As the date of my trial continues to approach (somewhat more rapidly than I might prefer), it’s difficult to ignore the pressing and unpleasant matter of the federal government and its ever-ongoing war against drugs. My own upcoming summons to the court aside, I can easily think of roughly half a dozen friends who either have pending drug-related legal cases or are the victims of some type of probationary sentence as a result of the state’s apparent distaste for controlled substances. Many of them (peaceful people, all) are presently being threatened with extended jail sentences–in fact, one of them is facing a potential sentence of up to one hundred years behind bars, locked away in one of the state’s many cages. I myself am presently being threatened with potential incarceration (my maximum sentence has a ceiling of one year’s time) for peacefully possessing a plant–cannibus–that was forcefully removed from my bedroom drawer while I was at work. If it’s true that the constitution of a crime demands both a victim and an agressor, then my alleged “crime” must surely be insufficiently complete in such regard–there was neither a victim nor an act of aggression created or exhibited by my personal decision to possess and consume marijuana. However, in an age where prohibited substances are as plentiful in number as they are apparently punishable, it is easy to imagine why so many of the nation’s inmates are presently serving time for similarly non-violent, drug-related, so-called “offenses”.
As unlucky as I seem to have been regarding my maintenance of the basic anonymity (or the unfortunate lack thereof) to remain unlisted in the government’s registers as being an established “drug user”, there was interestingly enough no complaining party involved in any of my present legal disputes. In fact, other than the police themselves, no one would even have known that I was a marijuana user at all. However, the decision on behalf of the officers involved to search my house while I was unknowingly at work had a significant impact on the ultimate outcome of this particular “visit” to my home by the agents of the state. I am presently being charged with marijuana possession (of an amount that was entirely negligible–nary enough to even fill a pipe), with an added “paraphernalia” charge for good measure. I face thousands of dollars in state-imposed fines for this alleged “crime”, and–as I’ve already mentioned–up to a year in prison (though my lawyer tells me that any jail time is unlikely, which is comforting, although the fines remain inconvenient and unjust, to say the least).
What is perhaps most interesting about my case, however, was the manner in which the so-called “contraband” was seized from my home.
In the interest of brevity, the conditions setting the stage for the invasion of my home and the theft of my private property were as follows (and are abbreviated here with regards to the length of this article). Running late for work and unable to find my keys, I opted (rather than facing the reproaches of my managers for tardiness) to leave the front door of my former condo unlocked. I was working as a waiter at the time, and had anticipated a relatively short lunch shift; I expected to return home within a matter of mere hours. I assumed that, based on the conditions of my neighborhood (which was, frankly, a well-kept, middle class suburban utopia), the likelihood of my house being robbed seemed slim to none, and the potential for any other act of intrusion seemed equally as unlikely. I certainly did not expect that such an invasive act would soon be perpretrated at the hands of the “authorities”, anyway–in retrospect, had I known, I would not have left my house unlocked or unattended.
As it turned out, the latch on my front door was faulty to the point of failing to serve its purpose (which is, naturally, to remain closed for an extended period of time, all the while unattended). As a new tenant, I was regrettably unaware of the latch’s sorry condition, and so thought little of it as I left for work. However, in a most unfavorable turn of events, it would come to pass that the door was to be blown open by a gust of wind while I was still at work, all the while in that instance still blissfully ignorant to the fact that my downstairs neighbor (perhaps in a misguided attempt to serve as a “model citizen”) was calling the police to address the situation. The officers arrived as summoned, and proceeded to enter my home (having received neither an invitation nor a warrant on my behalf or on the behalf of the state itself). While I unknowingly worked, catering to the requests of hungry restaurant patrons, so too worked the agents of the state, who proceeded to search my home to the most thorough extent possible. Granting themselves the utmost of liberties (which included, though were not limited to rifling through my bedroom drawers and seizing my private property), the officers were able to obtain the evidence–however illegitimately gleaned as it may well have been–necessary to arrest me, not long before the authorities would then proceed to “summon” me to appear in court, whereupon it would be determined how much more should be stolen from me (this time in the form of money extracted through fines). Prohibited or otherwise, my voluntary possession and recreational use of a naturally-derived intoxicant (which bears mentioning to possess the potential to facilitate seemingly infinite beneficial medical applications) was later used as supposed grounds to attempt to extort vast sums of money out of me in addition to the flagrant initial theft of my property committed by state officials. But despite the hefty size of my fines, what is most significant in magnitude is the blatant dismissal of legality displayed by the officers as they conducted their “official duties”.
As the Constitution of the United States of America reads verbatim, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” With regards to the issuance of a warrant, not only was there no probable cause cited for the necessity of such an intrusive order, but the entire due process of law required to conduct such a search was neglected altogether–no warrant was ever issued concerning my home, my personal effects, or my case whatsoever. Furthermore, the law requires that in order for an officer to enter a home without a warrant, he or she must have explicit permission from a resident (preferably the homeowner himself) to do so. As I have mentioned previously, I was absent from the home (as was my roommate, who was also at work that day). The only other party that was present for the arrival and entry of the police into my residence was the downstairs neighbor–the woman who had called the police in the first place.
According to New Jersey (the state in which the events of my legal plight transpired) case law, it is illegal for police officers to enter a commercial building after its operating hours on the sole grounds that the establishment’s door happened/happens to be open. Additional New Jersey case law cites that even if an open 911 call has been placed (meaning that when dispatchers answered the call, the calling party was silent), police still lack the proper jurisdiction to enter the residence for any reason. In other words, lacking both an invitation to enter the house (as should rightfully have been delivered by either myself or my roommate) as well as a formally-issued warrant, the officers had no legal grounds to not only search my house and its possessions, but even to enter it in the first place. Unfortunately, no specifically citeable article of case law serves to confirm this set of conditions in the state of New Jersey–my best hope is that my case might serve to protect other individuals similarly victimized by the runaway actions of the state and its agents. However, as the date of the case’s trial is still pending (at present, it is set for Valentine’s Day), it remains to be seen how the courts will handle such a dispute between myself and the enforcers of this, and other, state-imposed restrictions. I can only hope for the best, and in this scenario, the best that I could hope for would be that the evidence against me will be suppressed on the grounds that it was illegally obtained. Hopefully, the $400 I have already had to spend in exchange for the services of an attorney will remain the net total of my resulting expenses. In either event, I’m losing time and money, but $400 certainly seems petty compared to many of the other present-day sentences that non-violent drug users and distributors face each day in America.
As the war on drugs rages on, increasing numbers of individuals are finding themselves directly affected by its destructive potential. It’s no secret that the vast majority of prison inmates are presently being held captive for non-violent, drug-related offenses–the practice has managed to feed not only the parasitical racket of the modern jail circuit, but has also fattened the pockets of officials of the highest and lowest of ranks. Judges and officers of law enforcement alike have managed to sustain the funding for their unjust rule through such avenues as the drug war–traffic violations and similarly punishable (though non-violent) discrepencies provide further funding for the perpetuation of these injustices. In fact, it is difficult (if not impossible) to imagine a wealthy and functional state without the generous provisions absorbed coercively by the unfair and aggressive penalties that it imposes upon peaceful individuals in order to generate revenue and counter its business competition for alcohol sales. Despite these disheartening conditions, there is, perhaps, some hope that can be brought to light as a result of the perpetuation of such an unjust, oppressive, and downright greedy organization and its intrusive policies. If there is anything to be gained from the massive bureaucratic experiment commonly deemed the “war on drugs”, it is the solace in knowing that should society come to refute any possibility that a victimless action could possibly be considered criminal in nature, the state would assuredly collapse due to its own suddenly-inadequate funding. This possibility, that the individuals comprising society at large could one day come to embrace the slogan, “No victim, no crime!”, and in doing so reduce state revenue significantly enough to effectively bankrupt it, is what fuels me in my ongoing crusade against the tyranny of government. That I might live to see the realization of such an ideal is my greatest aspiration. Until then, the best I can do is try to teach myself so that I might teach others the ways of freedom–the exchange of such crucial ideas is the best defense one has against the injustices of a system that perpetuates the irrational and destructive practice of imposing penalties for peaceful and victimless actions.