Search and Seizure

  • February 20, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alex Kreit, Associate Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law; Director, Center for Law & Social Justice; Co-Director, Criminal Law Fellowship Program

    *This post is part of our two-week symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

    In their influential 1970 study of marijuana prohibition in the United States, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread found that “racial prejudice” was the “most prominent” factor in the passage of early marijuana prohibition laws.  When states began passing these laws in the first few decades of the 1900s, it was not uncommon to see legislatures expressly link marijuana prohibition with race.

    Reporting on a1929 hearing on a marijuana prohibition bill in Montana, for example, the Montana Standard told readers:

    “There was fun in the House Committee during the week when the Marihuana bill came up for consideration.  Marihuana is Mexican opium, a plant used by Mexicans and cultivated by Indians.  ‘When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,’ explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, ‘He thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.  I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights in the ‘Bower of Roses’ or put on tournaments for the favor of ‘Spanish Rose’ after a couple of whiffs of Marihuana.’ Everybody laughed and the bill was recommended for passage.”

    It is rare to see anyone rely on anything approaching this sort of overt racism in the debate over marijuana laws today.  Indeed, nearly everyone ― prohibitionists and legalization advocates alike ― agrees that racial disparities in marijuana enforcement (and drug enforcement more broadly) are undesirable.  Most also acknowledge the issue is a cause for real concern and action.

    And yet, disparities in marijuana enforcement persist.  A 2013 ACLU report found that blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, even though the two groups use marijuana at roughly equal rates.  In New York City, Mayor de Blasio called racial bias in marijuana arrests “wrong and unjust” during his campaign.  But the first months of his administration saw even more total marijuana possession arrests than before, with an alarming racial divide: 86 percent of the people arrested were black or Latino and only 10 percent were white.

    Why is it so hard to address the disproportionate impact of marijuana arrests on communities of color despite widespread acknowledgement that it is a serious problem?  A lot of it has to do with the way marijuana investigations are initiated and the decentralized nature of law enforcement in the United States.

  • December 10, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Matt Apuzzo, Haeyoun Park, and Larry Buchanan explore the findings of the Senate’s CIA torture report.

    Also in The New York Times, William Yardley writes about the recent death of Dollree Mapp, a woman whose refusal to allow police to search her home “led to a landmark United States Supreme Court ruling on the limits of police power.”

    Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post reports on Justice Clarence Thomas’ majority opinion in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk that suggests Amazon workers should unionize rather than seek help from the courts.

    Jim Newell write at Salon that GOP Senators are now rethinking their stand on restoring the filibuster.

  • October 31, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Happy Halloween from ACS! Here is your daily roundup of legal news from around the web:

    Ed Pilkington discusses in The Guardian the troubling story of a “born and raised” Texan who will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections because of a Texas voter ID law. “What’s happening here is that the state of Texas is using tax dollars consciously to suppress their own voters. It’s absolutely about intimidation,” explains Abbie Kamin of the Campaign Legal Center in the story.

    In Slate, John Paul Rollert looks at how Justice Sonia Sotomayor pushes the other Supreme Court justices past their comfort zones.

    Ronald J. Sheehy argues in Salon that the Supreme Court has created a system in which the impact of institutional racism is ignored.

    The New York Review of Books features a story from Jed S. Rakoff on the problem of plea bargaining in the U.S. criminal justice system.

    Nina Totenberg questions in NPR the claim of the Justice Department that it can cut off internet or cable and then pose as repairmen to search a home.

  • September 23, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports on the efforts of some of the best lawyers in the country to argue the next same-sex marriage case in front of the Supreme Court.

    A new report from Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Nicole Fortier, and Inimai M. Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice argues for new core goals for federal prosecutors.

    Sarah Stillman writes in The New Yorker on civil forfeiture and cases of police stripping citizens of their cash and cars even when not charged with a crime.  

    The Supreme Court will have three more chances to rule on religion cases in the new term, reports Richard Wolf in USA Today.

    Lyle Denniston examines what would happen if the Supreme Court declines to take up a same-sex marriage case this term in the Constitution Daily

  • August 15, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) argues in The Guardian that the United States needs to get weapons of war out of middle America.

    Amanda Taub of Vox explains why America’s police force resembles “invading armies” and why the trend is dangerous.

    The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak reports on how the events of Ferguson, Mo. resonate with black residents of Washington, D.C.

    Blair L.M. Kelley of The Root discusses the similarities between Dred Scott and the shooting of Michael Brown.

    In Salon, Chauncey Devega explains how white supremacy in the United States led to the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.