U.S. Supreme Court Drops a Bomb on Crooked Cops
Most Americans are familiar with the term ‘for-profit prison system’, as we ought to be considering the fact that a recent study showed that the good ol’ United States of America spends more on its prisons than it is on its schools.
The study revealed that state-by-state more funds are spent per prisoner than per student with some massive gaps between those two numbers in several states.
The problem (or the profit, if you’re on the evil side of this equation) lies in the fact that the U.S. has more people in prison than any other country on Earth, including the authoritarian Communist country of China who also happens to have 4x as many citizens as we do.
We lay claim to just 5% of the global population, but are responsible for 25%+ of the global prison population.
The prisons that we house people in are, in many cases, privately owned and operating at a profit. They do not profit from empty cells, however, so our nation’s grotesque fetish with caging people plays right into their pocketbooks.
Hence, the ‘for-profit prison system’.
But another term made headlines this week, one that those who have been in the cannabis business long enough are well aware of, but we are willing to bet most of America was unaware of until now.
POLICING FOR PROFIT
When private prisons turn profits, they allocate gross sums of that money to lobby our lawmakers to pass and protect draconian laws designed to lock more people up, often for victimless crimes like simple cannabis possession.
Cops love it as these efforts bear plenty of low hanging fruit for them to pick from when deciding how to spend their day at work.
So if the choice is to spend months building a case against a crooked businessman or risk your life hunting down hardened criminals and killers versus rounding up mostly non-violent cannabis growers, dealers, and users… well, that’s not a difficult choice at all for most law enforcement officers.
So that’s how many of them earn their living, but when it comes time for a little icing on the cake, cops from coast to coast have been using questionable cases as their personal piggybanks, using a tactic they call asset forfeiture (we call it theft, but hey, potayto, potahto) to stuff their coffers full of dirty money.
Here’s the racket:
Prosecutors accuse someone of a crime, any crime, then they identify and seize valuable assets that they deem to be somehow connected to that crime. It might be a house, a boat, a vehicle, or even cold, hard cash.
Here’s the dirty part – even if that individual is not convicted of the crime that they were charged with, the fuzz will open a civil proceeding to retain the seized assets. With no prior legal recourse, the person whose assets were seized must watch as the boys in blue re-sell their belongings and pocket the profits.
It is perhaps the most well-funded conflicts of interest ever committed in broad daylight.
HANG ON, THEY DID WHAT NOW?
This end run around the supposed safeguards and due process found in the criminal court system has always seemed unconstitutional to us, and this week in a stunning 9-0 unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with us.
You read that right, our heavily divided Supreme Court – led by five Conservative justices and four progressive ones – came to an incredibly rare full agreement that this terrible tactic abused for decades by prosecutors and police is in clear violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution and must cease immediately.
The Eighth Amendment of our Constitution guarantees us that our government will not impose “excessive fines” upon us, the populace. This is a founding plank of American Democracy – think of the Boston Tea Party. In fact, it was originally written into the Magna Carta, preempting our Constitution, but when it was determined that the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal government, the 14th Amendment was established to extend those basic rights to state law.
The 14th Amendment was established in 1868, but as we know nothing moves fast in the U.S. criminal justice system so it wasn’t until this Wednesday – in 2019 – that the issue of “excessive fines” finally made its way to the Supreme Court in a case named Timbs v. Indiana
In 2015 a man named Tyson Timbs was busted trying to sell heroin to undercover cops. He pled guilty, got house arrest and five years probation, eventually getting his act together, kicking his opioid addiction, and clearing his fines with the courts.
Then the state hired a private investigator to seize Timbs’ Range Rover, which prosecutors claimed he had used to commit the crimes he already “did the time” for. They filed a civil suit against Timbs and were awarded the $42,000 SUV.
But he fought back and that fight took four years but it finally made it to a Supreme Court stacked with people who really don’t have much sympathy for the Timbs’ of the world, but all nine justices agreed that he was wronged and that the policy had to get squashed nationwide.
Will it end overnight? No, probably not, but it sets legal precedent that will make this multimillion dollar scheme much, much less profitable.
It also led us to wonder how this ruling could be applied to cannabis reform. Since we now have precedent that states cannot impose “excessive fines” on their residents, how does that jive with the insanely high price of becoming licensed in a legal cannabis market like California’s? And what about the 40-50% of stacked taxes that California cannabis consumers are seeing on their receipts after a trip to a legal dispensary?
We’re no Supreme Court Justices, but it sure seems a little excessive to us.
Keep your eye on this one.