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Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

Public attitudes towards marijuana in Georgia are becoming far more relaxed, especially as other states, such as Colorado and California, begin legalizing recreational use of the drug. However, while Georgians may no longer think that offenders of marijuana crimes deserve the heavy handed sentences they have been subject to for decades, the fact remains that state law concerning marijuana remains very tough. While it can be easy to think that marijuana is no longer a “big deal,” the penalties that offenders face can still be surprisingly extreme.

Getting mixed messages?

Navigating what is legal and not legal concerning marijuana in Georgia can be difficult. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out, while Georgia has made medical marijuana legal in the state, growing it or importing it remains illegal. As a result, people who grow even small amounts of the plant for their own medicinal purposes can find themselves suddenly facing accusation of drug dealing and years in prison.

Cell phones, potential drug crimes charges and law enforcement – these three things have been all over the news in the past few months.  This past week, a New York Times article revealed that the government has been paying AT&T, through a partnership known as the Hemisphere Project, for a mass amount of phone records dating back to 1987. This project is similar to the NSA’s mass call-tracking program. The Hemisphere project, which until now has been secret, involves large amounts of data mined by the government for calls made, not just by AT&T customers, but if the call went through an AT&T switch, encompassing billions of calls.  This poses serious Fourth Amendment issues.  The government has been allegedly searching all of this data in order to come up with ways to combat criminal activity. If you use a throwaway phone, but also carry another phone that is with a provider – the government can analzye the usage to figure out who is using the throwaway phones and where.  

It will be intesting as time progresses to see how well these intrusive practices hold up in court when we file motions to suppress in drug crimes cases or any criminal case.  But, it will also be interesting to see how long this cozy relationship between corporate america and law enforcement continues.

The DEA has already been using information collected by NSA and Verizon in its drug prosecutions, and were training the agents to “recreate” how they found that data. Since Mr. Snowden revealed what the NSA has been up to, the NSA has revealed its data mining of billions of calls as well.  

Defending a drug crimes case may finally get easier.  Attorney General Eric Holder made an announcement yesterday at the American Bar Association annual meeting that federal prosecutors will stop seeking longer mandatory sentences for many non violent drug offenders.  This, allegedly, is part of a new effort to focus on violent crimes and national security.  The federal prison population is bursting at its seams, and as part of the government’s cuts on spending, they are focusing on ways to reduce the prison population.  I am hoping this signifies a significant shift in policy in the war against drugs.  

This new drug crimes policy will allow prosecutors to not put specific drug amounts in their indictments allowing for more leeway in sentencing.  Currently, there is a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of 28g, or about an ounce, of crack cocaine.  Diverting cases from the prison system to community service and drug treatment programs, to me is a no-brainer.  The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced August 1, 2013, aims to allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing at the federal level.  I am interested to see if this proposed bill goes anywhere.  It should.

As a criminal defense attorney who practices in both the federal and state level, I can tell you flexibility is key.  Each and every case I have had has unique circumstances that deserve to be heard by the judge.  At the state level, there are already “drug courts” and “mental health courts”.  Both of those are examples of court systems that allow for individualized review of cases.  A blanket, one size fits all approach to the criminal justice system does not work.

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