California’s sex offender registry currently lists over 100,000 sex offenders. The registry has a long history; it was first employed (although not in its current form) 70 years ago. It is estimated that around 650 registrants on the list today were first registered in the 19040’s and 50’s. Since many sex crimes in California mandate sex offender registration once convicted of the crime and in almost all cases, the mandate to register is a lifetime requirement, the registry has grown so large that it has become unwieldy. California is one of only four states in the country that requires a lifetime registration. Not only is the registry becoming unmanageable for law enforcement due to the number of individuals on the registry but the registry has also forced many registrants to live on the margins of society thereby imposing a kind of de facto life sentence.

The largest number of sex offenders on the registry, approximately 65,000, were convicted of misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenses. Some of these crimes were presumed by the offender to be a sex act with a consenting, but under age 18, partner (under California law, a minor cannot consent) or for something as non-threatening as indecent exposure. In previous decades, not that long ago, gay people were targeted by the police for having consensual sex in the park. Many of these individuals were arrested for indecent exposure and ended up with a conviction that required them to register as a sex offender. Those individuals are still required to register.

While some of the offenses may be deplorable, they do not in all cases mean the offender is a sexual predator that must be forever watched by law enforcement, yet that is how anyone on the sex offender registry is branded.

For almost as long as the federal government has harshly prosecuted drug use, researchers have been studying the psychologically beneficial effects of the very drugs that can land a person in prison. Clinical studies on both animals and humans have demonstrated the beneficial effects of many hallucinogenic drugs in treating PTSD, anxiety, depression, addictions, and other mental health disorders. Drugs, commonly taken recreationally, such as LSD, Ayahuasca (DMT), Ecstasy (MDMA), and magic mushrooms (psilocybin), show varying degrees of promise in a clinical setting. These drugs, along with marijuana, are currently classified as Schedule 1 drugs by the federal government. A Schedule 1 classification means that “there are no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a research and educational organization focused on discovering beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, with a goal of translating those benefits into safe and legal prescription medicines, has long lobbied the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move forward to that goal. Recently MAPS succeeded in its efforts to convince the FDA to consider MDMA as a treatment for PTSD. The drug received “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” by the FDA, meaning that the FDA has agreed that MDMA may be a better treatment for PTSD than what is currently available. In granting this designation, the FDA has indicated the FDA’s intent to assist in the development and review of MDMA treatment for PTSD, putting MDMA above the other PTSD therapies up for review by the FDA.

MDMA, the main ingredient in the recreational drug known as Ecstasy or Molly, binds to serotonin transporters, giving the user feelings of euphoria. We’ve all heard of the “love” that Ecstasy users experience; this is a product of the flood of serotonin in the brain. Researchers have found that these feelings of euphoria and empathy open the otherwise troubled mind of a PTSD sufferer to psychotherapy. Using established psychotherapy techniques, a trained psychotherapist employs these techniques on the PTSD sufferer while he or she is under the influence of a controlled dose of MDMA.

INDEFINITE CONFINEMENT MAY ENSUE-NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY PLEAS

It is estimated that over 10,000 people who have never been convicted of a crime are incarcerated in the United States. The states, under various statutes, confine individuals to mental health facilities who are found not guilty by reason of insanity or who are found mentally incompetent to stand trial. While these individuals are not considered “incarcerated”, for all intents and purposes, they are. Technically, they are hospitalized—against their will and with no liberty to end their hospitalization.

The New York Times recently profiled a man in his early 40’s who has been confined against his will in a New York State psychiatric facility since he was 20 years old. He was accused of rape—a crime that carries a sentence of 5 to 25 years in prison in the state of New York. But this man was never tried or convicted for the crime. Prior to his trial, doctors diagnosed him as having borderline personality disorder. Without fully understanding the consequences, the diagnosis allowed him to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The court, by accepting this plea, found him legally not responsible for the crime. In New York, this plea allows an indefinite detention in a mental health facility.

PORTUGAL’S DRUG POLICY IS WORKING

As the “War on Drugs” threatens to heat up, we might ask our current administration to take a step back and consider Portugal. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs—yes, all—including hard drugs like heroin and meth. Critics expected the incidence of drug abuse in Portugal would skyrocket as a result. That is not what happened. Drug use fell over the ensuing 15 years and more importantly, drug-related deaths fell precipitously.

Drugs aren’t legal in Portugal but being in possession of any drug is also not criminal. Rather the country treats drug use as a health issue. Anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug is required to get drug treatment. There is no criminal charge, no court hearing, and no incarceration. The policy isn’t expected to rid Portugal of drug abuse; rather, the intended outcome is harm reduction.

Equifax Breach: A Cybercrime That Affected Millions of Americans

You have probably heard about the Equifax breach by now. As far as identity theft crimes goes, this was a big one. An estimated 143 million people in the United States may have had their personal information compromised when cybercriminals gained access to the Equifax database, which included social security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

The breach took place from mid-May to July and although it was discovered on July 27, Equifax did not reveal this breach to the public until September 7. It is estimated that over 50% of those with a credit bureau report was affected.

Fire season is upon us and Firefighter Crew 13-3 is ready to swing into action. But Crew 13-3 isn’t the firefighting crew you imagine. Crew 13-3 is an inmate firefighting crew, stationed in Malibu, is one of many inmate crews stationed throughout California. You might be surprised to learn that there are approximately 4,000 inmate firefighters in California. Depending on the location, that makes up between 50 to 80 percent of all ground firefighting crews. The job is offered to inmates who volunteer and are physically able. Most inmates who qualify are incarcerated for low-level crimes, often associated with drug- or alcohol-related offenses. Both men and women serve these crews and, as you might suspect, the work is dangerous and the pay is low.

This program, known as the Conservation Camp Program, has been around since 1946. It is estimated to save California tax payers roughly $100 million a year because the inmate crews are paid a maximum of $2.56 a day—far less than a civilian firefighter is paid. But the work comes with some perks. The inmates aren’t incarcerated in prison; rather, they live in “Conservation Camps” that are more like retreats than prison. The food is good, the scenery is often exquisite, family visits are allowed, and some camps have vegetable gardens, yoga and meditation sessions, among other amenities that most prison inmates don’t enjoy. There is a camaraderie among the inmates that is not found in a traditional prison and many of the inmates report great satisfaction from the work.

The state recognizes that prison incarceration often fails to rehabilitate the defendant. And in the state’s self-interest, the state also recognizes that incarcerating criminals whose crimes were not violent, puts a burden on the prison system. Alternative sentencing schemes are available to address both of these problems. This Conservation Camp Program is one of many alternative sentencing options that are available to persons convicted of crimes in California.

We cannot walk down our streets, drive our cars, or talk on our cell phones without these activities being caught by ubiquitous law enforcement surveillance. Use a cell phone and your location can be easily discovered. Similarly, the license plates of cars everywhere are being continuously scanned and registered in a database. Facial recognition cameras are scanning pedestrians and drivers at every turn. Next time you are walking in town, look up on the light poles and other high public structures. Smile, you’re on candid camera.

This surveillance undoubtedly helps the cops catch the bad guys. I have seen how these techniques have enabled the police to discover the perpetrator of crime and locate him or her quickly. The techniques also often provide the prosecution with solid evidence. The defendant who says, “I wasn’t there” as defendants do, will often find out that the prosecution has irrefutable evidence that the defendant was there. Maybe the defendant’s cell phone signal was running off a cell tower near the location of the crime, maybe the defendant’s license plate was scanned on the street where the crime occurred, maybe the prosecution even has a picture of the defendant from a nearby surveillance camera, and soon, a law enforcement drone or small plane may capture evidence against the defendant. Defendants are often unaware that they have been surreptitiously surveilled – as indeed we all are!

This comes with a price. Every innocent citizen is caught in this web of surveillance implicating our Fourth Amendment Right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Many people are willing to be constantly surveilled in trade off for greater crime prevention. But, the wisdom of our Founding Fathers should not be ignored.

In 2014. Governor Jerry Brown signed into a law what is known as “active consent.” This law, incorporated in the California Education Code, applies to California campuses and has often been referred to as the “yes means yes” law. The law requires any post-secondary educational institution that receives state funds for financial student assistance—and basically that means almost every university, college, junior college, or trade school in the state—to enact an “affirmative consent” policy. The affirmative consent policy, as its name implies, means that before there is any sexual activity involving a student there must be ongoing conscious consent. Furthermore, the policy must stipulate that a person cannot give affirmative consent if he or she under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that the nature of giving consent could not be understood. The law does not provide for criminal sanctions but you can easily see how this can be a slippery slope to rape charges.

And that is exactly where this story goes: Two USC undergrads “hooked up” at a club in the wee hours in the morning on April 1st of this year; both were drinking. They ended up in the young woman’s dorm room. Several days later the young man found himself arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on charges of rape by use of drugs and sexual penetration by a foreign object. The sexual assault was characterized in some newspaper articles as “shocking.”

Apparently, the young woman’s roommate walked into the dorm room in the middle of the alleged assault and the young man left at that point. The young woman reported the sexual assault to USC authorities and told police that she did not remember the encounter. Perhaps she did not.

On the night of January of 2015, two Stanford University graduate students were bicycling on campus when they saw a male behind a dumpster. The male was on top of a female who appeared to the grad students to be unconscious. The grad students approached to investigate at which point the male ran away, leaving the unconscious female lying, nearly naked, on the ground. One of the grad students chased the male, restraining him until the police arrived. The male turned out to be a 19-year-old Stanford University student athlete swimmer, Brock Turner. Mr. Turner was charged with felony sexual assault. The case went to a jury trial after Mr. Turner refused to accept a plea bargain.

At the trial in early 2016, it was established that both Mr. Brock and his victim attended the same party where the both became highly intoxicated. They did not know each other prior to the party. Mr. Brock insisted that the sex behind the dumpster was consensual. The victim testified that she didn’t remember anything and would not have given her consent to a strange man to have sex behind a dumpster. Ultimately, the jury convicted Mr. Brock on three felony charges of sexual assault. The convictions exposed Mr. Brock to a potential 14 years in prison.

But at the sentencing, the judge sentenced Mr. Brock to six months in county jail and a three-year term of probation. Mr. Brock, by operation of law, was also required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. There was an immediate outcry at the seemingly light sentence. The details of the assault, as they came out in the trial, were brutal and the jury verdict established that the victim did not consent. Many people were outraged by the verdict because they believed it was unusually lenient due to the fact that Mr. Turner was a privileged white student at Stanford University. If the perpetrator had been a non-white underclass 19-year-old, the critics argued, the sentence would have been far harsher.

While Orange County law enforcement has been dealing with its own evidence scandals, what has been happening in Baltimore, Maryland rips open the suspicions some have expressed for many years about law enforcement tampering with or planting evidence. Thanks to police body cameras, we are now witness to what appears to be outright manufacturing of evidence by the police, at least in Baltimore. There is no reason to believe that the Baltimore Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the country that plays loose with the evidence.

Two incidents of police planting evidence in Baltimore have been recently exposed. In both instances, it is believed that the officers involved were not aware that their body camera was running at the time. Is this the tip of the iceberg?

The first exposure involved an incident in January where officers were investigating a drug suspect behind some empty row houses. Unbeknownst to the officer, his body camera was recording as he placed a plastic bag of drugs inside a can in the alley. He then manually turned on his body camera and announced to the other officers that he was going to check the alley. Lo and behold, he finds the can. The suspect was arrested and unable to post bail. It wasn’t until June when the defense attorney representing the suspect received and viewed the body cam footage that the acts of the officer were discovered. After six months in jail, the charges were dropped against the suspect after the body cam revelation.