Topics & Themes List
Civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize any property that is implicated in drug-related activities and then use the revenue to support law enforcement. (Usually the forfeited property gets appropriated by the same law enforcement agency that seized it.) Generally, the government can seize property and detain it pending trial on a mere "probable cause" standard, with the exception of real estate. The owner of the property needs not be found guilty before the property is seized. It's not even necessary that anyone be charged with a crime to
This section of the site contains excerpts from various opinions that discuss asset forfeitures.
There are plenty of people serving many many years, often decades because they were found guilty of a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Here's what the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin from October, 1994 has to say:
"Conventional drug cases require an inordinate amount of time, personnel, and above all, money when attempting to secure a conviction for distribution. These cases go far beyond what is necessary to convict a suspect for the often-over-looked crime of conspiracy, which is simply an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. Drug conspiracy constitutes a separate and distinct offense and does not depend on whether the subjects accomplished the conspiracy's objective -- selling drugs."
This section contains the Court's treatment of the conspiracy and CCE (Continuing Criminal Enterprise) offenses.
Drug Policy Opinion
Statements found in Court opinions regarding illicit substances. Public policy considerations, individual predilections of the Justice writing the opinion, the objective and subjective views on the the drugs, the drug use and the drug war... All of these can be found in this section.
Drugs: Types, Dosages, Effects
Does it matter what illicit drug is implicated in the decision? Are all controlled substances equal? How is the weight of the drug calculated? Does it matter whether it may have a legitimate use?
Any court language that attempts a nuanced discussion of the substances in question can be found in this section.
Can one publicly proclaim: "Lets shoot up some smack!" The First Amendment seems to allow it. But how about saying it in school or on the pages of a kids magazine?
This category analyzes First Amendment issues as they pertain to the drug policy.
A justiciable dispute is one that is appropriate for judicial resolution. Does the issue fall under the jurisdiction of the court writing the opinion? Does the court think that the issue is best left to the legislature to decide?
In the drug policy context the considerations above tend to illuminate attitudes of excerpts' authors regarding the particular issues being ruled upon.
There is plenty of reputable evidence that marijuana actually has medical value and has a low potential of abuse. A number of states legalized marijuana for medicinal uses. These measures contradict federal laws that make marijuana illegal regardless of the way it is being used. There's been a number of federal prosecutions of persons who (legally, under state law) provide marijuana to patients and even of patients themselves. This section monitors the approach of the courts when confronted with this issue.
This section contains excerpts that reflect public policy considerations in the context of the issues discussed.
Can the legislature set any penalty it wants for a drug crime or is its severity capped by the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of excessive punishments? Should the law enforcement employ the same methods in trying to catch a murder suspect as in apprehending a marijuana smoker?
The excerpts from opinions written by our top judges are illustrative in making out the courts' approach to these issues.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
The Fourth Amendment protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures. The test for what's unreasonable is the "reasonable expectation of privacy": if a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in an item or a dwelling to be searched, the search will be considered unreasonable (and thus, unconstitutional) unless a warrant is obtained.
This category contains excerpts from various court opinions that shed light on this issue.
Searches and Seizures
Courts' language discussing what's generally reasonable during a search or a seizure. Sections below deal with various sub-categories of this important topic, but this section contains the language that deals with policy, definitions and general considerations of the issue.
Searches and Seizures: Airports
Excerpts from judicial opinions that discuss standards and policy for searches and seizures at nation's airports.
Searches and Seizures: Borders
Border searches are usually held reasonable. The Supreme Court views the protection of nation's borders as one of the exceptions to the general requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Border searches are generally viewed reasonable per se. And, naturally, border searches result in uncovering a vast amount of drug contraband.
This section contains courts' language regarding the treatment of searches and seizures conducted at the international border.
Searches and Seizures: Consent
A person can consent to a search - that will usually make a warrantless search constitutional. Of course, the nature of a consent, the surrounding circumstances, whether or not the person was authorized to give consent (and other considerations) may invalidate it. This section deals with these issues.
Searches and Seizures: Drug Testing
The Supreme Court actually ruled that drug testing is an invasion of privacy to such an extent that it is a search. When drug testing is conducted by a government entity, it is governed by the Fourth Amendment. But what about drug testing in schools? Does it matter whether a school is public or private? What about drug testing at work? Can a private entity let police know of a positive result? These questions are explored here.
Searches and Seizures: Dwellings
Dwellings are generally most protected from the searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. The Court has held that a person in his or her home has the highest expectation of privacy. A warrant is generally required.
However, what if nobody answers the door? Can the police break-in and if yes, then how soon? What if the warrant is defective? What kinds of exigent circumstances may justify foregoing obtaining a warrant? This section deals with these and other issues.
Searches and Seizures: Exclusionary Rule
The exclusionary rule is a legal principle that states that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the U.S. Constitution cannot be used in a criminal trial. It is meant to deter unlawful police conduct. During the past couple of decades, the Supreme Court has been steadily carving out exceptions to the exclusionary rule. This section contains some opinion excerpts that illustrate the Court's approach to the Rule, the exceptions and the reasons behind them.
Searches and Seizures: Grounds for a Search
Can a police officer stop a passer-by who didn't do anything wrong? What if a cop just wants to ask a few questions? Does every stop rise to a level of a seizure of a person? Can an officer pat a person down to make sure he or she isn't carrying any weapons, even if there is no probable cause that a crime is being committed? What level of suspicion is required for an officer to detain somebody?
This section contain a collection of opinion excerpts that grapple with these and other issues relating to the grounds for a search or a seizure.
Searches and Seizures: Informants
Police and prosecutors rely on informants to prosecute drug cases. These informants are often people busted for simple possession or small-time drug dealers who are forced to provide information in exchange for immunity or lesser sentences. Tips from anonymous informants are also utilized.
This section provides the Court's perspective on the place the informant testimony occupies as the ground for a search or a seizure.
Searches and Seizures: Mail
Can USPS open your mail or mail addressed to you? Can a private carrier such as FedEx or UPS do so? What are the standards for the search of mail en route to its destination? See what courts have to say about these issues in the section below.
Searches and Seizures: Nuances of Detention
Are you detained if a cop stops you to ask a couple of questions? What if he holds you by the sleeve? What if he tells you you can't leave until he permits you to? Can you be detained, but not arrested? These nuances are touched upon in the following excerpts.
Searches and Seizures: Personal Items
What if a cop wants to look inside your backpack? How about exposing the contents of your pockets? Does it matter whether you are in a car, a bus or a house? Opinion excerpts from this section may help you make sense (of some) of these questions.
Searches and Seizures: Private Action
The Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches doesn't apply to private parties - it only applies to government entities. However, sometimes a private party can act as the government's agent or police may want to use the products of a private search or seizure that would have been unconstitutional if conducted by police itself. Opinion excerpts from this category deal with these kinds of murky scenarios.
Searches and Seizures: Roads and Vehicles
What's a reasonable expectation of privacy of a person traveling in a car? Can a law enforcement agent pull over any vehicle he or she wants for any reason? Can a police officer search a car without a warrant? What about personal belongings found in the car, such as a purse or a locked briefcase? Excerpts in this category try to shed light on these and other issues relating to searches of cars, buses and other vehicles roaming the roads.
Searches and Seizures: Tools and Augmentation
Law enforcement often uses tools and augmentation devices to help conducting searches, such as flashlights, microphones, binoculars and detection dogs. This category deals with constitutionality of using various tools and augmentation devices during a search.
Searches and Seizures: Warrants
A presence of a warrant generally refutes the presumption of unreasonableness of a search under the Fourth Amendment. But, is a warrant valid? Does it matter if the law enforcement agent conducting the search think that it is valid? Does the Exclusionary Rule apply to the evidence seized in reliance on a defective warrant? This category contains excerpts that deal with the warrant requirement.
Sentencing and Penalties
Judicial discretion and mandatory minimums, drug conspiracy penalties and double jeopardy - all of these can be found in this section.