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by Peter Moskos

January 23, 2008

Sean Bell shooting trial to stay in Queens

The latest delay in the trial of police officers for killing Sean Bell comes from defense lawyers. They wanted the trial moved out of Queens. This motion was denied.

I don't really have a position on the trial location. But this is still a big decision. It's not going to be easy to convict the officers (and for good reason), but there was no chance of conviction if the venue was moved outside of the city. It's not the officers can't get a fair trial in Queens. It's simply that city juries, on average, are much less pro-police than suburban juries.

The officers who beat Rodney King would not have been acquitted if their trial hadn't been moved to conservative (and much more white) Simi Vally. The killer of police officer Kevon Gavin would have been convicted had his trial not been in Baltimore City. Justified or not, city folk, particularly African-American city folk, are less likely to trust police. In a police-related trial, jury bias--both pro- and anti-police--can outweigh the facts.

In the case of Sean Bell, conviction is still unlikely. Mistakes are usually not crimes, especially for police officers.

A drug tax

New York Times ace reporter Sewell Chan reports a proposed New York State tax on marijuana ($3.50/gram) and cocaine ($200/gram). If this tax survives court challenges, it is expected to raise over $10 million per year.

These taxes are always a little strange and constitutionally questionable on grounds of double jeopardy. The real goal is to give law enforcement more tools: if you can't prove intent to sell, at least you can bang 'em on tax evasion. This is, like Ethan Nadelmann puts it, "a gratuitous piling-on in the drug war."

But I'm still for it. Anything that sets the framework for drug regulation (intended or not) is a good thing. If drugs are already "taxed," it's a much smaller step to what's really needed: regulated and controlled selling. And it opens peoples' mind to the idea that there is legal revenue that can be gained in selling drugs.

The article says that Tennessee imposed a tax on illegal drugs in 2005 and collected $3.5 million in two years before the law was found to be unconstitutional. I'd be very curious to know if any of that money was from drug dealers. Probably not. It's probably just curious spectators of the war on drugs, people like me, eager to collect a drug dealing stamp.