War on Drugs

Federal SWAT Raid Over . . . Orchids.


So as it turns out, even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its own SWAT team.

You don't need to know. You can't know." That's what Kathy Norris, a 60-year-old grandmother of eight, was told when she tried to ask court officials why, the day before, federal agents had subjected her home to a furious search.

The agents who spent half a day ransacking Mrs. Norris' longtime home in Spring, Texas, answered no questions while they emptied file cabinets, pulled books off shelves, rifled through drawers and closets, and threw the contents on the floor.

The six agents, wearing SWAT gear and carrying weapons, were with - get this- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Kathy and George Norris lived under the specter of a covert government investigation for almost six months before the government unsealed a secret indictment and revealed why the Fish and Wildlife Service had treated their family home as if it were a training base for suspected terrorists. Orchids.

That's right. Orchids.

By March 2004, federal prosecutors were well on their way to turning 66-year-old retiree George Norris into an inmate in a federal penitentiary - based on his home-based business of cultivating, importing and selling orchids..

Mr. Norris ended up spending almost two years in prison because he didn't have the proper paperwork for some of the many orchids he imported. The orchids were all legal - but Mr. Norris and the overseas shippers who had packaged the flowers had failed to properly navigate the many, often irrational, paperwork requirements the U.S. imposed when it implemented an arcane international treaty's new restrictions on trade in flowers and other flora.

The judge who sentenced Mr. Norris had some advice for him and his wife: "Life sometimes presents us with lemons." Their job was, yes, to "turn lemons into lemonade."

Or just wait for the inevitable SWAT team to come and smash them for you.

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  1. What can you say? We are no longer a free country when shit like this happens. The law and the prosecutor are bad enough. But the judge is really the depressing one. He just mindless followed the rules and sent a guy to prison completely unjustly. Hasn't this asshole ever heard of an act of conscience? I guess not or he wouldn't be a federal judge.

    1. Even more depressing is that a jury actually convicted this man.

      1. Maybe the jury was afraid of a SWAT raid if they didn't play along. Who could blame them?


    2. Spot on. As I have said before, we ive in a totalitarian-lite state. Oh sure, you have the freedom to get in your lien-car, drive to work, work 40 hours a weeks, bitch about the government, then come back to your rented house (property taxes are rent for the privelage of staying in its house), if you have one, and bitch about the government (as long as you don't talk about armed revolution), and that is about it.

  2. Happy Monday to you too, Radley.

    1. No shit. Couldn't this have waited at least till after noon?

  3. Regulatory government saves lives, Balko. You can't have just any old orchid coming into the country without documentation. It might get free botanical care of the taxpayer dime!

    1. Ugh. Where's that edit feature? That is on the taxpayer dime, not of it.

      1. actually it makes sense. of the dime, by the dime, for the dime.

  4. Thanks Radley, I was having a terrible day and was waiting for the Balko Crotch-Punch to take it to the next level.

    Also, it's good to know that almost 2 years in prison is "lemonade" to the judge.

    1. The 2 years in prison is the 'lemmons', not sure how to get sugar in prison to make lemonade, maybe from your cell mate, bubba?

  5. Vanilla beans are from an orchid and vanilla extract is made with alcohol and kids can buy vanilla extract and get drunk.

    Why do glibertarians hate children?

  6. the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has its own SWAT team.

    "Hey, we're Fish and Wildlife, not social workers,"

    1. Considering how nasty poachers can get, and how well armed poachers generally are, I can't say as I blame them for having a SWAT team. They need to deploy it only as a last resort, though. This use was absolutely idiotic.

      Besides, if they start a fire fight in Spring, they might hit my sister. She lives there. Thank goodness she doesn't raise orchids.

      1. It's a quote from the movie, "The Freshman" when Matthew Broderick is surprised to see the Fish and Wildlife guys packing heat.

  7. I'm sorry, but when the worm finally turns I can't help but hope that this judge and others of his ilk are among the first up against the wall.

    1. This cocksucker rally is of the cowardly sort. I wish fucks like these could be sent to a federal pen to be raped and see how they like their lemonade.

  8. I think I remember a passage from Atlas Shrugged, to paraphrase:

    "You can't control an innocent man, so you have to make him a criminal."

  9. I recall a number of posters saying during the Sotomayor hearings that they wanted judges who would decide cases purely according to the strict wording of the law, without injecting their own biases into the decision. This case shows the perils in that kind of thinking. What good is a judge who doesn't use judgement?

    1. True enough. But I think there is a subtle difference between saying "this law is unjust and therefore I am not enforceing it as written" and just rewritting laws to suit whatever result you want. Judges should act with their conscience. But they should also try to enforce the law as much as possible. Only in extreme cases should they refuse.

      A good rule of thumb is, if enforcing the law results in someone unfairly going to prison for two years, ignore the law. If the law results in some policy you don't like but no one going to jail, enforce the law as written.

      1. Agreed, John. Thanks for the amplification. That's sort of what I was trying to imply with the word "judgement."

        1. Judgement ought to be based on the rest of the body of common law, though.

          Sotomayor's problem was that she implied that she was bringing other, more valuable things to the table, when in fact those things were less valuable.

    2. Bullshit. This judge could thrw theconvcition out by saying that the possible sentence is cruel and unusual. Then let the fucking appeals court justify sending people to prison for fucking orchids. By then maybe the case cols get some traction in the media, though not likely.

  10. Wow thats pretty freakin scary aint it? Unreal!


  11. If this man had simply filled out a 27B/6 form, these agents wouldn't have to waste their time and the judge's.

  12. If this man had simply filled out a 27B/6 form, these agents wouldn't have to waste their time and the judge's.

    You idiot! He also had two have it witnessed by two people who were not related to him and resided in an adjacent county. Additionally their affadavits require the signatures be in green ink and certified by redheaded notary publics.

    On a Tuesday.

    It's for the children/environment.


  13. "Their job was, yes, to "turn lemons into lemonade.""

    If life doesn't give you water and sugar, your lemonade is gonna suck.

  14. Just... Just amazing.

    "You don't need to know. You can't know."

    And the judge saying "Life sometimes presents you with lemons..." after taking away their freedom, humiliating them, and generally portraying them as deadly criminals, all for selling some goddamn orchids.

    This is almost as awful as the time Atlanta cops seemingly raided a gay bar for shits and giggles.

    Fuck the police.

  15. What's the point of a lifetime appointment to the federal bench if you aren't going to override ridiculous applications of the law to ensure equity and justice? It's not like it would be "legislating from the bench", either, because to lock this guy up is criminal, not just unjust.

  16. But the bush adminsitration deregulated everything. And now the messiah is in power. Ergo, this didn't really happen, and they're just making it up.

  17. Their job was, yes, to "turn lemons into lemonade."

    I just finished a 20 oz. coke. I've got some "lemonade" I think the judge should swallow.

  18. I'd actually like to thank you for the early gut-punch today, Radley. It's better than when I'm having a good day and then you go and ruin it at 3 or 4 PM.

  19. I bet just about everyone in America could be arrested for breaking some esoteric federal law.

    And since these cases have a nearly 100% conviction rate, just about anyone could end up in federal prison.

    1. That would be a terrific way to ensure everybody got adequate health care and education. Crime rates would plunge and income inequality would vanish overnight.

      I think you're on to something, here.

  20. "What's the point of a lifetime appointment to the federal bench if you aren't going to override ridiculous applications of the law to ensure equity and justice? It's not like it would be "legislating from the bench", either, because to lock this guy up is criminal, not just unjust."

    To make it to a federal judgeship, you must have to be a lying smarmy piece of garbage who is horribly worried about what the powers that be think of you. Most judges are horrified at being overturned. This is true of our entire society. We are promoting for the wrong reasons and puting the wrong people in positions of authority.

    You and I would never do something like this. And that is why we will never be federal judges. And that is why we are probably doomed as a country.

    1. Remember the Peter principle John. Not only doing you have to by a lying cocksucker to be a federal judge, you apparently have to be a very well groomed cocksucker who doesn't show the slightest bit of gag reflex as you swallow the cock. Such talent allows you to fuck over the minion with absolute impunity.

  21. "turn lemons into lemonade."

    Easy! He's spent two years in prison. He can become one of those highly paid prison consultants rappers and NFL players hire before they go in. Lemonade!

  22. People rarely stop to think about the real world consequences of enforcing the laws they write.

    The laws about enforcing the importation of flora where supported to keep rare and isolated species from being wiped out by sudden fads in the developed world. Who could be against that? Likewise, who could be against making sure that no one ships hazardous materials without taking proper precautions?

    However, the practical mechanisms of enforcing such laws create circumstances in the real world in which ordinary people who have done no harm end up spending two years in prison for technicalities related to their paperwork.

    People simply have too an abstract model of how the law and government work. They don't think about the nuts and bolts implementation were the violent coercive power of the state. You can't have a monitoring system for the importation of flowers without paperwork and you can't make people fill out paperwork without the threat of some criminal penalty. That inevitably means someone will face serious fines or prison for making a mistake on their paperwork.

    Nobody who supported either of these laws ever envisioned sending an old man to prison merely for bad paperwork, yet it happened and it is happing all over the country. This is the inevitable end result of using the violent power of the state to try and tweak the world to perfection.

    1. "Nobody who supported either of these laws ever envisioned sending an old man to prison merely for bad paperwork, yet it happened and it is happing all over the country."
      Perhaps not those who supported it, but to those who wrote the law it's a feature, not a bug.

  23. "If you're not doing anything wrong....."

    They'll invent something.

    Does this qualify as government "creating" jobs?

  24. yeah, whatever - fuck hippies

  25. "I bet just about everyone in America could be arrested for breaking some esoteric federal law."

    Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book "Three Felonies a Day," referring to the number of crimes he estimates the average American now unwittingly commits because of vague laws. New technology adds its own complexity, making innocent activity potentially criminal.


    Book info here:


  26. "However, the practical mechanisms of enforcing such laws create circumstances in the real world in which ordinary people who have done no harm end up spending two years in prison for technicalities related to their paperwork. "

    It's not like there isn't a middle ground, though. I mean, surely there are ways of punishing poor paperwork without SWAT teams and prison sentences. I know that the last time the violent, coercive power of the state punished me for driving more rapidly than deemed safe in a particular part of the automobile-based public transit system, they somehow managed to make the entire transaction fairly civil and painless, while still effecting a somewhat reformative impact on my behavior in that regard, particularly in the short-term. Granted, it wasn't the feds, so maybe that's the issue.

    1. There is a middle ground but realistically, the government responses will fall along a bell curve. Most of the time the government response will be sane and appropriate but a small percentage of the time, the government will either ignore a great harm its supposed to prevent or it will punish the innocent.

      For example, everyone agrees that the government must find and neutralize murderers but it is inevitable that (1) many murderers will go free and that (2) innocent people will be convicted as murderers. That error rate is tolerable to a great extent because we really don't have any other choice but to use the state to restrain such violence.

      However, as we use the power of the state to try and control more and more problems, in more and more areas of life, the percentage of innocent people crushed by the state explodes even if the error rate for the enforcement of each law is very, very low. When you have literally millions of laws and regulations, even a 1% error rate in enforcement means that millions of Americans will end up unjustly convicted and punished over the course of their lifetimes.

      The is simply another application of Bayer's rule. A small false positive rate over a large population can swamp the true positive rate and produce more harm than good.

  27. Shannan Love,

    Perhaps we could fine people for filling out their paper work badley. And then maybe we could get a warrent and enforce it by knocking on their door rather than a SWAT team. Then perhaps prosecutors could use common sense and only pursue cases where the person really is trying to smuggle in an endangered plant rather than just filling out bad paperwork.

    I mean it is just a thought. But we somehow managed to enforce the law for like 200 years before we went insane sometime in the 1970s.

    1. Maybe we could just require a hell of a lot less paperwork.

      What do you think the chances are that, had Mr. Norris dotted i's and crossed t's, anyone would have actually used the information he provided.

    2. That is the best option but eventually, if you require enough paperwork, you end up significantly fining people for errors that are statistically inevitable. The law doesn't recognize the concept of inherent error of process. Technically, you've got to get everything right, every time.

      The basic problem is unavoidable. If you have enough complexity in the system and it affects enough people, you will create a large number of injustices just from inherent random error.

      1. A sensible punishment for doing your paperwork wrong, we be to have to do it again, not go to prison.
        I wonder if the next bureaucrat that screws up my address or name on their paperwork is breaking the law?

  28. This all reminds me of a George Carling rant. The only paradigm with which this idiotic country can solve problems is through "WAR." War on drugs, war on poverty, war on terrorism..war..war...war. And you have little minded brownshirts who become policemen, and big minded brownshirts that become judges who are more than willing to exercise war.

  29. Didn't RTFA. Did our friends at F & W happen to say why they needed to a "dynamic entry" no-knock on an elderly couple with a house full of orchids?

  30. I'm really surprised you don't get a case like this where an older person just says 'fuck it' and kills the judge, the prosecutor, and every member of the SWAT team.

    I would acquit.

  31. Oh yeah, and the jury too.

  32. They didn't fill out their paperwork properly; they're obviously capable of anything.

  33. This is crazy stuff. The trend lately seems to be toward incarcerating people solely for the sake of incarcerating them. Not because they're actually criminal, and not even because they're openly flouting government authority, but just because. I'm not quite sure what the purpose of locking up everyday, fairly law-abiding citizens is, but it seems to be happening with ever more frequency.

    How ridiculous that we've reached the point where government officials lock people up not to support their agenda but simply because they can.

  34. Hmm... the last time I checked up on a "regulations are keeping us down" rant from Reason, it turned out that the issue was regarding FedEx'ing of sodium metal, and the onerous regulation was that if you're going to hand someone a package that explodes on contact with water you've got to warn him first.

    Oh, and look! That example's in this Moony Times story too. They complain about the "federally mandated sticker", without bothering to mention the little detail that the sticker reads "Danger: if it starts to rain, RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

    I can't imagine what they might be similarly omitting from the orchid story. Were these the infamous Toxic Death Orchids of Quetzalsacatanango? It seems more likely that Mr. Norris just got screwed by a bad law, but I'd prefer to read details from a source that didn't have a history of leaving the important ones out.

    1. -Unlike in journlism, in my industry, leaving out material fact has a name, it's called fraud. I missed said previous rant so please link if you have it handy.

      -The post has a link to the original article by Brian Walsh in the Washington Times. So maybe the WT fact checks?

  35. America has been overthrown by the foreign banksters in a financial coup d'etat
    The republic has fallen.

  36. "The six agents, wearing SWAT gear and carrying weapons, were with - get this- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

    Anybody else think of the EPA from the Simpsons movie.

  37. Do we need it spelled out for us anymore? The real enemy is not the "terrorist" that "they" speak of, it is our own government. The U.S. government are the real terrorists and the sovereign American people are the victims. How long are we going to be submissive to this? We have to stand up and say, I HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW EVERYTHING, AND I HAVE THE POWER TO TAKE ALL OF YOUR POWER AWAY.

  38. Reason commentary is here:

    The eventual underlying conviction is described here:


    "He transported 10 metric tons of sodium metal from its port of entry at the Seattle-Tacoma Port Complex to Salmon, Idaho, where he used some of the sodium in an effort to manufacture sodium borohydride. Everston arranged for the transportation of the sodium metal not used in the manufacturing process and several above-ground storage tanks which contained sludges and other liquids to a facililty in Salmon. Sodium metal and the materials in the tanks were highly reactive with water, and the jury found that Evertson failed to take protective measures to reduce the risk that the transported material would react and damage persons or property."

    You'll have to hunt down other primary sources to get the whole story; fun bits to make sure your sources haven't omitted include Evertson's "Krister Erickson" fake name, and his violation of eBay's sales policies as "vial of life".

    The guy does seem to have been given some shabby treatment, but trying to sanctify him in the hopes of turning him into an anti-regulation mascot is just backfiring badly. The idiots on the right are already on your side (until they find out that sodium is in demand for meth labs, anyway), the idiots on the left are going to be against you no matter how you pretty up the sob story, and the people worth converting are going just going to be turned off by the deception.

  39. You guys are missing it. Growing orchids requires the same materials, and equipment used to grow pot. They probably thought the orchid thing was a cover. These cops still don't get it. If you want to go after dangerous drug dealers; then go after the pharma companies. Meanwhile, it is a waste of money going after people who do drugs, because people will always take something to subdue the pain when living in times where there is no future, no one listens, no one cares, everyone lies, no role models, no future, .... But, if you were to actually deal with the problems in our society, then there would be no need to subdue the pain from hopelessness. Instead, everyone wants to exploit these people and make money for new jobs for police, judges, prisons, .... What a disgrace the human people are, what a despicable race we are.

    1. Skateboardkid, Your comment is eloquent, and right on the money, IMHO.

  40. Amerikans

    The enemy within
    By silent step
    Stole your freedom
    While you slept

  41. Get your guns boys and take back this country.

  42. How come the jury that acquitted him had their decision overturned?! That CANNOT happen!!! The power of the jury was apparently usurped, or this guy was tried twice on the same charges.
    I'm definitely in the F-the-Feds camp -- this is an utter disgrace. Like someone from Fish & Game couldn't just CALL UP and ask about a missing label? Is it that big a deal, really? The Feds are no one's friend. This story makes me angry. What the hell happened to my country?

  43. Wow, this is just soooo wrong on so many levels. Jefferson et al, are all rolling in their graves.

    Read Black Belt Patriotism by Chuck Norris

    Vote out the incumbents and let's get back to our Constitution!

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