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Report cites police excesses to produce drug arrests

A report issued by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union documents the social harm inflicted by criminal laws in Washington and around the country against drug possession and use. The study found that nationwide law enforcement arrested more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana than for a group of violent crimes combined. Incentives built into the criminal justice system create drug arrest quotas for police, and they often use illegal practices to arrest people.

The report presented many examples of potentially illegitimate searches and seizures. Threats and intimidation were commonplace. Police exploited people who were unaware of their rights or acted in outright violation of their rights.

After arrests, prosecutors tended to pick up where police left off. The report described the plea bargaining system as coercive. Prosecutors routinely issued harsh criminal charges with lengthy sentences to extract guilty pleas for lesser charges. People accused of possessing even fractions of a gram of a controlled substance could experience these aggressive tactics. The report concluded that this system harmed many people. Convictions for even tiny amounts of drugs made people ineligible for school financial aid and food assistance and often eliminated employment opportunities.

People who are facing drug charges have a right to obtain legal representation, and it can be advisable for them to do so. A conviction on the charges can result in serious penalties, including incarceration and heavy fines, and as the report shows, it can have an effect on people's lives in the future as well. A criminal defense attorney might as part of an overall strategy mount a challenge to the search that led to the seizure of the drugs as being made without probable cause.

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