The man-bites-dog story this week comes courtesy of the 9th District. One of the less defendant-friendly appellate courts in the state -- which leads to the question, Golly, Russ, which ones are defendant-friendly -- it reversed a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress in a drug case, in State v. Johnson.
Seems that a police officer had received a call from a Motel 6 that one of its tenants had gotten rowdy. The officer responded, and when the tenant opened the door in response to the officer's, the pungent aroma of burning mary jane wafted out of the room. The officer also spied two marijuana blunts, and asked for permission to enter the room, which the defendant denied. The officer upped the ante by demanding that the defendant leave the room, and the defendant responded by trying to shut the door. A tussle ensued, which ended like any other episode of Cops. A subsequent search of the hotel room turned up some cocaine, enough to land the defendant in prison for eleven months.
On appeal, the state defended the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress the search on the grounds that the officer's entry into the hotel room was justified under the "hot pursuit" exception to the warrant requirement. One problem: the offense which the officer observed -- possession of a small amount of marijuana -- was a minor misdemeanor, and under Ohio law a defendant normally can't be arrested for a minor misdemeanor. If there can't be an arrest, there can't be "hot pursuit."
Speaking of marijuana, one of the lesser-known facts about the war on drugs is that it's increasingly targeted that particular item. As this article from a couple of years ago notes,
heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent.
That hasn't abated since then; according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, arrests for marijuana constituted 44% of the total drug arrests in 2006, the last year for which information is available. Of those, almost 90% were for possession.
It may be that the public is getting a little tired of that. This past fall, several communities passed referenda de-prioritizing enforcement of marijuana laws. It's one thing when a city like Amherst, Massachusetts, does it, as it did in 2000. It's another when communities like Missoula, Montana, and Hailey, Idaho do it.