Crime

New Orleans D.A. Fights Murder by Sending Pot Smokers to Prison

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New Orleans City Business reports that Orleans Parish District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson has instituted a new policy of charging minor marijuana offenders with felonies if they have prior convictions. Under state law, possessing a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in a jail sentence of up to six months but is typically punished by a small fine. Subsequent offenses can be treated as felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison for a second offense and up to 20 years for a third offense. But Landrum-Johnson's predecessors routinely exercised their discretion to treat such offenses as misdemeanors. The new D.A. has reversed that policy so she can rack up felony prosecutions and demonstrate her tough-on-crime credentials:

Shortly after Keva Landrum-Johnson took over as district attorney…hundreds of new felony cases flooded the public defenders office, overwhelming the 29 defense attorneys.

After New Orleans regained its title as the nation's murder capital, the public demanded its city leaders crack down on violent crime. By filing hundreds of new felony cases each month, it appeared as if the new DA heeded their call.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the case, said Steve Singer, chief of trials for the Orleans Public Defenders Office.

The flood of new felony charges didn't target murderers, rapists or armed robbers— they targeted small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threatened them with lengthy prison sentences.

The resulting impact has clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system and damaged low-income African-American communities, Singer said.

Nearly all of the people facing felony charges for smoking pot are black and poor, because, as everyone knows, virtually no middle-class white people smoke pot. One defendant cited by the paper is a man who was "arrested once before as a teenager 20 years ago" and since then "has married, raised a family and kept out of trouble." Now he may have to spend the money he saved for his son's college tuition on legal expenses. Take that, crime!

In May I marveled at New York City's little-noticed crackdown on pot smokers, which has a similar racial skew, unjustly converts citable offenses to misdemeanors, but looks enlightened compared to Landrum-Johnson's crusade.

[via Paul Armentano at NORML]

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  1. What. A. Bitch.

    It’s enough to make this guy feel a misogynistic twinge.

    That aside: Sullum, you running for Balko’s spot, or something?

  2. Ms Landrum-Johnson needs to be removed from power!

    Her actions and her archaic, myopic attitude towards marijuana users are exactly what’s making it impossible to impose minimum age restrictions on the sale of marijuana.

    She knows as well as the police and the DEA that the prohibition can’t get marijuana out of society. It just can’t do it. Instead it inflates the price, increasing the profits of those supplying the market and sucking into the market every gang and criminal organization looking to make easy money.

    Legalizing marijuana will send the right message to our children, it’ll tell them we aren’t going to lie to them anymore, it’ll tell them we aren’t going to alienate them from society simply due to their choice of recreational drug, and it’ll tell them that discrimination in any form is unacceptable.

    We must force people like Ms Landrum-Johnson out of power and demand our government strike down its discriminatory, costly, and morally repugnant marijuana prohibition! Every legislator who votes to retain the prohibition votes to keep marijuana in the hands of minors. Oust them all. Legalize Marijuana!!

  3. Thank God someone cracked down on all those dope-fiends. People can live with a little rape & robbery in their lives, but marijuana smokers are the scum of the earth.

  4. Radley, can you go a day without getting me angry?

    Wait, this was Jacob, not Radley? Well, Radley already got me upset with his innocence project post earlier today.

    Seriously, this is disgraceful. All I hear from my right-wing compatriots is the line from the DOJ and the DEA — that people being in prison for marijuana possession is a “myth”, and that the only people who get these long sentences are big-time traffickers.

    And, sadly, the public will support it — including some of whom smoke pot on a regular basis (like I know some of my right-wing friends do).

    (my reaction to stuff like this is also the reason why my wife jokes to me that when our (future) kid grows up he’s likely going to attempt to violently overthrow the US government)

  5. When are we going to legalize robbery, rape, assault, and murder, so we can stop diverting valuable resources from solving the serious problem of marijuana possession?

  6. We must force people like Ms Landrum-Johnson out of power and demand our government strike down its discriminatory, costly, and morally repugnant marijuana prohibition!

    Eureka! What an idea! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?!

    Yeah, go ahead and get started on that letter writing campaign right away.

  7. Per the DEA’s own website:

    *

    There is a myth in this country that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users. This assertion is simply not true. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession. In our state prisons, it’s somewhat higher-about 27% of drug offenders. In New York, which has received criticism from some because of its tough Rockefeller drug laws, it is estimated that 97% of drug felons sentenced to prison were charged with sale or intent to sell, not simply possession. In fact, first time drug offenders, even sellers, typically do not go to prison.
    *

    Most cases of simple drug possession are simply not prosecuted, unless people have been arrested repeatedly for using drugs. In 1999, for example, only 2.5 percent of the federal cases argued in District Courts involved simple drug possession. Even the small number of possession charges is likely to give an inflated impression of the numbers. It is likely that a significant percentage of those in prison on possession charges were people who were originally arrested for trafficking or another more serious drug crime but plea-bargained down to a simple possession charge.
    *

    The Michigan Department of Corrections just finished a study of their inmate population. They discovered that out of 47,000 inmates, only 15 people were incarcerated on first-time drug possession charges. (500 are incarcerated on drug possession charges, but 485 are there on multiple charges or pled down.)
    *

    In Wisconsin the numbers are even lower, with only 10 persons incarcerated on drug possession charges. (769 are incarcerated on drug possession charges, but 512 of those entered prison through some type of revocation, leaving 247 entering prison on a “new sentence.” Eliminating those who had also been sentenced on trafficking and/or non-drug related charges; the total of new drug possession sentences came to 10.)

    Policy Shift to Treatment

    *

    There has been a shift in the U.S. criminal justice system to provide treatment for non-violent drug users with addiction problems, rather than incarceration. The criminal justice system actually serves as the largest referral source for drug treatment programs.
    *

    Any successful treatment program must also require accountability from its participants. Drug treatment courts are a good example of combining treatment with such accountability. These courts are given a special responsibility to handle cases involving drug-addicted offenders through an extensive supervision and treatment program. Drug treatment court programs use the varied experience and skills of a wide variety of law enforcement and treatment professionals: judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, substance abuse treatment specialists, probation officers, law enforcement and correctional personnel, educational and vocational experts, community leaders and others – all focused on one goal: to help cure addicts of their addiction, and to keep them cured.
    *

    Drug treatment courts are working. Researchers estimate that more than 50 percent of defendants convicted of drug possession will return to criminal behavior within two to three years. Those who graduate from drug treatment courts have far lower rates of recidivism, ranging from 2 to 20 percent.
    *

    What makes drug treatment courts so different? Graduates are held accountable to the program. Unlike purely voluntary treatment programs, the addict-who has a physical need for drugs- can’t simply quit treatment whenever he or she feels like it.
    *

    Many state governments are also taking the opportunity to divert non-violent drug offenders from prison in the hopes of offering treatment and rehabilitation outside the penal facility. In New York, prosecutors currently divert over 7,000 convicted drug felons from prison each year. Many enter treatment programs.
    *

    States throughout the Midwest are also establishing programs to divert drug offenders from prison and aid in their recovery. In Indiana, 64 of the 92 counties offer community corrections programs to rehabilitate and keep first time non-violent offenders, including nonviolent drug offenders, out of prison. Nonviolent drug offenders participating in the community corrections program are required to attend a treatment program as part of their rehabilitation.
    *

    In July of 2002, the Ohio Judicial Conference conducted a survey of a select group of judges. The results from the survey demonstrated that judges “offer treatment to virtually 100 percent of first-time drug offenders and over 95 percent of second-time drug offenders.” According to the survey, these percentages are accurate throughout the state, no matter the jurisdiction or county size. The Ohio Judicial Conference went a step further, reviewing pre-sentence investigations and records, which demonstrated that “99 percent of offenders sentenced to prison had one or more prior felony convictions or multiple charges.”
    *

    The assertion that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users is simply untrue. As this evidence shows, more and more minor drug offenders are referred to treatment centers in an effort to reduce the possibility of recidivism and help drug users get help for their substance abuse problems. The drug treatment court program and several other programs set up throughout the United States have been reducing the number of minor drug offenses that actually end up in the penal system. The reality is that you have to work pretty darn hard to end up in jail on drug possession charges.

  8. A city with a murder problem needs all the calming, soothing, peace-promoting pot it can get. If this District Attorney had a half a brain–even a tenth of a brain–she would be looking for land in the city to start farming cannabis.

  9. Y’all are gonna love this. I just googled the evil bitch. First hit, from Nola.com

    Professionalism, compassion define Landrum-Johnson

  10. Andrew-

    I hope your wife isn’t joking. I hope she is sending you a messge that it is time to take action.

  11. Andrew-

    I hope your wife isn’t joking. I hope she is sending you a messge that it is time to take action.

    I take action to the extent I can. I’ve written to the editor of the newspaper (with no success in getting printed, save for one blog article by one of their columnists). I’m constantly writing our congrescritters. I do what I can, but it’s a losing battle.

  12. Are we winning, yet?

  13. Nearly all of the people facing felony charges for smoking pot are black and poor, because, as everyone knows, virtually no middle-class white people smoke pot.

    I got into a War on Drugs conversation with the folks over at policelink.com a month or three ago about the war on drugs minorities. I mentioned the overwhelming disparate impact on the poor and minorites and even offered that it was the low hanging fruit effect not institutional racism.

    The response was, “No it doesn’t. I busted a white guy the other day. It doesn’t harm minoriteis the hardest”.

    The drug warrior mindset is stunningly unamenable to reason.

  14. “She’s a prosecutor’s prosecutor,” said Derwyn Bunton, a lawyer with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. “When she felt like she had you, there was no turning back.”

    That pretty much says it all.

  15. @stopthesham: our politicos, like most of the americans they represent, are generally extremely ignorant of general economic principles. “prohibition can’t get marijuana out of society. It just can’t do it. Instead it inflates the price, increasing the profits of those supplying the market and sucking into the market every gang and criminal organization looking to make easy money.”-is probably exactly what she doesnt know

  16. Everybody knows that marijuana — or “pot”, as you young people call it — is THE gateway drug to homicide.

    There was a documentary called “Reefer Madness”…

  17. Whether pot is a gateway to worse drugs or even violent crime and murder is moot. What is clear is that pot prohibition (and prohibition in general) is government’s and society’s gateway drug to totalitarianism. I say zero-tolerance for prohibition is the only way!

  18. What the??

    In December, just after taking office, she spent quite a bit of time at the Conference on Drug Policy Reform, held in New orleans, saying the right things. Now this?

  19. Don’t do the crime if you cant do the time.

  20. In December, just after taking office, she spent quite a bit of time at the Conference on Drug Policy Reform, held in New orleans, saying the right things. Now this?
    She was just lying for Jesus. Marijuana prohibition is based on religion not science or need. These people will say anything to get elected but will stay true to their crusade against temptation.

  21. Has it resulted in any decrease in the number of violations?

  22. Who knew they elected rightwing republicans DA in Orleans Parish? She must really hate Black people.

  23. Guns.

  24. juanita | July 24, 2008, 9:35pm | #
    Don’t do the crime if you cant do the time.

    This isn’t a normal crime. This is a victimless crime which is only even a crime because Nixon declared it to be so.

    Criminalizing marijuana users while allowing alcohol and tobacco users to freely consume their recreational drug of choice is blatant discrimination, and is as repugnant as denying women the vote or refusing marriage between same-sex couples.

    The federal marijuana prohibition is bad law, it should not be on the books and it should not be enforced. The only reason it still exists is because it’s protected by the DEA and ONDCP. In fact it’s written into the Reauthorization Act that the Director of the ONDCP must “..take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of” marijuana. This law is a repugnant scourge on society which only serves to alienate families, discriminate against otherwise innocent people, and provide job security to law enforcement officers, DEA and the criminal justice system.

  25. This is a victimless crime which is only even a crime because Nixon Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it to be so.

  26. Thinking Nixon made marijuana illegal is proof positive of the brain-damaging effects of cannabis use.

  27. If alchohol and tobacco are worse than marijuana then they should be illegal as well.

  28. Caffeine has killed people, Juanita.

    What do you think about its legality?

    Tylenol, too. Shit, people have died from *salt* poisoning.

    Should they be made illegal?

  29. Elemenope, don’t you realize that salt is a gateway seasoning to other, stronger flavors? It starts out with salt, but before you know it, your cabinet contains pepper, oregano, nutmeg, cilantro, and even *gasp* cumin.

  30. Elemenope, don’t you realize that salt is a gateway seasoning to other, stronger flavors? It starts out with salt, but before you know it, your cabinet contains pepper, oregano, nutmeg, cilantro, and even *gasp* cumin.

    You’re right. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box! We must move swiftly to crush these sensates and their cherished “flavors” before we are all infected with lust for spiced food!

  31. Putting people in jail is what we pay the government to do, right?

  32. This new policy isn’t so much about busting first-time or casual pot smokers, but about using a tool to slap down real criminals. Unfortunately, thieves, murderers, and other lovelies you wouldn’t much have in your home alone with your schnauzer tend to smoke a lot of dope. I hate thieves; casual pot smokers, not so much.

    Oh, and you’ll never see marijuana legalized. Because our government(s) (as taxing authorities) could never figure out a way to tax marijuana that, if legalized, one could grow in one’s windowsill.

    Get you a nice (taxed) Bud, instead.

  33. They use guns and threat of force with little to no remorse for their actions. We act “civilized”. Is being “civilized” or having “decency” just virtuous words for being an ignorant martyr?

  34. juanita | July 24, 2008, 11:07pm | #

    Thinking Nixon made marijuana illegal is proof positive of the brain-damaging effects of cannabis use.

    That’s not the REAL Juanita. My internet love writes much better than that.

  35. Hey Juanita, Nixon established the DEA. The criminalization of drugs began with the so-called “progressive liberals” Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Wilson made opiates and cocaine illegal and FDR made marijuana illegal.

    The left-wing drug warriors want to spend more taxpayer dollars on more “social programs” to combat the demand side of equation. While the right wants to combat the supply.

    Both are costing us dearly and are a grave assault on our liberties.

  36. The “gateway” drug maybe the stupidest of all of the stupid arguments for prohibition of marijuana. What’s the likelihood of someone trying heroin or coke before trying marijuana? What’s the likelihood of even knowing where to get hard drugs without even a little pot use?

    Owning a TV is gateway consumer electronics to buying a TiVo. True, but massively irrelevant.

  37. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession. In our state prisons, it’s somewhat higher-about 27% of drug offenders.

    Oh, well, that’s alright then. Only 5% of federal inmates and 27% of state inmates are in on possession charges. Nothing to see here; just move along before I put a jackboot up your ass.

  38. Oh, and you’ll never see marijuana legalized. Because our government(s) (as taxing authorities) could never figure out a way to tax marijuana that, if legalized, one could grow in one’s windowsill.

    I’m sure some people would grow their own, but really, you think a casual smoker is going to want to waste their time taking care of a marijuana plant when they could just buy something already made for them? I doubt it, but I don’t know what kind of commitment growing a marijuana plant takes.

  39. I’m sure some people would grow their own, but really, you think a casual smoker is going to want to waste their time taking care of a marijuana plant when they could just buy something already made for them? I doubt it, but I don’t know what kind of commitment growing a marijuana plant takes.

    From what I hear…

    It’s not hard, but it is a pain in the ass. That is to say, the tasks involved are simple enough for a monkey, but they take a lot of effort to do right.

    Also, with legalization, I’m sure companies would like to get in on the hybridization game, come up with all sorts of mixtures and whatnot to market, and can regulate and guarantee quality (THC%, etc.).

    The idea that the government wouldn’t know how to tax such a thing is ridiculous beyond belief.

  40. It’s not that hard to grow. Most of the pain in the ass part is because it is illegal. Once you know how to sex the plants properly, you are fairly good to go. (Umm, that’s like, umm what I’ve been told…)

  41. It’s not hard to grow and home brew isn’t hard to make, but most people prefer to go to a bar and buy their beer rather than brew their own.

    The same will be true when marijuana is legalized, some people will enjoy growing their own, most will prefer the ambiance of their local coffeeshop (or whatever we decide to call them).

    It’ll be the simplest thing for the government to tax, no different from the way alcohol and tobacco are taxed today. One thing that’s not talked about is when marijuana is legalized it’ll bring in a ton of tourists into the country in the same way the coffeeshops bring tourists into the Netherlands. This’ll be good for the economy and man we could all do with a bit of that right now!

  42. “She must really hate Black people.”

    She too, is black. It’s called internalized racism.

  43. “is as repugnant as denying women the vote or refusing marriage between same-sex couples.”

    Typical hophead, pro women’s sufferage AND gay marriage. It really does fuck up the brain.

  44. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession.

    Because under drug war laws anyone in possession of more than a trivial amount of MJ is prosecuted as a “dealer,” even though they don’t sell or give away any of it.

    Oh, and you’ll never see marijuana legalized. Because our government(s) (as taxing authorities) could never figure out a way to tax marijuana that, if legalized, one could grow in one’s windowsill.

    Tobacco isn’t that hard to grow either.

  45. Oh, and you’ll never see marijuana legalized. Because our government(s) (as taxing authorities) could never figure out a way to tax marijuana that, if legalized, one could grow in one’s windowsill.

    Also, people purchase commercially and pay sales tax on bottled water they could draw from their kitchen sink.

  46. Tobacco isn’t that hard to grow either.

    Yes it is. It is much easier to grow excellent marijuana than bad tobacco.

  47. Keep Dope Alive !!!

  48. From Elemenope…

    The idea that the government wouldn’t know how to tax such a thing is ridiculous beyond belief.

    Of course you would have some people who would pay extra for something that grows like a weed (hey…concept!), just like you have effete fobs who pay for Starbuck’s coffee when Waffle House (or our own homebrewed stuff) is as good or better.

    I live in Tennessee, where the largest cash crop is marijuana. Bigger than soybeans or tobacco or corn or cotton or whatever you want to grow. Marijuana grows anywhere and everywhere. We have to have regular chopper overflights by six or more agencies to try to get some of it; but there is no way get it all. Do you think these growers are going to submit to paying taxes?

    Money is always the bottom line for the government. Be sure to figure in that cash given to congressperps by liquor lobbyists who want to keep a ‘monopoly’ on making people happy. For example, our ex-governor, Ned Ray McWherter, owns a brewery. Guess who cries the loudest and lobbies the hardest against the possibility that marijuana might become a ‘legal’ competitor?

    Always follow the money. Always.

  49. This is New Orleans, Ray Nagin’s “chocolate city”. What middle-class white people?

  50. Maybe if more people smoked pot, there would be less violent crimes. Its pretty hard to get angry with someone after smoking a joint.

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