive traffic stops.” All three drivers were traveling east on the interstate, and two of the three drivers booked are from Texas.
“A lot of the marijuana and narcotics is coming from Mexico,” Sandifer said. “They will recruit drivers from Texas to ferry them across the states.”
In all three cases, State Police stopped the cars after spotting improper lane usage, a broad category that includes failure to signal during a lane change or crossing the center line, Sandifer said.
“(Troopers) know what to look for,” Sandifer said. “It’s not profiling.”
All three drivers were booked on counts of improper lane usage and possession with intent to distribute narcotics.
The biggest haul of three stops — 586 pounds of pot — was handled by Troop I. The stop was made at 7:15 a.m. Monday west of Henderson in St. Martin Parish, Sandifer said. Juan Rangel, 25, of Brownsville, Texas, was booked into St. Martin Parish Jail. He drove a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and also had no driver’s license, Sandifer said.
In the other two stops, on Friday and Sunday nights, troopers with Troop A uncovered 100 and 244 pounds of pot respectively.
The Friday stop also turned up 11,000 doses of Ecstasy, valued at more than $110,000, as well as 8 ounces of codeine syrup, Sandifer said. Those stops occurred in the same place, in West Baton Rouge Parish west of the La. 415 interchange.
In the Friday stop, at 11:30 p.m., Jamorrius R. Gibson, 23, of Hammond, was driving a 2007 Honda Accord, Sandifer said. In the Sunday stop, also at 11:30 p.m., Martin Martinez, 34, of La Marque, Texas, was driving a 2007 Mercedes CL550. Both Gibson and Martinez were booked in West Baton Rouge Parish jail.
“We’re going to stop as many of these guys as we can who choose to drive narcotics through our state,” Sandifer said.
State Police also disclosed a similar stop conducted a month earlier, at noon Feb. 26. Like the ones this past week, it involved an eastbound car, a 2013 Lexus GS350, and it occurred along I-10 west of the La. 415 interchange. During that stop, troopers found 11 pounds of cocaine, which Sandifer said is worth an estimated $406,000, along with two handguns and $10,000 in cash hidden in the vehicle.
Christopher Lee-Sinc Jackson, 31, of Beaumont, Texas, was booked in West Baton Rouge Parish jail on counts of possession with intent to distribute narcotics, as well as improper lane usage and illegal carrying of weapons, Sandifer said.
Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier was in Sulphur Wednesday, March 19, talking to the Sulphur Rotary Club about his office’s approach to handling those with drug and alcohol problems.
DeRosier said that the rate of deaths from prescription drug abuse has declined in the parish from an annual average of nearly 60 to a little over 20. He credits this to the cooperation between Louisiana and Texas legislators in passing legislation that shut down the pill distributors in southeast Texas.
“Almost no Sulphur pharmacist would take a southwest Texas prescription,” DeRosier said of the legislation’s success.
DeRosier said one result of the crack down on illegal prescription drug sales has been that heroin is now cheaper than Oxycontin. He said that during 2013 there were more than a dozen deaths in Calcasieu attributed to heroin overdose.
The D.A. offered some advice for parents of children repeatedly in trouble with drugs. “Parents need to realize that sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and give them tough love.”
DeRosier said the pre-trial diversion program offers a chance for those convicted of a drug- or alcohol-related crime to get sober and move on with a clean record.
“We’re in the business of protecting people. We’re not really interested in putting people in jail,” said DeRosier.
But repeat offenders leave little choice for the DA’s office. “The last two fourth-offense DWIs are in jail for 15 years and they will have to serve half of that before they are eligible for parole,” he said. “They exhausted every other possible effort (by us) to help.”
DeRosier said between as much as 25 percent of DWIs brought before his office are sent to pre-trial diversion. A first-time offender appears before an assistant district attorney instead of court. They are charged $50 for participation in the year-long program. Upon completion, the charge goes away.
“This is calculated to do one thing,” said DeRosier. “Keep impaired drivers off the roads.”
According to DeRosier, there is only a one percent rate of recidivism after pre-trial diversion.
On March 18, State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson was the guest speaker at the Sixth Annual DWI Law Enforcement Awards program in Baton Rouge. The program was sponsored by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.
The commission recognized 13 police officers and 16 agencies from across Louisiana, including Plaquemine Parish Sheriff's office, Lafourche Parish Sheriff's office, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's office, and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office. It also recognized numerous police departments -- Bogalusa, Greenwood, West Monroe, Franklinton, Alexandria, Bossier, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Causeway Bridge, University of Grambling, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, and State Police Troop L.
The program also honored Eighth Judicial District Attorney R. Christopher Nevils, 16th Judicial Assistant District Attorney Robert Chevalier, and 24th Judicial District John J. Molasion for their efforts against DWI offenders.
A nonpartisan government watchdog group has put out a free mobile phone app to help Louisiana residents keep track of their elected officials.
The guide from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana is available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The app is available by searching for “PAR Guide” at the Apple or Google app stores.
It includes biographical and contact information for state lawmakers, statewide elected officials and Louisiana members of Congress.
The app also includes a guide to constitutional amendments whenever proposals are up for consideration during a statewide election. And it has details of a citizen’s legal rights to open meetings and public records in Louisiana. Opinion analysis: Justice Kagan writes a primer on aiding and abetting law
The law professor most recently appointed to the Court (Justices Ginsburg, Scalia, and Breyer also shared that prior career) today authored an opinion on a topic that has not been much improved on since Judge Learned Hand wrote in 1938: the law of “aiding and abetting” or “accomplice liability” – in other words, criminal liability based on helping someone else commit a crime. To the relief of those of us still teaching law, the Court’s opinion steered a straightforward doctrinal line, and only a small – but not unimportant – point separated the Justices from a unanimous opinion.
The seven-to-two decision presents a field day for first-year criminal law professors, and is undoubtedly vital to the practice of criminal law. But it will produce few ripples in the larger social debates facing the Court. The bottom (if not uncomplicated) line is that a criminal helper must have “foreknowledge” of all the elements of the crime he is charged with — and this further means he must have knowledge sufficiently in advance to have some “realistic opportunity to quit the crime.” Justice Alito (joined by Justice Thomas) disagrees on this last point: in his view, a defendant who continues with even late-acquired knowledge that he is participating in a crime has sufficient mens rea to be convicted as an accomplice, and the burden should rest on him to prove some defense excusing the crime.
My preview and argument recap noted that Rosemond presented a number of difficult issues, on a relatively simple set of facts. Without dispute, Rosemond participated with two others in (per Justice Kagan’s typically colorful writing, which I will continue to quote below) “a drug deal gone bad.” When one of the buyers instead decided to steal the drugs that Rosemond and his compatriots were selling, someone (and significantly, it is disputed who) pulled out a gun and fired at the robbers. All three “would-be drug dealers,” including Rosemond, then gave chase, but were arrested before their adventure was completed. Later, Rosemond took the position that he had not been the shooter, and that he did not know a gun would be used (or at least that the government did not prove such knowledge). Thus the issue of Rosemond’s intent, versus what the law requires, was framed.
The federal government indicted Rosemond for, among other things, “using or carrying a firearm … during and in relation to a … drug trafficking crime,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Because this “double-barreled crime” carries a mandatory and consecutive five-year imprisonment term, Section 924(c) has generated an inordinate amount of federal criminal case law over the years. And in this case, because the government could not perfectly identify which of the three drug-dealers had carried (and fired) the gun, the government added a standard “aiding and abetting” liability theory, invoking 18 U.S.C. § 2: “whoever … aids” an offense against the United States “is punishable as a principal.” As the Court notes, “§2 reflects a centuries-old view of culpability: that a person may be liable for a crime he has not personally carried out if he helps another to complete its commission.”