In the News

Russia Grants Amnesty

On June 19, The New York Times reported that Russia's lower house of Parliament has passed a bill granting amnesty to tens of thousands of people convicted or charged with non-violent crimes. The bill, passed with 400 votes in the 450-seat Duma, comes into effect once the parliamentary newspaper publishes it, and it has to be carried out within six months.

Russia abolishes death penalty

President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree commuting the last death sentence in Russia to a prison term, emptying death row and in effect eliminating capital punishment.

"We can now say that the death penalty no longer exists in Russia," Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said in televised comments.

Bogus Bust

After a long speedboat chase, two police officers are seen screaming at suspected drug runners. "Get on the boat! Get on the deck of the boat! Face down!" one bellows.

It's another episode of Fox's World's Wildest Police Videos. Host John Bunnell declares that the 'suspects' are in 'custody', along with more than 20 pounds of pot. "These smugglers won't be seeing the 20 pounds again, but they will be looking at 20 years," he intones gravely.

The episode, it turns out, was an elaborate exercise staged for the cameras. The 'smugglers', whose faces were digitally obscured, were Florida police officers, and the chase footage was enhanced by studio sound effects.

President to president

On February 15, President Clinton met with Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo to negotiate better cooperation between their nations in the war on drugs. The anti-narcotics summit was hosted by powerful Mexican banker Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, a man publicly accused of trafficking cocaine and laundering illicit drug money.

This 'minor detail' wasn't generally reported in the United States, despite a controversy over Hernandez's alleged involvement in the drug trade.

Fired guard settles lawsuit

California has agreed to pay $1.7 million (without "admitting any wrongdoing" of course) to whistleblower Richard Caruso. The former guard at Corcoran State Prison broke the code of silence and exposed a pattern of deadly shootings of inmates, only to lose his career.

Caruso had sued the state, alleging that prison officials created a hostile work environment and effectively forced him to retire. He said they did this after he and another officer went to the FBI with evidence of set-up fights and shootings at the San Joaquin Valley prison near Fresno.

Colombia's boost

Colombia, suffering its worst recession in over 50 years, is to include income from illegal drugs in official calculations of its Gross Domestic Product to try to boost the figures.

Juan Camilo Restrepo, the Finance Minister, said: "It doesn't mean [drugs are] being validated or given some kind of blessing."

Politics and prisons in Oklahoma

For the second year in a row, Oklahoma state legislators failed to reach an aggrement on truth in sentencing. If no action is taken, the original truth in sentencing law that was passed in 1997, will take effect July 1. Gov. Frank Keating and legislative leaders have indicated they won't let that happen. Law enforcers and lobbyists have loudly complained the original law was "too soft."

NY Gang-busters

The NYPD is reportedly launching an expanded, centralized squad to target drug-peddling street gangs like the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. The move will take anti-gang cops who work independently and put them under a single umbrella division within the Organized Crime Bureau.

The narcotics squad will concentrate on gang members with buy-and-busts (or in other words, they will set-up youth of color) while the street-crime enforcers will target hangouts and other trouble spots.

Feds target cartel defense attorneys

William Moran and Michael Abbell were charged with being part of the infamous Cali cartel's drug enterprises even though there is no evidence the two had joined in the cartel's illegal activities. By saying that representing members of the cartel amounted to becoming part of their criminal activity, the government was putting the practice of lawyering on trial and intimidating the defense bar.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge William M. Hoeveler noted his concern that the government's prosecution theory has ramifications beyond the fate of Moran and Abbell. "I'm concerned about ... the impact of a case like this on the practice of law generally," he said at trial. He then threw out the drug conspiracy charges.

Customs rife with corruption

U.S. Customs' failure to punish employees in scores of corruption cases has allowed tons of illegal drugs to enter the country, let billions in illicit cash back out and jeopardized hundreds of criminal cases, according to records obtained in an eight-month Miami Herald investigation.

The Herald found widespread incompetence and dereliction of duty within the frontline agency in the nation's war on drugs.

Police shooting mobilizes community

Salisbury, Maryland was the latest city to have black men gunned down by police. In a crowded McDonald's parking lot, officers fired 14 shots into a car. The wounded young men were unarmed and did not have the crack cocaine that police suspected.

Led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, local activists have taken to the streets, carrying banners, marching to City Hall and rallying outside the department's fortress-like headquarters just a block from the shooting.

Residents complain that city police target teenagers and young men, most especially those with prior drug convictions. Col. Ed Guthrie, acting police chief says the department has produced a 92 percent increase in drug arrests and a 200 percent increase in arrests for under-age drinking from 1997 to 1998. "We do not tolerate unprofessional behavior, but we strongly feel the methods we use are within moral, legal and constitutional guidelines," Guthrie said.

New York Rockefeller Drug Law Reform

Battle heats up - Pataki may be open to compromise - Catholic bishops demand reform

In a two-page letter to Gov. George Pataki and the Legislature, top leaders of New York State's Catholic Church demanded sentencing reform. Representing 5 million New Yorkers, the bishops wrote, "As moral teachers, we believe the time has come, after a quarter-century of experience, to urge all New Yorkers to advocate for a more humane and effective system to rehabilitate addicts and protect public safety. We are encouraged that many state leaders have advanced proposals toward this end. We believe reform of these laws can and should be enacted this legislative year.''

The letter was delivered to Pataki in mid June and within one week he indicated he is open to more dramatic changes to scale back the harsh 26-year-old statutes. The governor has proposed scaled back prison terms by up to a third for first-time drug transporters, or "mules"-which would only affect about 300 of the more than 9,200 inmates currently incarcerated under the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has refused to take a position on Rockefeller law reforms­­in part, apparently, out of fear Assembly Democrats will be seen as "soft on crime" in the November 2000 elections.

Pataki's bill also would link changes to the Rockefeller laws to ending parole for all felons. Assembly Democrats are against that provision. Silver's colleagues say they want to see some movement on Rockefeller laws this session.

Poll shows pro-reform is increasing

By a 2-1 ratio, New Yorkers wouldn't consider a politician "soft on crime" for voting to reform the state's tough drug-sentencing laws.

Respondents said they would not be likely to vote against their state legislator for supporting reducing drug sentences. They also said they favor sending drug offenders to treatment programs rather than jail in the survey conducted by Zogby International.

The results came just days after the leader of the NY state Assembly said he wouldn't act on drug sentencing reform because he feared his members would be labeled soft on crime.

Who needs the facts?

A report by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released in San Diego during a two-day meeting of the Methamphetamine Interagency Task Force in May has outlined use of the drug in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Portland and Phoenix. Results of the study suggest the connection between the drug and violent crime may be overstated.

According to the study, meth users were found "significantly less likely" than other drug arrestees to be charged with a violent offense.

That news did not stop U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (WI-D) from announcing that he want to lead a national effort to curb the spread of methamphetamine. It is Kohl's desire to provide more than $50 million for "more comprehensive assistance to our rural communities in the fight against meth."

More troops. More tragedy?

The U.S. House of Representatives has once more approved a measure allowing the deployment of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for anti-drug and counter-terrorism operations. By a 242-181 vote, the House endorsed an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Traficant, (OH-D), to the $288.8 billion defense authorization bill.

The measure would authorize the Defense Department, at the request of the Attorney General or treasury secretary, to dispatch troops to assist the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service in their border drug interdiction and counter-terrorism activities.