War on Drugs

The Twin Crusades Against Drugs and Guns

The war on drugs conspires with the war on guns to make a mockery of justice.


Weldon Angelos grew up in a musical family. His father, a Greek immigrant, aspired to be a country singer, while relatives on his mother's side were jazz and country musicians. Angelos' tastes were somewhat different: By his early 20s, he had gotten a start as a rap producer.

Angelos had collaborated with well-known hip-hop artists, including Snoop Dogg. He had his own label in Salt Lake City, Extravagant Records. To supplement his income and support his two young children, Angelos also sold marijuana, which is how he ended up with a 55-year federal prison sentence.

That jaw-dropping punishment, demanded by a statute aimed at armed drug dealers, starkly illustrates how drug and gun laws interact to produce results that make a mockery of justice. In vainly striving to control inanimate objects they associate with disorder and violence, legislators create penalties that send human beings to prison for years, decades, and sometimes the rest of their lives. The combination of these twin crusades, both of which punish conduct that violates no one's rights, is potent enough to override anything that stands in their way, including decency, proportionality, and respect for civil liberties.

'Unjust, Cruel, and Even Irrational'

Angelos was not exactly a cannabis kingpin. His 2002 arrest was based on three 8-ounce sales to a childhood acquaintance who had become a police informant. The proceeds totaled about $1,000. But Angelos also owned handguns, and the informant said he had seen one during the first two pot sales—once near the center console of Angelos' car and once in an ankle holster. Police found three handguns when they searched Angelos' apartment. Although he had no prior convictions and had never threatened or injured anyone with a gun, those firearms were enough to trigger a federal law that prescribed mandatory minimum sentences for possessing a firearm "in furtherance of" drug trafficking.

The first such offense carried a five-year mandatory minimum, which rose to 25 years for each subsequent offense, with all sentences to be served consecutively. A jury convicted Angelos of three gun charges—one for each marijuana sale—along with various drug and money laundering charges. So even apart from those other charges, Angelos was looking at a sentence that would keep him in prison until he was an old man, assuming he survived that long. The mandatory minimum was nearly four times as long as the 15-year sentence that prosecutors had proposed in a plea offer that Angelos rejected.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell marveled at that situation when he sentenced Angelos, then 25, in 2004. "For these three acts of possessing (not using or even displaying) these guns, the government insists that Mr. Angelos should essentially spend the rest of his life in prison," Cassell wrote. "Specifically, the government urges the court to sentence Mr. Angelos to a prison term of no less than 61½ years—six years and a half (or more) for drug dealing followed by 55 years for three counts of possessing a firearm in connection with a drug offense."

In light of the severe mandatory penalty, Cassell sentenced Angelos to one day for all the other charges. But he had no choice about imposing the 55-year sentence, which he called "unjust, cruel, and even irrational." Cassell noted that it was "far in excess of the sentence imposed for such serious crimes as aircraft hijacking, second-degree murder, espionage, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape." He urged then-President George W. Bush to "commute Mr. Angelos' sentence to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment."

On appeal, Angelos argued that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment, a claim that Cassell had rejected. A group of former federal judges, attorneys general, and Justice Department officials agreed with Angelos, filing their own brief to that effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit was unimpressed.

The Eighth Amendment "forbids only extreme sentences that are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crime," the 10th Circuit noted. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected Eighth Amendment challenges to sentences ranging from 25 years to life for seemingly minor crimes under drug laws and recidivist statutes. Those cases demonstrated that "the gross disproportionality principle reserves a constitutional violation for only the extraordinary case," as the Supreme Court had recently put it.

"Applying these principles to the case at hand," the appeals court said, "we conclude that this is not an 'extraordinary' case in which the sentences at issue are 'grossly disproportionate' to the crimes for which they were imposed." To back up that conclusion, the 10th Circuit noted that the Supreme Court had said the "basic purpose" of the statute that generated Angelos' 55-year sentence was "to combat the 'dangerous combination' of 'drugs and guns.'"

According to the congressman who wrote the original version of that provision, which was incorporated into the Gun Control Act of 1968, the idea was "to persuade the man who is tempted to commit a Federal felony to leave his gun at home." But even a defendant who left his gun at home could still face the statute's draconian penalties if he also kept drugs or drug money there.

The jury that convicted Angelos, the 10th Circuit noted, found that he not only "possessed a handgun during the course of the first two controlled purchases" but also "possessed firearms at his apartment in conjunction with drug-trafficking materials." The appeals court added that "all of these firearms appear to have facilitated his drug trafficking by, if nothing else, providing protection from purchasers and others."

'Entirely Rational'

Twelve years after Angelos was sentenced, federal prosecutors pursued similar gun charges against medical marijuana growers in Kettle Falls, Washington, citing the firearms that two of the defendants kept in their home. In that case, the jurors rejected the firearm charges, perhaps because they did not view gun ownership, which is common in northeastern Washington, in the same sinister light as the prosecution did.

The 10th Circuit, by contrast, had no trouble accepting the premise that Angelos' guns made his crimes much worse. It emphasized that the Supreme Court had deemed it "entirely rational for Congress to penalize the mere presence of a firearm during a drug transaction." As the justices saw it, it did not matter "whether guns are used as the medium of exchange for drugs sold illegally or as a means to protect the transaction or dealers." Either way, "their introduction into the scene of drug transactions dramatically heightens the danger to society."

In Angelos' case, the 10th Circuit averred, "his possession of the firearms clearly heightened the threat of danger to society." It "undoubtedly increased the likelihood of violence occurring to neighbors in and around the residences where the firearms were maintained, as well as to others that happened to be in the vicinity of wherever he chose to conduct his drug transactions."

Thus did marijuana prohibition obliterate Angelos' constitutional right to armed self-defense. Under the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, Americans have a right to keep firearms in the home for self-protection. But not if their business involves the production or distribution of psychoactive substances that Congress has proscribed. In that case, their constitutional rights become felonies that can send them to prison for decades.

In 2016, after years of lobbying by prominent legal, political, and literary figures, Angelos was quietly freed from prison, 35 years before his expected release date (taking into account "good time" credit). His release was not the result of the presidential clemency that Cassell, now a law professor at the University of Utah, had repeatedly urged. Instead, federal prosecutors, who declined to oppose Angelos' most recent bid for resentencing, apparently had second thoughts about the justice of his punishment.

Two years later, President Donald Trump signed the FIRST STEP Act, a package of modest criminal justice reforms that changed the statute under which Angelos had been sentenced. The enhanced 25-year mandatory minimum for subsequent offenses now requires a prior conviction, meaning gun charges can no longer be "stacked" the way they were in his case.

When Self-Defense Is a Felony

Angelos was hardly a public menace, and neither are the licensed marijuana merchants who serve recreational consumers in states where that business is legal. In the eyes of the federal government, their line of work nevertheless nullifies their Second Amendment rights.

Because the national ban on marijuana remains in place, state-legal marijuana suppliers are committing federal felonies every day. Also because of federal prohibition, banks are leery of serving such businesses, which therefore tend to rely heavily on cash, making them ripe targets for robbery. But if they keep guns or hire armed guards to protect against that threat, they are committing additional felonies, punishable by a five-year mandatory minimum the first time around, under the same law that led to the firearm charges against Angelos.

Last March, a security guard at the Euphorium marijuana shop in Covington, a Seattle suburb, shot and killed an armed robber who had taken a fellow employee hostage. "Anybody that would put their life out there to protect someone else is absolutely a hero," Lindsey Evans, the store's general manager, told the Fox affiliate in Seattle.

Federal law does not view that guard as heroic. For discharging a gun possessed in furtherance of drug trafficking, he could face a 10-year mandatory minimum if the Justice Department decided to prosecute him. And since he "cause[d] the death of a person through the use of a firearm," he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison under the same statute.

Christopher Kavanaugh, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, recently explained why. In a July 15 press release, Kavanaugh bragged about a federal guilty plea by a Roanoke drug dealer who had been acquitted of murder in state court. Even though a state jury had concluded that he acted in self-defense, the plea deal called for a 12-year federal prison sentence. "Drug dealers with firearms should take heed," Kavanaugh warned. "You cannot shoot someone during a drug deal and then claim self-defense when you are carrying that firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking."

The Justice Department's discretion is the only thing standing between state-authorized suppliers of recreational marijuana and federal laws that would send them to prison not just for selling pot but also for daring to defend themselves while doing so. Recent cases against California marijuana suppliers who operated without the state's permission give you a sense of what would happen if the feds decided to wage a more aggressive war on weed.

According to a June 30 press release from the U.S. Justice Department, Lance Kachi "admitted to operating multiple unlicensed, illegal marijuana dispensaries in Spring Valley and El Cajon." Kachi and three of his associates, who pleaded guilty to drug and money laundering charges, also admitted to "possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime"—i.e., trying to protect their business from armed criminals.

Double Punishment for Guns

Current drug dealers are not the only people who are forbidden to possess firearms. So are former drug dealers if that occupation led to a felony conviction, no matter how long ago that happened. "Prohibited persons" include anyone with a felony record, whether or not the crime was violent, and anyone who was ever subjected to involuntary psychiatric treatment, even if he was never deemed a threat to others. Even the customers of the state-licensed pot shops that the Justice Department has seen fit to tolerate are committing felonies if they own guns, as are people who use controlled substances prescribed for someone else or use them contrary to medical instructions.

Although they may not realize it, millions of Americans who have never done anything to indicate violent tendencies have sacrificed their Second Amendment rights. If they own guns, they are risking a federal charge that could send them to federal prison for up to 10 years—15 if they have felony records. If they lied about their records, status, or personal habits on the form required for gun purchases from federally licensed dealers, that's another felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. They also could run afoul of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a 2022 law that criminalizes "trafficking in firearms."

I know what you're thinking: If I have never trafficked in firearms, how can I be guilty of trafficking in firearms? Easily: The law defines that offense, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to include anyone who receives a gun when he "knows or has reasonable cause to believe that such receipt would constitute a felony." So if you know you are disqualified from owning a gun under federal law, you are trafficking in firearms when you nevertheless buy one. Likewise if you are disqualified under state criteria, which may be stricter than the federal standards, when violating those rules is classified as a felony.

Unlike you, Terance Gamble seems like the sort of person who maybe should not be trusted with a gun. When he was busted in 2015, his record included a 2008 conviction for second-degree robbery and two domestic violence charges in 2013. His case, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court, nevertheless illustrates how far the government will go to punish illegal gun possession. It also illustrates how routine traffic stops have become a pretext for enforcing drug and gun laws, which the Court has said is fine.

A Mobile, Alabama, police officer pulled Gamble over, ostensibly because of a damaged headlight. The officer justified a search of the car by claiming to smell marijuana, which perhaps he actually did, since he found two bags of pot along with a digital scale. He also found a 9mm pistol, which Gamble was forbidden to possess because of his robbery conviction.

Gamble's gun violated Alabama law. It also violated federal law. He was prosecuted and punished under both. He got one year in state court and another three in federal court.

To anyone unfamiliar with the Supreme Court's precedents in this area, that looks a lot like double jeopardy, since Gamble was prosecuted twice for "the same offense." Gamble thought so too. But when the Court decided his case in 2019, it reaffirmed the "dual-sovereignty doctrine," which says conduct criminalized by two different levels of government is not "the same offense"—even when, as in this case, the state and federal offenses involve the same elements.

Writing in dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch chastised the majority for passing up an opportunity to reconsider that doctrine. "A free society does not allow its government to try the same individual for the same crime until it's happy with the result," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the Court today endorses a colossal exception to this ancient rule against double jeopardy."

The reasoning that the Court applied in Gamble v. United States readily allows other forms of double punishment for gun crimes. Someone who was convicted of a felony because he violated state restrictions on gun ownership, for instance, could also be prosecuted under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act for "trafficking in firearms" by obtaining his unauthorized gun. A marijuana dealer with a prior felony drug conviction could be prosecuted under state law for illegal gun ownership, then prosecuted under federal law for possessing a gun in furtherance of drug trafficking.

Even without the dual-sovereignty doctrine, those serial prosecutions could be justified based on the theory that the state and federal charges, while derived from the same underlying conduct, involve different elements: possessing vs. receiving a gun in the first case, past vs. current drug dealing in the second. The main point is to inflict as much punishment as possible for owning a gun without the government's permission.

In addition to confirming the "colossal exception" that Gorsuch decried, Gamble showed how the war on drugs authorizes invasions of privacy that otherwise would not be tolerated. But for that (alleged) whiff of marijuana, Gamble would not have been arrested for the gun. One prohibition was the legal excuse for enforcing another.

Gun Grabbers Find Pot Instead

The same thing was true in New York City under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, except that it was a hunt for guns that turned up evidence of drug offenses rather than vice versa. Those years saw two distinct but related trends: The number of "stop, question, and frisk" encounters recorded by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) rose dramatically, and so did the number of arrests for low-level marijuana offenses.

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit filed 27,061 stop-and-frisk reports in 1998, the first year of Giuliani's second term as mayor. That number had risen to more than 97,000 by 2002, Bloomberg's first year as mayor. After that it exploded, septupling to more than 685,000 in 2011. That year, 87 percent of the targeted pedestrians were black or Latino, and 88 percent of the encounters ended without an arrest or summons.

Around the same time, according to data compiled by Queens College sociologist Harry G. Levine, low-level marijuana arrests also were climbing. After falling from about 4,500 in 1985 to fewer than 1,000 a year in the early 1990s, the annual number skyrocketed, peaking at more than 51,000 in 2000, the third year of Giuliani's second term. Minor pot busts had fallen below 30,000 by 2004, Bloomberg's third year in office, but then started rising again, reaching nearly 51,000 in 2011, which was also the peak year for the stop-and-frisk program.

Those concomitant trends raised a couple of obvious legal questions. First, where did the NYPD get the authority to detain, interrogate, and pat down pedestrians, the vast majority of whom were not doing anything that justified criminal charges? Second, why were police making so many low-level marijuana arrests in a state that supposedly had decriminalized pot possession decades before?

The answer to the first question goes back to Terry v. Ohio, the 1968 decision in which the Supreme Court first allowed investigatory stops without probable cause. In that case, a detective had observed two men repeatedly walk back and forth in front of a Cleveland store, peering into the display window each time and conferring in between with each other and a third man. Suspecting that they were casing the store and planning to rob it, the officer stopped the men and received a mumbled reply when he asked what they were up to. He frisked one of the men and discovered a pistol in his overcoat.

The Court held that the stop and the search were constitutional because they were based on "specific and articulable facts" that justified the officer's suspicions. It said police may stop someone when they reasonably suspect he is engaged in criminal activity and may pat him down when they reasonably suspect he is armed.

When New York's stop-and-frisk program was challenged in federal court, it did not look like the NYPD was stopping people based on "specific and articulable facts." The evidence that officers cited was often vague, ambiguous, or subjective, such as "furtive movements" or presence in a "high crime area."

The former, according to one officer's testimony, was "a very broad concept." It could include "changing direction," "walking in a certain way," "acting a little suspicious," "making a movement that is not regular," being "very fidgety," "going in and out of his pocket," "going in and out of a location," "looking back and forth constantly," "looking over their shoulder," "adjusting their hip or their belt," "moving in and out of a car too quickly," "turning a part of their body away from you," "grabbing at a certain pocket or something at their waist," "stutter[ing]," and "getting a little nervous, maybe shaking."

When it came to the reasonable suspicion that was required for a pat-down, the NYPD looked even worse. From January 2004 through June 2012, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin noted in a 2013 ruling, 52 percent of stop-and-frisk encounters included pat-downs, only 1.5 percent of which discovered weapons. Even when officers reached into subjects' clothing after feeling what they thought (or claimed to think) was a weapon, they were wrong 91 percent of the time. But sometimes the purported weapon was a bag of weed, which helps explain the surge in pot arrests.

'It Got Out of Control'

Scheindlin concluded that New York City cops were commonly violating the Fourth Amendment by detaining people without reasonably suspecting they were engaged in criminal activity and searching them without reasonably suspecting they were armed. Given the racially skewed nature of those stops, Scheindlin said, the program also violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Bloomberg himself unwittingly confirmed the first conclusion when he was asked why searches supposedly aimed at seizing illegal firearms almost never found them. From 2002 to 2011, the share of stops that included gun seizures fell from 0.38 percent to 0.033 percent. In a 2012 radio interview, Bloomberg claimed those numbers showed "the program at this scale is doing a great job." As he explained it, "the whole idea here…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns."

Whether or not Bloomberg was right to think that stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion was having a deterrent effect, that aim did not count as a legal justification. Furthermore, the entire program was predicated on a massive constitutional violation that Scheindlin did not consider: a state law that made it essentially impossible for New Yorkers to legally carry guns for self-defense. As the Supreme Court recognized this year, that law was inconsistent with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The stop-and-frisk program targeted New Yorkers who exercised that right without the government's approval. Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of firearm restrictions who finances the pro–gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, surely has no regrets about that aspect of the strategy. But during his aborted, humiliating run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, he did express regret about the program's racially disproportionate impact. "It got out of control," he confessed during a 2020 debate. "I've apologized. I've asked for forgiveness."

As far as I know, Bloomberg has not specifically apologized for the anti-pot crackdown that resulted in nearly half a million arrests during his administration. Unlike the anti-gun crusade, which was consistent with Bloomberg's avowed convictions, the surge in marijuana arrests seemed hypocritical. In 2001, when New York magazine asked him whether he had ever smoked pot, he cheerily replied, "You bet I did, and I enjoyed it."

What might have looked like refreshing candor at the time became a bitter reminder that politicians do not live by the rules they expect others to follow. The crackdown on cannabis consumers was especially surprising to anyone who vaguely remembered that New York had eliminated criminal penalties for possessing up to 25 grams of marijuana in 1977.

That law included an exception that the NYPD exploited during Bloomberg's administration: Possessing marijuana that is "burning or open to public view" was still a misdemeanor. In addition to catching people who happened to be smoking pot or waving their weed around, cops could manufacture misdemeanors by instructing people they stopped to take out any contraband they might have or by searching them, ostensibly for weapons, and pulling out a joint or a bag. Voilà: The marijuana was now "open to public view," an arrestable offense.

In 2011, then–Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told his officers to cut it out. Sort of. "The public display of marihuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject's own volition," his directive said, explaining that the charge is not legally appropriate "if the marihuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer's discretion."

Arrests for "public display" started falling the next year. A 2019 amendment to New York's law abolished that charge altogether, and a legalization bill enacted last year eliminated all penalties for possession of up to three ounces by adults 21 or older. It was a little late for all the New Yorkers busted by cops who found marijuana while looking for guns.

'People Do Not Feel Protected by the Police'

Federal sentencing data cast doubt on Bloomberg's assumption that people caught with illegal firearms are predatory criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety. In FY 2021, 89 percent of sentences for federal firearm offenses involved illegal possession, often without aggravating circumstances or a history of violence. Two-fifths of the defendants, most of whom were black, had never been convicted of a violent crime. Their prior convictions often involved drug crimes or "public order" offenses such as prostitution and gambling, and 5 percent were disqualified from owning guns simply because they were illegal drug users.

In jurisdictions like New York, where nearly everyone who carried a gun was thereby breaking the law, there was even less reason to view firearm possession as inherently criminal. "We need to recognize that not every person charged with possessing an illegal gun in New York City is a driver of violence," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said on his campaign website before his election last year. "My dad had an illegal gun not because he liked guns or because he was 'dangerous'; he had a gun because of crime in the neighborhood."

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made a similar point this year, saying gun possession arrests "must be targeted to distinguish between drivers of gun violence who possess firearms illegally and otherwise law-abiding people who are not involved in gun violence." When "people do not feel protected by the police," he noted, they may "view the risk of being caught by police with an illegal gun as outweighed by the risk of being caught on the street without one."

Krasner's comments were part of a broader report his office produced in conjunction with the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Philadelphia Managing Director's Office, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Given the large number of guns already in circulation, the report concluded, neither seizures from individual owners nor supply control efforts were likely to have much impact on violent crime.

"With so many guns available," Krasner wrote, "a law enforcement strategy prioritizing seizing guns locally does little to reduce the supply of guns, and, if it entails increasing numbers of car and pedestrian stops, has the potential to be counterproductive by alienating the very communities that it is designed to help." Krasner noted that African Americans, who represented 44 percent of Philadelphia's population, accounted for about 80 percent of people arrested for illegal gun possession in the city.

"Focusing so many resources on removing guns from the street while a constant supply of new guns is available is unlikely to stop gun violence, but it does erode trust and the perceived legitimacy of the system," Krasner wrote. "This in turn decreases the likelihood that people will cooperate and participate in the criminal legal system and associated processes, reducing clearance, conviction, and witness appearance rates."

Invitations to Invasions

Although New York's gun-grabbing program exceeded the limits set by the Supreme Court, those limits are not exactly set in stone. Because gun control and drug control target the possession and transfer of prohibited things, as opposed to crimes with identifiable victims, they both invite erosion of the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures."

When the Supreme Court created a "motor vehicle exception" to the Fourth Amendment's usual search warrant requirement in 1925, the intent was to catch bootleggers, who might escape detection by driving away while police were seeking a judge's approval for a search. The Court instead allowed police to search a car whenever they have probable cause to believe it contains contraband.

Subsequent rulings, likewise designed to facilitate the hunt for prohibited intoxicants, allowed pretextual traffic stops based on any of myriad suspected motor code violations and authorized car searches based on putative "alerts" by drug-sniffing dogs. The upshot was a broad license to stop and search pretty much any car that might attract an officer's interest.

Also in the name of fighting drug abuse, the Supreme Court has blessed various other invasive practices, including warrantless rummaging through our trash, warrantless surveillance of private property by low-flying aircraft, mandatory drug testing of public school students, and search warrants based on information from anonymous sources. Meanwhile, the war on drugs has become the main excuse for the system of legalized larceny known as civil asset forfeiture.

As Terance Gamble discovered, the latitude granted by decisions in drug cases also can be used to enforce gun restrictions. According to recent data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 28 percent of federal defendants convicted of illegal gun possession were arrested as a result of "a traffic stop" or "routine police patrol."

When cops looking for drugs say they are also worried about guns, they have more latitude still. Ordinarily, police serving a search warrant at someone's home are supposed to knock and announce themselves. But in a 1997 drug case, the Supreme Court said that rule does not apply when complying with it would be "dangerous or futile" or "would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence."

In response to those guidelines, police across the country routinely cite the destruction of drug evidence and the possible presence of firearms as reasons for dispensing with the knock-and-announce rule. The resulting flood of no-knock warrants has compounded the dangers of the "dynamic entry" tactics that police commonly use when they search drug suspects' homes, often in the middle of the night. Such operations invite potentially deadly confusion, since police in those circumstances can easily be mistaken for criminals, as illustrated by the 2020 death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

After Houston police killed a middle-aged couple, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, during a no-knock drug raid on their home in 2019, it turned out that the operation was based on a fictional heroin sale. Local prosecutors discovered that Gerald Goines, the 34-year veteran responsible for that lethal fiasco, had been similarly creative in other cases, inventing drug purchases to justify search warrants and arrests. Goines also had a habit of justifying no-knock warrants by claiming suspects were armed.

KHOU, the CBS affiliate in Houston, examined 109 cases in which Goines had obtained drug search warrants since 2012. In nearly all of those cases, Goines said a no-knock warrant was justified because "knocking and announcing would be dangerous [or] futile" or "would inhibit the effective investigation of the offense." In every case where he claimed a confidential informant had seen a gun inside the home he wanted to search, KHOU reported, "no weapons were ever recovered, according to evidence logs Goines filed with the court." Evidently no one noticed that suspicious pattern until it was too late for Tuttle and Nicholas.

By joining imaginary drugs with imaginary guns, Goines got the warrants he wanted, which resulted in many arrests and convictions, including several that were recently overturned. In one case, Goines obtained a no-knock search warrant for a house based on a marijuana sale that never happened. His affidavit said a confidential informant—someone who had not actually visited the house—saw "a rifle" near the front door.

A defendant in that case, Frederick Jeffery, received a 25-year sentence after Goines falsely linked him to five grams of methamphetamine found in the house. Jeffery, whom the Atlanta Black Star described as "a homeless Black man with a lengthy drug addiction history," was freed in July after serving nearly six years of that sentence.

"Frederick Jeffery's case is a due process disaster," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said after a judge recommended that Jeffery's conviction be overturned. But even if Goines had not lied in his 2016 search warrant affidavit and during Jeffery's 2018 trial, a 25-year sentence for possessing five grams of meth—less than the weight of two sugar packets—would be egregiously unjust, although presumably not unjust enough to qualify as "grossly disproportionate" according to the Supreme Court's definition.

Jeffery got that appalling penalty because he had a long criminal record, including several drug possession offenses that qualified as felonies even though he was not charged with distribution. Those convictions meant Jeffery was no longer allowed to own a gun. Prior to the bogus case instigated by Goines, Jeffery's most recent felony charge was for illegal possession of a firearm.