The War on Drugs has served, and continues to serve, as a powerful mechanism of mass incarceration and oppression in America. At every stage of the criminal justice process—from the geographical distribution of police, to stops and searches, to arrest, to pretrial detention, to sentencing, to post-conviction, to collateral consequences—communities of color, especially Black communities, disproportionately bear the brunt of the War on Drugs. Aggressive criminalization of certain drugs, targeted heavily against certain communities, is a method of oppressing, disrupting, and disempowering marginalized communities. John Ehrlichman, a domestic policy coach to Nixon, put it bluntly in a 1994 interview: “[B]y getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established a 100-1 sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack, and allocated to law enforcement and carceral systems three quarters of $1.7 billion in federal funds (Equal Justice Initiative, 2019). Two years later, Congress made crack the sole drug for which simple possession was a federal crime. In the following years, 15 states enhanced penalties for crack offenses. Black people were not just disproportionately punished because of disparate sentencing guidelines, but also because of discretionary decisions by prosecutors and judges—Black people convicted of crack offenses were sentenced to about double the amount of time as were white people convicted of crack offenses. These disparities persist. The federal crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, now 18-1, remains egregious. In 2016, Black people were still getting arrested at more than twice the rate that white people were for cocaine offenses. And while the opioid crisis has highlighted the need to treat drug addiction as a public health issue, that framing has not extended to other highly criminalized drugs—more black people were arrested for cocaine in 2016 than white people were arrested for heroin and other opioids, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
A report from the ACLU analyzing marijuana arrests and race from 2010-2018 found that despite the increasing marijuana reform across the country, Black people are still 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are white people, despite similar rates of use. A similar report that the ACLU published seven years earlier, The War on Marijuana in Black and White, found roughly the same rate of disparity. While states that have passed decriminalization and legalization reforms have lower total marijuana arrest rates than states where marijuana is illegal, racial disparities persist in every state. In fact, since 2010, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have increased in 31 states. In Montana, West Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Illinois, Black people are over seven times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana offenses. These disparities are maintained and aggravated by dramatically uneven enforcement of marijuana laws by police, with disproportionate police presence, searches, and arrests in communities of color. Without meaningful police reform, as well as reforms to address the ongoing consequences of the War on Drugs—re-sentencing and expungement, access to the legal marijuana industry, and robust data collection requirements—marijuana legalization will not mitigate these racial disparities.
- A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, ACLU, April 2020.
- Racial Double Standard in Drug Laws Persists Today, Equal Justice Initiative, Dec. 9, 2019.
- Crack vs. Heroin: What will it take to end the inequity? Asbury Park Press, Dec. 5, 2019.
- NACDL Champion: From the President: Coming and Going – Racial Disparity in the Punishment and Profit of Marijuana, Dec. 2017.
- The Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Race (English/Spanish), Drug Policy Alliance, Jan. 2018.
A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence: A Trial Practice Handbook for Criminal Defense Attorneys
This Guide to Federal Evidence is the only federal evidence handbook written exclusively for criminal defense lawyers. The Guide analyzes each Federal Rule of Evidence and outlines the main evidentiary issues that confront criminal defense lawyers. It also summarizes countless defense favorable cases and provides tips on how to avoid common evidentiary pitfalls. The Guide contains multiple user-friendly flowcharts aimed at helping the criminal defense lawyer tackle evidence problems. A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence is an indispensable tool in preparing a case for trial.
Modern Digital Evidence & Technologies in Criminal Cases
Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook. This program is a contemporary training that identifies emerging technologies and digital evidence encountered in today's criminal cases and arms you with the tools necessary to combat expert witnesses, prosecutorial overreach, and an uneducated judge and jury. This comprehensive CLE program covers both general aspects of new technologies as well as practical courtroom application and legal challenges to the use of these new technologies.
Top Shelf DUI Defenses: The Law, The Science, The Techniques (2021)
If you are serious about being an effective DUI defense advocate, or if you’re considering adding DUI defenses to your portfolio, you need to know the latest scientific and legal strategies to optimize your success at trial. Learn from the best-of-the-best in the field in this unique CLE Program, updated for 2021.
Defending Modern Drug Cases (2021)
From challenging the arrest and seizure to picking a jury and cross-examining police officers, defense attorneys handling drug cases must be able to construct a defense that will increase the chances of the client getting a positive result for your client.
Effective motion practice, juror selection, and storytelling have never been more important. This seminar will introduce defense counsel to techniques that have been used at recent drug trials to rebut specific claims and overcome the emotion created in today’s criminal legal system.