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In the News

Friend of the November Coalition Paul Simon passes away

Former Illinois senator Paul Simon, 75, died December 8th from complications after heart surgery.

He had undergone heart bypass and valve surgery the day before at St. John's Prairie Heart Institute in Springfield, Illinois.

Excerpts from an article co-written by Sen. Paul Simon and Dave Kopel in 1996 for the National Law Journal:

"Harsh laws and severe punishments, observed Confucius, are a sign that something is wrong with the state. But you don't need to be a brilliant philosopher to recognize that America's prisons are in a state of crisis.

"Federal mandatory minimums have made a bad situation worse. In large part because the rigid minimums make no distinction among the circumstances of cases, today's sentences for non-violent crimes lack any semblance of balance. If a man helps unload a boat of hashish just once to pay for his wife's cancer treatments (an actual case), he is subject to the same minimum sentence as the mastermind of the whole scheme.

"As a prime example of the irrationality of mandatory minimums, we should consider the sentencing disparity for users of different types of cocaine. Under the drug laws, five grams of crack cocaine draws the same mandatory minimum five-year sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. No scientific or crime-policy reason justifies the enormous 100-to-1 ratio. The gaping difference is particularly troubling because it has racially charged implications: Eighty-five percent of federal crack prisoners are African-American, while powder cocaine offenders are more likely to be white or Hispanic.

"The end result is that we have a higher percentage of people in prisons than any other nation on earth . . .

"The reason that we have highly-paid, experienced federal judges is to judge. No sensible judge would send a young person to prison for five years without parole for a first offense involving possession of a small quantity of drugs. Judges can make the distinction between a person who makes a solitary mistake, and a person who directs a major criminal enterprise. Yet, because of the congressionally imposed mandatory minimums, judges are prevented from taking the facts of a case into account during sentencing."

One in every 32 adults now on probation, parole or incarcerated

The nation's correctional population reached a record of more than 6.7 million adult men and women by the end of 2002, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced on August 20. As of last December 31 about 3.1 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 1 in every 32 adults, were in prisons or jails or in the community under correctional supervision, compared to 2.7 percent of the population in 1995.

As of last December 31, about 1 in 5 probationers were women. More than half were white, 1 in 3 were black, 1 in 8 were Hispanic and 2 percent were of other races.

The bulletin, "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2002" (NCJ-201135), was written by BJS Statistician Lauren E. Glaze.

For more government reports on incarceration and criminal justice issues, visit

35 from Tulia pardoned

On August 22, 2003 Governor Rick Perry of Texas pardoned 35 people ensnared in a 1999 drug sweep, months after a state judge determined that the charges were founded on little more than innuendo. The 35 residents of Tulia, Texas, most of them African Americans, were among 46 people who were arrested during the predawn raid, by far the biggest ever seen in the town of 5,000.

The charges, which led to lengthy prison sentences for many defendants, were based entirely on the information supplied by a single informant, a man once celebrated in Tulia and given a Texas Lawman of the Year award. The informant, Tom Coleman, who worked alone and offered virtually no evidence of drug trafficking beyond his word, has since been charged with perjury.

Most of those accused were released on bail in June after a state district judge determined that Coleman was "simply not a credible witness" and had withheld evidence. The judge also asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the convictions, a matter the appeals court has not yet considered.

The 20 second knock raid

From the Drug War Chronicle (

The US Supreme Court ruled in December, 2003 that police serving a drug search warrant need not wait for more than a few seconds after announcing their presence before forcibly entering the target residence. The ruling overturned a decision by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco - the most liberal federal appeals court - which had attempted to set up a matrix of conditions that would govern how long police officers must wait before breaking down the door.
In previous rulings, the Rehnquist court has grudgingly acknowledged the traditional legal norm that for searches to be "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment generally requires police to knock and identify themselves before entering a home. But, largely driven by the logic of the war on drugs, the court has also carved out increasingly large exceptions, allowing police to conduct "no-knock" raids when they have reason to believe they are at risk or evidence may be destroyed.

It is the "no-knock" raids that are so familiar to viewers of COPS and similar pro-police television programs, where heavily armed, SWAT team-style units burst into houses with guns drawn, screaming commands at frightened residents. Such raids have led to numerous deaths as residents shoot at the masked, screaming intruders, who typically arrive in the middle of the night, or as adrenaline filled police shoot the people inside -- sometimes with reason, sometimes not.

In the case in question, North Las Vegas, Nevada, police and FBI agents served a search warrant on LaShawn Banks, a suspected drug dealer. They knocked on the door, but after hearing no response for 15 or 20 seconds, broke it down. Banks was in the shower. Police handcuffed him, still naked and dripping wet, and interrogated him in the kitchen, where they recovered crack cocaine and guns. Banks argued that the evidence should be suppressed because police failed to give him an opportunity to answer the door.

While the 9th Circuit had attempted to set standards for "no-knock" raids based on a number of factors, including the crime being investigated, Justice David Souter, writing a unanimous opinion, said the Supreme Court "disapproved" of the 9th Circuit's effort. Police need flexibility, the Supreme Court said. "Though ... this call is a close one," Souter wrote, "we think that after 15 or 20 seconds without a response, police could fairly suspect that cocaine would be gone if they were reticent any longer."

Randall Roske, who represented Banks, told the Associated Press the ruling would be seen as a green light by police. "Police are going to read this as, 'Knock and announce and kick the door in,'" he said.

George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg agreed. "This gives officers the leeway they were taking throughout the country," he told AP. "This is a case that suggests great deference to the police."

The full decision is available online at:

Arizona Sheriff Arpaio must pay for Tent City assault

The Arizona Court of Appeals recently upheld a jury verdict awarding a prisoner $635,532 for damages resulting from a violent assault by other prisoners in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous Tent City jail. Jeremy Flanders was a prisoner who refused to join any of the prison gangs that Arpaio tolerates.
For this act of independence, on May 10, 1996 Flanders was pulled off his bunk by "five or six individuals wearing hoods "who struck him with various objects; they kicked, jumped on, and hit him viciously on the head with tent spikes made of reinforcement bar".

Flanders' injuries were both severe and permanent. He suffered a closed head injury and was in a coma for several days, resulting in permanent brain damage. Including loss of motor function, he lost sensation in his hand and will suffer from permanent memory loss.

Reckless disregard of human rights' principles characterizes this Nazi-like Sheriff who conned voters into buying a military tank for his drug war arsenal (See photo on cover). The Court found conditions in Tent City to be dangerous and deplorable, with temperatures inside the tent sometimes exceeding 100 degrees, while in the nearby 'control center,' guards lounge and gossip in air-conditioned rooms. Sheriff Joe likes to brag publicly about how uncomfortable he wants Tent City to be, a place where his dogs are fed better than prisoners, and where coffee and cigarettes are unavailable.

Tent City was found by the Arizona courts to be a place where drug dealing, gang activity and calculated indifference by security staff are everyday happenings. Sheriff Joe didn't dispute any of the evidence showing that "all prisoners of Tent City were subjected to a substantial risk of violence," nor was he able to defend his claim to qualified immunity.

As Arizona taxpayers shell out $635,532 for Sheriff Joe's extreme indifference to life, will fiscally-conservative voters continue their exuberant, law-and-order support for a public official, operating under color of the law, who does so much harm to the community while violating the public's trust?

Compiled from Prison Legal News, November 2003. For more about this case, see Flanders v. Maricopa County, 54 P.3d 837 (Ariz.App.Div. 1 2002)

'Pot' as metaphor at High Times magazine

John Buffalo Mailer, son of renowned author Norman Mailer, has taken over the executive editor position at High Times magazine and promises a complete makeover to the 30-year-old periodical. Long-time activist Richard Stratton has also joined the staff as publisher and editor in chief.

According to The New York Times (11/16/03) Mailer stated, "With the new High Times we're using 'pot' as a metaphor. So it's not a magazine about pot; it's a magazine about our civil liberties, and our tag line is "Celebrating Freedom."

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