Federal Judge: Constitution is ‘Principal Casualty’ of Drug War

Federal Judge: Constitution is ‘Principal Casualty’ of Drug War

By Victoria Kim 10/05/16

“Suspicionless searches of commercial buses making scheduled stops has become a ubiquitous tactic in the War on Drugs.”

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Federal Judge: Constitution is ‘Principal Casualty’ of Drug War

A U.S. district judge in Texas is making headlines for his scathing criticism of the drug war. 

In a recent eight-page ruling, District Judge Lynn N. Hughes shed light on the government’s disregard for the Fourth Amendment—which is meant to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures—especially when it comes to “fighting” the War on Drugs.

“During its 45 years, the principal casualty of this war has been the Constitution,” wrote Hughes in his ruling. 

The case dates back to 2011, when police in Conroe, Texas boarded and searched a Greyhound bus without probable cause. The police had set up a checkpoint at a gas station where the bus had stopped on its journey from Houston to Chicago.  

Their search did turn up 8.8 kilos of cocaine in a backpack, which they found belonged to a man named Morris Alexander Wise. Wise, who initially denied owning the backpack, was arrested and charged with aggravated possession of a controlled substance. He later pleaded no contest to possession with intent to distribute and received a 90-day jail sentence with 10 years of deferred adjudication

But in 2012, Wise was named in a federal indictment related to a cocaine distribution investigation. And federal prosecutors sought to use the cocaine found on the Greyhound bus as evidence against Wise. 

However, Hughes called the Conroe police’s detention of the bus “unjustified and thus unconstitutional,” saying the evidence cannot be used in court.

“Suspicionless searches of commercial buses making scheduled stops has become a ubiquitous tactic in the War on Drugs,” the judge wrote. He called the unlawful stop "one of many" tactics used by the government to enforce drug prohibition.

“This case illustrates the dilemma of detention and the fiction of freedom,” wrote Hughes. “Although passengers and bus drivers may supposedly decline searches, most people would not feel that they were free to go.”

The judge concluded his ruling by going after the federal prosecutors pursuing the case for attempting to use evidence obtained illegally. “The officers’ abuse of their authority is bad; however, the federal government’s bad judgment in bringing this case is worse.” By turning a blind eye to the illegal stop, which according to the law should render any evidence obtained during it to be inadmissible, the federal prosecutors “reinforced the officers’ illegal evasions,” the judge wrote. 

The actions of the authorities in the name of the drug war are a “weak and mean way to cater to its bureaucratic imperative,” he concluded. 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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