By Alfa · Sep 26, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    Chicago Considers Bid To Issue Fines In Certain Cases

    CHICAGO -- Mayor Richard M. Daley has endorsed a proposal to issue
    fines for possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than clog
    the courts with cases that tend to be thrown out by judges.

    Daley said the volume of marijuana cases that are tossed out by local
    courts -- upwards of 90 percent, according to one recent study -- mean
    minor possession is virtually decriminalized in Chicago now. "If 99
    percent of the cases are thrown out, when is there a credible arrest
    for marijuana?" Daley said last week. "They throw all the cases out.
    It doesn't mean anything."

    Much of the national debate on decriminalizing marijuana has focused
    on its medicinal use. But Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana
    Policy Project based in Washington, D.C., said a growing number of
    cities and states are developing alternatives to prosecuting minor
    marijuana busts to unclog jammed court systems and free officers to
    focus on more serious crimes. "There's a growing sense among people
    who just look at the hard-nosed practicality of the situation that
    this is not a sensible use of police and criminal justice system time
    and resources," he said. Mirken said his group has tracked at least 11
    states -- California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi,
    Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon -- that
    have fashioned laws relaxing criminal penalities in minor marijuana

    In many cases, police are now allowed to issue citations instead of
    making arrests.

    The Marijuana Policy Project argues that states should go even
    further, decriminalizing marijuana use and possession entirely, since
    Mirken contends there are no studies indicating a definitive link
    between tough laws and lower marijuana usage.

    "If you go into a store that sells cigarettes, you see yellow and red
    signs warning buyers they have to be 18," he said. "Have you ever
    seen a drug dealer with a sign like that? Regulation gives society
    some control, but prohibition . . . just turns the market over to
    gangsters." Daley stopped short of calling for state or city laws to
    legalize marijuana possession. His comments Tuesday came a day after
    the release of a report written by a South Side police sergeant
    indicating 94 percent of the 6,954 cases filed in Chicago in 2003
    2.5 grams or less of marijuana were either dismissed by the
    judge or dropped by prosecutors. The same report showed that of the
    6,945 cases involving 10 grams or less, 81 percent were dropped, along
    with 52 percent of the 1,261 cases involving up to 30 grams. "While
    officers are doing everything to keep the streets safe, the offender
    gets arrested and is walking the street in just a few hours," wrote
    Sergeant Thomas Donegan in the seven-page report sent to police
    officials. "To me, this is a slap in the face to the officers."

    Officials in the Police Department and the Cook County State's
    Attorneys office said prosecutions often fail because of weak cases
    brought by police, officers or lab technicians don't show up for
    court, or a lack of interest in such minor cases among some judges and

    Donegan, who did not return a request for comment, in his report
    suggested fines of $250 for 10 grams or less, $500 for up to 20 grams,
    and $1,000 for up to 30 grams.

    Using those numbers, Donegan wrote the city could have collected
    "well over $5 million" in fines in 2003. Donegan wrote the city could
    also have saved millions more by not having the officers process the
    suspects, do paperwork, and testify in court.

    Daley said he agreed a smarter approach might be to free officers from
    wasting a day in court -- or filling out reams of paperwork -- by
    slapping offenders instead with a fine that could raise millions for
    strapped city coffers. "It's always a priority to make sure officers
    are spending as much time on the street as possible," said police
    spokesman David Bayless. "We need to strike a balance to make sure
    the offenders are penalized in some way and making sure officers on
    are not taken off the street for cases that aren't going anywhere."
    Bayless said the department chief of staff and legal advisers to
    Superintendent Phil Cline would study Donegan's proposal.

    But it was too early, he said, to say whether the department would
    push for such a change in city ordinances. John Gorman, spokesman for
    Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine, said prosecutors will
    soon meet with Police Department officials to consider the proposal.

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