Monday, March 31, 2014
Last week, a Louisiana appeals court upheld the conviction and ten-year sentence (PDF) of Kyle Everett for attempted possession with intent to distribute marijuana. From the decision, it appears that Everett was found with somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 worth of marijuana (it isn't clear from the opinion why Everett was convicted of attempted, as opposed to actual, possession).
Officer Hunt then conducted a safety pat down. The officer felt a bulge in the front of the defendant's pants. He asked the defendant about the bulge, and the defendant told the officer that it was marijuana. The defendant shook his leg, and three bags of what appeared to be marijuana fell out of the defendant's pants leg. One bag contained loose marijuana, and the other bag contained ten individually hand-tied baggies of marijuana. The defendant was taken to the police station, where the green material was field tested positive for marijuana. Officer Birks testified that each little baggie appeared to be a "nickel" bag, indicating a value of five dollars for each baggie. Officer Birks further stated that the amount of marijuana that the defendant had in his possession was excessive for personal consumption.
To make matters worse, the officers who arrested Everett were later found to have planted cocaine on a different suspect (by coincidence, Everett's cousin) about a month after they arrested Everett! The officers pled guilty to perjury and malfeasance charges for the cocaine-planting incident. They received suspended sentences and were fined $5,000 and $2,500.
The contrast between the officers' sentences (no jail time, low fines) and Everett's (10 years) is pretty striking.
In his appeal, Everett challenged the constituionality of the search and argued the trial court should have granted his motion for a new trial "on the basis of the subsequent convictions of Officers Hunt and Birks." (The appeals court rejected both arguments.)
Here's the officers' story about stopping Everett:
"[B]oth officers testified that they stopped their vehicle and approached the defendant and the other unknown man as they were riding bicycles and "goofing off" in the middle of the street. The officers stated that they only sought to talk to the defendant about bicycle safety because the defendant and the other man almost created an accident when the officers turned onto the street. We find that the officers were well within their right to make such a stop."
And here's what these same officers did to Everett's cousin one month after Everett's arrest:
Joshua Hunt and Samuel Birks claimed they arrested Bean on Jan. 25, 2011, while on foot patrol at Jackson’s Landing apartments in Algiers. They said a rock of crack cocaine fell out Bean’s pocket as they searched him.
Bean spent more than four months in the parish jail before Hendrix proved that the officers had lied in a police report on the arrest, and that Hunt had lied under oath during a pre-trial hearing in the case.
According to the suit, filed in December 2011, Birks drove up as Bean left his apartment, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of his patrol car.
Birks allegedly told Bean he was wanted in connection with drug dealing in the area. Birks then got a phone call from Hunt, asking to be picked up at a dentist’s office in the 4000 block of MacArthur Boulevard, also in Algiers, the suit says.
With Bean in the back of their patrol car, the officers returned to the Garden Oaks Drive area to cruise around and ask Bean about criminal activity in the area, the complaint alleged.
Hunt then ran a check on Bean’s criminal history and found he was a parolee with three prior convictions. According to the complaint, Hunt then placed a rock of crack in Bean’s jacket pocket, and the officers drove him to the 4th District station to arrest him.
Did these officers do something similar to Everett? The appeals court recognized the possibility but didn't think it likely enough to warrant a new trial (or, apparently, to cast doubt on the officers' questionable account of their stop/frisk of Everett):
[Everett] maintains his innocence and claims that the officers lied to effectuate his arrest and conviction just as the officers lied in the Alvin Bean case. The defendant's argument, while plausible, is simply argument without any factual support or evidence. We do not find that the trial court abused its great discretion when it denied the motion for new trial based on serving "the ends of justice" pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 851(5).
More about Louisiana's marijuana sentencing practices here.