Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

get-budding-72791-copy-300x200The sale of marijuana for medical purposes is a hot topic in legal circles, following a number of reform efforts. That is no different in Chicago where laws are in place to ensure that people can access much-needed relief whilst at the same time protecting the rest of the public from some of the worst effects of Marijuana. This remains a controlled substance and citizens should not assume that they can trade in it without any legal consequences. When the law was passed allowing medical marijuana, there was an upsurge in purchases. The first week alone saw sales of over $200,000 and covering over 800 patients. Each ounce costs about $450 and during that heady week, over 400 ounces were sold.

The legal issues at stake are always interesting to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. At the heart of it is the difference between freedom of choice and the need to put controls on substances that have proven to be harmful. The law was always playing a delicate game that matched the needs of the wider community to those of the individual. Whereas it seemed heartless to leave someone to suffer in pain, it was equally heart-wrenching to see people’s lives being destroyed by marijuana. So far it seems that the legislative regime has managed to hit the right spots on this delicate balancing line.

A Long Journey Toward Legalization

IMG_0013_CCThe rules relating to controlled substances in Chicago are found within 720 ILCS 570 or the Illinois Controlled Substances Act. Because the offense of unauthorized prescription drug possession touches on the ability to self-medicate; it has remained one of the more controversial aspects of Chicago law. Interestingly, there has been an uptick in arrests for the possession of medications that would otherwise be perfectly legal except for the important absence of a valid prescription. Unfortunately, the zeal with which these offenses are prosecuted has meant that there are some innocents who have gotten caught up in the melee.

Currently there are nearly two million US residents who abuse prescription drugs in one way or the other. In areas where there are no stringent enforcement structures, it is possible to go unnoticed despite the risk to public health. Some of the more high-profile arrests for illegal possession of prescription drugs include the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Distinguishing Legitimate from Illegal Use of Prescription Drugs

BRMHS_classroom_wall_2Questioning the Rationale and Practicality of the Current Legal Regime

The first principle of the law in the USA is equality. That may not quite square up to the enhanced sentencing regime for designated drug free zones in Chicago. The current trends owe their origins partly to the 1980s when the super-predator ethos started to take hold in the echelons of legislative assemblies. It was fashionable to be tough on crime. As a result many people are now serving ridiculously long sentences for relatively minor drug offenses. President Barack Obama has used his discretion in pardoning some of these offenders. A less shocking but equally serious manifestation of this fear of crime is called enhanced sentencing. The regime was designed to tackle those areas that were at a very high risk of becoming drug dens. In effect, people who committed drug offenses within these localities would eventually face penalties that were stiffer than those who committed crimes in the non-designated areas.

The principles of natural justice do not quite square up to these situational aggravating features given that an offender has limited control over the geography of the USA or how the authorities decide to designate drug free zones. Supporters of the regime argue that it makes sense when you consider the actual zones that are affected. These include schools and drug recovery institutions. The rationale is that the hardened criminals should not be allowed to exploit vulnerable people without serious consequences. In any case, the same principle has been used to develop aggravating features for burglary. The offender may not know that the home is occupied when he or she decides to steal from it, but the fact that it is occupied will lead to a harsher sentence. Illinois is one of the areas that has fully embraced the school zoning criteria for enhanced sentencing.

Macro_cannabis_budEven as some states such as Colorado move to deregulate some previously controlled substances or drugs, Chicago still grapples with the offense of Marijuana possession. At the moment, the state has decriminalized possession but not the actual smoking of pot, which in itself represents a dangerous contradiction. People buy and secure marijuana (often at a great cost) in order to smoke it. Allowing possession whilst banning consumption seems to be one of those incidents in which lawmakers are just too stubborn to admit that they may have made a mistake. Instead they are being dragged screaming and scratching into reality. The consequence for the public is a sequential law that is often riddled with inconsistencies.

The state of the law at the moment must be confusing the potheads and maybe that it is how it was intended. For the defense attorney things are much clearer. Although the client may be arrested for smoking, it is usually the possession that begins the chain of offending that is of interest to the prosecutor. Some localities like Cook County have used prosecutorial policy and discretion to bring more rationality to the law. Hence arrests are made for first and second time offenders but it is rare to make it to the court unless there are other pending matters that the prosecutor wishes to deal with as the defendant is in custody. The Chicago police department also routinely fines those who are caught holding pot. This policy makes sense since everybody knows that you only hold pot when you intend to smoke it or resell it to someone else or hold it for another form of exchange.

The Mechanics and Intentions of the Law

800px-thumbnailRecently, President Barack Obama pardoned a number of people who had been given mandatory sentences for drug trafficking that many in the legal profession considered to be excessive. More worrisome was the notion that the judge in a court case lost the right of discretion at sentencing because the mandatory sentencing law had already effectively predetermined the outcome of that phase of a criminal trial. The law had the tragic effect of sending people to prison for virtual lifetimes for the possession of a few grams of cocaine, when convicted rapists and murderers were being given much shorter sentences. What became clear was a need for sentencing reform with reference to mandatory penalties. Illinois is considered to be one of the more liberal or progressive on this issue, but there are still contentious points.

Status of the Law in Illinois

According to the Controlled Substances Act, it is a criminal offense to manufacture, possess or deliver a controlled or counterfeit substance. The law applies to analogs of controlled substances. In order to deal with the generic drugs that are extracted from an original formula, the act also affects those substances that are intended for human consumption but are listed within Schedule I and II of the said act. The law was designed to have a sliding scale of punishments that was heaviest for those actors that engaged in illicit trafficking as well as those who headed the profit chains for those activities. The rationale was that those who benefitted from the drug trade were somehow insulated from its consequences and the relatively lenient punishments meted out to them emphasized the impression that they were not as culpable as those who actually used or distributed the drugs.

712px--_13_-_ITALY_-_Siringa_droga_-_drugs_-_syringes_-_dealing_IT_WIKIPEDIA.svgRecently there has been some legal argument as to the criminal consequences of heroin-related deaths in Cook County and DuPage County. This country discusses the possibilities and limitations of criminal liability. The case of 21-year old Christopher Houdek is interesting.  Apparently he and a girlfriend Adrianna Diana (20) cooked and injected heroin. The next day she found him unresponsive. Paramedics were summoned, but the victim died in hospital. The County Coroner ruled it an accidental death by heroin intoxication. The prosecutors disagreed and charged Diana together with two dealers with homicide. The story becomes even more tragic in as far as one of the defendants (Diana) died from an overdose whilst out on bail.

The Legal Issues

This case is a real trial for the criminal law in Illinois. It raises the prospect of vicarious criminal responsibility as well as safe custody. It could be argued that Diana was a victim too, particularly if one considers the dealers to be the ultimate villains in this case. At the same time both people who died were adults and there is no evidence to suggest that they were forced by the dealers to consume the heroin. Likewise it must not be forgotten that heroin is a controlled substance in Illinois. Its procurement, sale, distribution and consumption can constitute a criminal act. Sadly the case is not unique. Between 2013 and 2015, there were over 2000 fatal overdoses in Illinois. The law is complicated further by the fact that the involvement of large scale supply chains makes these acts subject to federal and international law.

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Local agencies in Illinois are getting concerned about the increasing use of designer drugs, particularly as it relates to driving offenses. Incidents of bizarre behavior that is clearly out of the ordinary are being reported regularly. It is almost as if there is something in the water but the truth is much simpler; drugs are to blame and the law enforcement agencies are of the view that it is about time someone did something about it. The clinicians call it Alpha-PVP while the street-smart call it Flakka. Although this is a relatively new drug, it is noted for its highly addictive qualities. Some have compared it to Bath Salts, but it is much worse. Dozens of overdose deaths are being reported or suspected, and the strange behavior that it induces in its fans includes running around the streets in the nude.

Worse still, Flakka is a combination and co-dependency drug which is preferred by those that are already heavily addicted. The challenge for the law is whether to deal with production, consumption, or distribution or all of them together; the latter being a complex and resource-heavy task. To make matters worse the designer drug trade is based on the ability to create permutations and versions of the same drug using various combinations of the active ingredients. Consequently these research drugs are outside the current specifications of the law and yet they are as dangerous (or even more dangerous) than their parent counterparts. The shipping trail starts all the way to Asia before making its clandestine journey all the way to Illinois. A lot of disguise and misrepresentation is involved since the narcotics and stimulants are disguised as legal products, hence evading the legal controls.

Should the Federal or Local Government Crack Down?

79aaa5031c08291c62c195e3bbb734c1At first blush, the idea of predictive policing sounds a lot like something out of the movie Minority Report. In order to target their policing efforts, the Chicago Police Department uses a high-tech database of persons, which it refers to as the Strategic Subject List, who are most likely to be shot or to shoot someone. With murder rate on the rise, up 50% from last year, and an ever-increasing number of shooting victims, the department has ramped up its raids and is actively using this database to prevent violent crime. In the first half of 2016, there were 1934 shooting victims and 326 homicide victims in Chicago. From January 1 to December 31 of 2015, these figures were 2988 and 490, respectively. See Chicago Tribune articles for more. Chicago homicides; Chicago shootings.

The “list” contains a list of persons who are most likely to be shot soon or to shoot someone based on a computer algorithm that calculates a score based on arrests, shootings, affiliations with gang members and other variables. It ranks each person based on their score; the higher one’s score, the higher the probability he or she may be a victim or perpetrator of gun violence.  The algorithm does not use race, ethnicity, gender, or geography as a factor.

In the last two months, this list has helped the police crack down on deeply entrenched drug rings, particularly in Uptown and East Garfield Park. According to Chief Anthony Riccio, the head of the Department’s Organized Crime Division, the drug operations were run by local street gangs, and the proceeds from drug sales went to buying guns and funding other criminal acts by the gangs. In the last week of April, 70 people were arrested in East Garfield. Of the 70 people, 54 were charged with felony narcotics delivery or possession; nearly all of them – 49 out of 54 – were on the Department’s Strategic Subjects List. An additional 16 people were arrested in drug raids in Uptown during the same time period. Police targeted the drug rings that were selling heroin laced with fentanyl, which has been causing fatal overdoses in Chicago and its suburbs.   

Package Delivery 1The legalization of recreational marijuana in several states over the last few years has created a business opportunity that some people are finding difficult to resist. Non-commercial cultivators in states like Colorado that have legalized recreational marijuana have little legal regulation, and even less oversight, and with prices for their product being between 300% to 500% higher in states where the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes is still illegal, there is a huge incentive for these gray-area cultivators to export their crops across state lines.

Case Study

Illinois resident Ryan Bailey was arrested on January 7 by Chicago police after receiving a seven pound package of marijuana sent to him from a nonexistent shipping company in Aurora Colorado. Before moving to Chicago, Mr. Bailey had lived in Colorado, where he and his wife had run both a growing facility and dispensary where he got in legal trouble for running a much larger operation than was allowed without commercial permits. Prior to his January 7th arrest, Mr. Bailey was arrested previously when the Chicago police department raided his home in Northwest Chicago and found over 40 pounds of marijuana. In both cases the raids were set in motion by UPS employees who reported delivering packages that smelled strongly of marijuana.

PillsEcstasy, increasingly referred to as Molly, is the street name for the drug MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine). Whatever you call it, Ecstasy is a synthetic and psychoactive drug, with similarities to stimulants like amphetamine and with similarities to hallucinogens, like mescaline. Those who take it report experiencing euphoria, increased energy, warmth and empathy to others, and distorted time and sensory perception.

It is against the law in Illinois to be in possession of any amount of Ecstasy, as it has a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use in Illinois, so it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Criminal penalties for the possession of Ecstasy are governed by the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, but possessing any amount of ecstasy at all is a felony.

Penalties for Possession of Ecstasy