DRUG/CHECKPOINT CASES

Joseph Graham proudly defends those accused of possessing illegal drugs in a culture which officially condemns the practice of consuming drugs, yet vigorously consumes them. There are many types of drug cases, but the most prevalent in South Texas is possession of marijuana, known locally as "POM".

A common misconception is that a person is automatically guilty simply because drugs are found in his car. That fact, in and of itself, does not equal guilt. The government must also prove intent or knowledge to possess the illegal substance.

"POM" is prohibited by both federal and state laws. Different factors determine what charge will be filed. Factors include weight of the marijuana, location, and the person's criminal record. Numerous other factors can affect sentencing.

South Texas is the busiest place in the United States for drug seizures and drug arrests. There are at least 5 (five) U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in South Texas, including Brooks, Cameron, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, and Webb counties.  Checkpoints have been described as the "functional equivalent" of the border, which is used as an excuse to search countless motorists. Millions of cars are stopped at these checkpoints each year, resulting in thousands of drug arrests in the so-called "war on drugs."

There doesn't appear to be an end to the "war," despite many billions of dollars in funding since the early 1980s, and despite ample evidence that the "war" is a miserable failure and has not made a dent in drug use.

Politicians and law enforcement officials conveniently ignore the obvious and call for even greater efforts in the "war." The "war's" efforts rarely target the "big fish", instead resulting in thousands of arrests of "mules", who just transport drugs through the South Texas gauntlet of law enforcement.

A partial list of government agencies seeking drug arrests in South Texas: U.S. Border Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs Service, Texas Department of Public Safety, several narcotics 'task forces', every county's sheriff and constables, and municipal police departments.

Some practical problems caused by the "war on drug's" scatter-brained approach is overloaded courts. Dramatic increases in police funding, coupled with very little increase for prosecution and courts have caused backlogs of hundreds of cases.

Overworked federal prosecutors routinely decline to prosecute cases from federal police agencies because their courts simply cannot handle the volume. Those cases are typically prosecuted by local district attorneys. Forfeited property, which is usually sold at auction, helps reduce the financial burden of prosecution.

Still, the cost of handling those cases in state courts is not insignificant. Money gained from forfeited property has become less and less attractive. Several district attorneys in South Texas even publicly announced they would stop prosecuting federal drug cases until they were paid to do so. Emergency funding was apparently authorized by Congress, but it is only a temporary solution. Look for this problem to crop up again in the near future. 

Update on situation - October 2, 2000 - Border state prosecutors say enough is enough and flatly refuse to prosecute federal drug cases; promised federal money still hasn't reached the counties.

Once the counties' and state's cost of housing inmates from these cases is figured in, the proposition of prosecuting cases from federal agencies actually costs Texas even more money.

If ever there was a doubt that the "war on drugs" often tramples our constitutional rights, consider that even a United States District Judge is not above being harassed. If it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. See story.


*All answers are for people 21 years or older, do not involve enhancements, are not exclusive, and are limited to Texas.

**This page is for informational purposes ONLY and must not be relied upon as legal advice because it is NOT a substitute for the advice of a qualified attorney, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship.

Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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