Virginia Senate Republicans kill bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

Republicans on a Senate committee Monday killed a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana by changing the punishment from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil penalty.

The Virginia ACLU and a representative of the Northam administration both backed Senate Bill 111 from Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and the bill was opposed by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

The vote to defeat the bill was party line, with nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voting to kill it and six Democrats voting for the bill. Republicans in the House had already killed a similar measure from Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth.

 

Advocates for marijuana reform had hoped that this would be a year for change following a Virginia State Crime Commission study, which found that police in Virginia made 133,256 arrests in the past 10 years for marijuana possession. Eighty-four percent of those were for a first offense.

But after advocating decriminalization, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, flipped positions, saying he changed his mind because a decriminalization bill would not survive House committee.

The Senate courts committee unanimously passed Norment’s Senate Bill 954, a measure that allows someone charged with first-offense marijuana possession to have the charge expunged.

Norment’s bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Virginia State Police would create a new database of people who were beneficiaries of the new law, which would be accessible to prosecutors and the court system.

Norment told the committee he was trying to be practical.

“There are always those enthusiasts who want to lambaste you for having no guts,” he said.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said her group supports legalization of marijuana. She supported Ebbin’s bill and opposed Norment’s, calling it “the illusion of progress.”

She said marijuana arrests disproportionately affect blacks and that many people would not have the money to pay an expungement fee under Norment’s bill.

As far as costs of enforcing marijuana as a crime, she said, Norment’s bill “probably increases the cost by setting up new systems and data management systems that don’t currently exist.”

Jae K. Davenport, deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security under Gov. Ralph Northam, said the administration backs decriminalization and Ebbin’s bill.

David Ledbetter, Waynesboro commonwealth’s attorney, spoke on behalf of the prosecutors’ association. He said decriminalization would lead to more people driving while impaired by marijuana, would lead to increased use by adolescents and an increase of ingestion by toddlers.

“It’s an issue that isn’t going away,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. “We’re going to be talking about it for a long time.”

Senators voting for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; and Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Senators voting against decriminalization: Ben Chafin, R-Russell; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Norment; Obenshain; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County; Richard Stuart, R-Stafford; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.

http://www.newsadvance.com/news/state/general_assembly/senate-republicans-kill-bill-to-decriminalize-small-amounts-of-marijuana/article_12e660b2-b2bb-50df-a572-29da918ea429.html

National booze group targets Utah governor

National booze group targets Utah governor and other ‘impaired’ older drivers to show ‘how silly’ Utah’s strict DUI law is

Drunken driving • Full-page ads to feature Herbert, lawmakers.

A national alcohol lobbying group continues its assault on Utah’s strict, new drunken-driving law, this time with a full-page newspaper advertisement suggesting that senior citizens — including Gov. Gary Herbert and some state lawmakers — are a bigger risk than consumers who have had a cocktail before getting behind the wheel.

The advertisement, paid for by the American Beverage Institute (ABI), asks in a satirical headline “Too Impaired to Drive?” and suggests that drivers 65 and older “are more impaired ANY TIME they drive” than consumers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.05.

Earlier this year, Utah lowered its blood-alcohol content limit for DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, becoming the first state in the country to adopt the stricter standard.

“Our point is to illustrate how silly the law is,” Sarah Longwell, ABI’s managing director said in a telephone interview. “It’s absurd that you would keep people over 65 from driving and it’s absurd that a person who has had one drink and a low level of impairment would be put in jail.”

The advertisements, to be published Thursday in The Salt Lake Tribune, include photographs of the governor and 10 Utah lawmakers who are 65 and older.

“If Utah legislators believe drivers at .05 should go to jail, should those over 65 be arrested for DWO (Driving While Older)?” the ad asks.

The ABI said it used research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make its claims.

Almost anything increases the risk of a car accident, even something as simple as listening to the radio, Longwell said. “In fact, a driver who is talking on a hands-free cellphone or who slept a several hours fewer than usual the night before is more impaired than a driver at the former DUI arrest level of .08.”

Utah needs to put traffic-safety threats into perspective and apply finite resources to problems backed up by logic, Longwell said. “That way we can actually make Utah’s roads safer.”

Because the law doesn’t take effect until Dec. 30, 2018, Longwell said the ABI will continue to push for full repeal. It also is hoping the issue, being lobbied actively by the National Transportation Safety Board, doesn’t get proposed in other states.

“We don’t want bad ideas to spread,” she said.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, who sponsored HB155 and doesn’t see the law being repealed, is surprised by the continued push from the ABI.

“It’s not going to affect Utah policy,” he said, calling the advertising campaign ”pandering” and “fear mongering.”

“It’s an attempt to make people think that this is bad policy,” he said. “But the data is on our side that show it is a good policy.”

He said there is significant research that shows older drivers self regulate — they don’t drive at night, they don’t drive on highways or in bad weather. They also tend not to drink and drive.

“We know you can’t prevent people from getting older,” he said. “But you can prevent people from drinking and driving.”

The new ad is the latest strike in ABI’s war against the new state drunken-driving law.

Since the Utah law was passed and signed by the governor, the group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars placing full-page ads in Idaho and Nevada newspapers as well as USA Today.

The group also launched a petition drive urging repeal of the law. To date more than 15,000 people have signed it.

 

https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/07/14/national-booze-group-targets-utah-governor-and-other-impaired-older-drivers-to-show-how-silly-utahs-strict-dui-law-is/

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Deputy charged with DWI after crashing into parked tractor-trailer

 

— A Durham deputy was charged with driving while impaired following a crash Monday afternoon.

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office said Deputy Ryan LaDuke, 34, backed into a parked tractor-trailer at the intersection of Geer Street and Midland Terrace at about 2 p.m.

Another Durham County sheriff’s deputy responded to the crash and determined LaDuke was driving while impaired.

Authorities said LaDuke was driving a Durham County Sheriff’s Office vehicle at the time of the crash.

LaDuke, who has been with the department since January 2012, has been placed on administrative leave without pay, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

http://www.wral.com/durham-deputy-charged-with-dwi-after-crashing-into-parked-tractor-trailer/17299066/

Man in skeleton mask leads police to DUI, drug suspect

A report of a man wearing a skeleton mask Sunday night in Lower Macungie Township led police to another man who allegedly was driving under the influence and had drugs in his car, according to court records.

State police were dispatched at 11:18 p.m. to Watermill Drive and Jarrett Farm Road after residents saw someone in the area wearing a trench coat and a skeleton mask.

 When troopers arrived, they saw the masked man walking with another man they knew as Bryan L. Rotenberger, 37, of Emmaus, records show. Police were aware that Rotenberger had his driver’s license suspended on a past drunken-driving arrest, so they stopped him when he started to drive away, police said.

Rotenberger had bloodshot and glassy eyes when he was stopped and police could smell marijuana in his car, records show. Police found drug paraphernalia in the car, along with methamphetamine and prescription pills, court records show.

He failed field-sobriety tests and told police he had smoked marijuana about two hours before he had been stopped, records show.

Rotenberger was charged with possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, three counts of possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was also charged with driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license and careless driving.

He was arraigned by District Judge Tom Creighton and sent to Lehigh County Jail under $30,000 bail.

http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-pol-lower-macungie-skeleton-mask-arrest-20180129-story.html

ICE deportations to Poland rare as jailed Michigan doctor awaits fate

KALAMAZOO, MI — Immigrations and Customs Enforcement performed 466,374 removals of people over a two-year period through Fiscal Year 2017, ending in early October, and removals of Polish citizens make up a small fraction.

Dr. Lukasz Niec, a physician at Bronson HealthCare, was arrested last week and placed in jail in Calhoun County. Family and friends fear he could face deportation to Poland, where he came to the U.S. from at the age of 5.

Removals by ICE of people with Polish citizenship accounted for 235 of the total number of ICE removals, or about .05 percent, according to ICE’s annual report covering fiscan years 2016 and 2017.

Mexico, with 278,586 citizens removed, was highest on the list, followed by Guatemala with 67,510, and Honduras with 44,375, ICE reported.

Through an executive order and accompanying memonderum issued in early 2017, President Donald Trump expanded ICE’s enforcement focus to include removable aliens who have been convicted of any criminal offense.

“ICE no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the document states, referencing Trump’s directives.

The policy change is reflected in the 2017 fiscal year statistics, covering Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017, which show an increase in enforcement actions, ICE said.

ICE Enforcement and Removal operations arrested 105,736 criminal aliens in FY 2017, a 12 percent increase over FY 2016, the agency reported. An administrative arrest of a criminal alien is the arrest of an alien with a known criminal conviction.

An ICE spokesman said Neic is eligible for removal proceedings because of two convictions on his record from 1992.

Niec’s wife, U.S. citizen Rachelle Burkart-Niec, said she thinks his arrest is wrong because the two misdemeanor convictions happened decades ago, when her husband was 17.

Besides the two convictions, ICE said Niec most recently came under agency scrutiny because of 18 encounters with local law enforcement.

Kalamazoo County District Court records show Niec has 22 cases generated from 18 contacts with police. Violations include four violations for having no proof of vehicle insurance, seven speeding tickets, failure to change addresses on his license, causing an accident, careless driving, a seat belt violation, driving without due care, and parking near a fire hydrant.

Niec pleaded guilty to a 2008 operating impaired by liquor offense in Kalamazoo County. He completed probation, and the conviction was set aside, the plea withdrawn and the case dismissed, as part of a plea agreement.

He was charged with domestic violence in 2013 and a jury found him not guilty after a trial, records show.

ICE says Michigan doctor had 18 police encounters before arrest

The ICE report shows driving under the influence was the top criminal charge category associated with removal proceedings in FY 2017.

Dangerous drugs, immigration, traffic offenses and assault are among the next most common categories, considering the combined total number of criminal charges and criminal convictions of people removed, according to the ICE report.

People with “stolen property” charges/convictions total 4,344, while people with crimes categorized as “damage property” total 4,102, the ICE statistics show.

Niec, now jailed for a week, is awaiting a hearing before a judge, and his family is doing what it can to expedite it.

Susan E. Reed, managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said it has been taking several weeks to get a bond hearing in ICE cases.

“This is the longest wait for bond hearing I’ve seen,” she said on Monday.

The Detroit Immigration Court hears all bond cases and defendants appear via televideo from one of four facilities that house ICE inmates in Michigan, including the Calhoun County Jail, she said.

The MIRC has received questions about Niec’s case, Reed said, though it is not handling the case. She said the case shows how noncitizens can be vulnerable to deportation at any time.

“For the last several decades, Congress has stripped a lot of the discretion out of immigration enforcement,” she said.

“The underlying immigration law is incredibly harsh,” Reed said. “Noncitizens, regardless of education level and equitable factors in their lifes and families, can be very vulnerable.”

Under the Obama administration, ICE operated by rigid definitions of priorities, Reed said, and would take into consideration certain factors about a person while processing a case.  Under the Trump administration, that’s changed.

“Everyone is sort of on notice now,” she said, and there’s nothing built into the immigration system that says any offense was too long ago.

Niec, who was arrested Jan. 16, remained jailed Tuesday, Jan. 23, according to Calhoun County Jail staff. He was moved to an area where he was allowed access to television, according to his colleague at Bronson, Penny Rathburn.

Rathburn, who has been collecting letters from coleagues in support of Niec to be forwarded to an immigration judge, said she had about 60 letters by Tuesday morning.