Ex-Prosecutor Calls War on Drugs National Disgrace

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jan 23, 2002.

  1. By David Hackett
    Source: Herald-Times

    Bob Miller doesn't mince words when he talks about the war on drugs. He calls it "a national failure," "a disgrace" and "just plain sickening." What separates Miller from other critics is that for nearly a dozen years he was responsible for prosecuting thousands of drug cases in Monroe and Greene counties.
    Miller served as Monroe County's prosecutor - the county's chief law enforcement officer - from 1987 to 1994. Prior to that, he was chief deputy prosecutor in Greene County.

    Today, Miller has a private law practice in Bloomington. The 49-year-old attorney is a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and speaks at rallies opposing drug laws.

    "It has not been a night-and-day transformation for me," Miller said last week in his office near the Monroe County Courthouse. "I've always been very apprehensive about not only the stated objectives in the war on drugs, but in the mechanisms by which police and prosecutors have been given unprecedented powers."

    Miller said that even when he was prosecuting drug crimes he worried that the policies were doing more harm than good. But as prosecutor, he took an oath to enforce laws, so he followed the rules and did his job, he said.

    Not everyone agrees he did his job well.

    In 1993, a group of Bloomington police officers publicly criticized Miller for being soft on drugs and for showing preferential treatment in drug cases.

    The feud escalated, with Miller threatening not to accept cases from the five officers whose names were linked to the public complaint. Miller backed off that threat, but some believe the political damage led to him resigning with six months left on his second term. Miller said he resigned to take a job in Texas and to give his assistant prosecutor "a leg up" in the election to replace him.

    Miller didn't stay long with the Texas job, and instead opened his practice in Bloomington in 1994.

    Soon after that, Miller said, he had a discussion with a writer that crystallized his concerns. Mike Gray, author of Drug Crazy, a book about failures in the drug war, was in Bloomington for a conference.

    "Sitting with him over a couple beers and talking about his book, it became obvious to me the corollary between our current predicament in the war on drugs and the prohibition against alcohol in the 1920s," Miller said. "You wouldn't think we would make the same public policy blunder in the same century ... but we did and realistically only a few decades apart .

    "Just like Al Capone ran Chicago, including judges, mayor and senators, drug gangs are running vast portions of our cities, buying influence," he added. "And that's why prohibition is such an abject failure. It's not just a public policy failure. It's become a national disgrace in the sense that we have forgotten the lessons of the past."

    Here are some of the reasons Miller believes the war on drugs is being lost:

    The 1.5 million drug-related cases clogging the nation's legal system each year have turned court proceedings into "cattle calls" and forced communities to build new jails to keep up with the growing number of inmates. A Justice Department study found the number of people charged with federal drug crimes more than doubled from 1984 until 1999.

    "We are essentially recycling people through our courts and prisons and then putting them back on streets so they can repeat the process again," he said.

    The quest to arrest drug offenders has led to infringements of civil rights, including illegal searches.

    "We have done more to damage our constitutional rights in the drug war than any single public policy initiative since we started this country," Miller said. "It's just sickening the excesses we are willing tolerate on the war on the drugs."

    Miller said police officers routinely lie in drug cases.

    "It's a sick joke among defense attorneys that we're still waiting to hear the testimony of a police officer in a drug case that is actually truthful," Miller said.

    Like other vices such as gambling and tobacco, drug use can't be stopped by laws, he said. Instead, it is a public health issue that should be regulated by government.

    "Just as we couldn't legislate clean living and sober attitudes back in the 1920s, we aren't going to legislate clean living and non-drug use in this century," he said. "People are always concerned that, gee, if we make drugs legal, there's going to be an explosion of usage. I think those are all cop-outs. If all drugs, I don't care how dangerous they are, were made legal overnight, do you think people like you and me are going to go out and start shooting up heroin or doing ecstasy?"

    Finally, he said, the greatest injustice in the drug war is what he calls an underlying racism. He cites studies showing that while black males and white males use drugs at roughly the same rate, black males are five times more likely to be arrested.

    "One in five black males in this country is either in jail or under some form of court supervision - many for drug offenses," he said. "If one in five white males were in the same situation, the war on drugs would be over."

    Law enforcement leaders such as Monroe County Sheriff Steve Sharp strongly disagree with many of Miller's views. Sharp said that making drugs legal, even if they were tightly regulated, would make the problem worse.

    He said 85 percent of the inmates in the Monroe County Jail have substance abuse problems, and 90 percent involve alcohol. If drugs became legal, the number of drug-related crimes would be compounded.

    Bloomington police officer John Wilson was head of the local Fraternal Order of Police through which the letter criticizing Miller for being soft on drugs was circulated in 1993. Wilson declined to comment on Miller because he did not want to prejudice a case in which he might be involved.

    But Wilson said, "I don't see that we are losing on the war on drugs." Like Sharp, Wilson said if drugs were made legal, drug-related crime would increase.

    Jerry McCory, director of the Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana, said that legalizing drugs "would be a disaster." McCory said the risk of arrest and jail time is a strong deterrent.

    "All studies show it is a lot easier to deal with the problem if you can stop people from starting to use drugs in the first place," said McCory, a former Merrillville police chief .

    McCory said statistics show the nation's drug policies are working. For example, he said, the number of drug users in Indiana decreased 3 percent from 1999 to 2000.

    Miller isn't convinced.

    "When you're in the system as a prosecutor, or a police officer or a defense attorney, you get bogged down into thinking it's us vs. them," he said. "But if any citizen stops, looks in the mirror and thinks seriously about this issue, the only conclusion is that the enemy is us. We are essentially incarcerating our own kids, friends, neighbors - and poor people and minorities, particularly - at an alarming rate."

    Miller said his opposition to drug laws is a main reason he won't consider running again for prosecutor. But he said he may run for judge.

    Meanwhile, in private practice, Miller is still involved with the issue. He estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the cases he represents involve drug charges. If drugs were decriminalized, a lot of that business might dry up.

    "I'd lose a staple," Miller said. "But I would gladly trade that for the chance to practice law the way it is supposed to be."

    Even though people as prominent as Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, political commentator William F. Buckley and New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson have condemned the nation's policies, the mountain of support for the drug fight shows no sign of budging.

    "Every other year we say this will be the year," Miller said. "And it's never the year."

    Starting today, H-T Managing Editor David Hackett's column, which for more than a year has appeared on Saturdays in the Opinion page, is moving to the front page on Mondays.

    Source: Herald-Times, The (IN)
    Author: David Hackett
    Published: January 21, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 The Hearld-Times
    Contact: letters@heraldt.com
    Website: http://www.hoosiertimes.com/
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