The so-called “War on Drugs” has locked many people up on spurious and ridiculous charges. But the case of Devontre Thomas might be one of the worst yet.
According to Sam Levin of the Guardian, Thomas “could be sentenced to a year in prison for possessing about one gram of marijuana.”
The federal case has sparked “widespread outrage” about undertones of racism in the so-called “war on drugs”.
Thomas, 19, is Native American. The police have targeted Native Americans more than any other ethnic group per capita. Thomas has found himself facing this federal case for only possessing a small amount of cannabis
For those who might not partake, that’s about enough for one joint.
Levin explains the following:
The one-count charge brought by the US attorney’s office – which could also result in a $1,000 fine – is the latest illustration of growing tensions in US laws on marijuana. The drug is sold recreationally in four states but remains outlawed at the federal level.
The government’s decision to file charges against Thomas, which criminal justice experts say is a perplexing move that directly contradicts federal guidelines, has also raised questions about how the US Department of Justice enforces laws on Native American territories.
“I can’t figure out why they are going after this youth. It literally makes no sense,” Mat dos Santos, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, explained. “I find it really hard to believe this should merit the concern of the US attorney. It’s really heartbreaking.”
The misdemeanor charge, outlined in a one-paragraph document filed in April, says Thomas “knowingly and intentionally possessed marijuana” on 24 March 2015.
Thomas’s public defender, Ruben Iñiguez, told the local paper Willamette Weekthat the charge was for “about a gram” of weed and that the case stemmed from an incident at Chemawa Indian school, a boarding school operated by the federal bureau of Indian education.
Thomas is a member of the Warm Springs tribe. He explains that he in fact did not have weed on him at the school.
He acknowledges, however, that he may have been involved in a small $20 sale of marijuana, Iñiguez explained to local news station KGW-TV.
Levin says “it’s unclear how or why US law enforcement officials got involved, but more than a year after the alleged incident, prosecutors pushed forward with a charge that carries a maximum sentence of one year behind bars.”
But even if the charge is only a misdemeanor, a federal offense on Thomas’ record could seriously hinder opportunities later in life.
“There are significant penalties that could really interfere with his future,” Dos Santos explained.
Levin notes that “the conviction could make it harder for him to obtain scholarships, employment and housing.”
“He’s very, very kind and very respectful and responsible,” Rayvaughn Skidmore, 20, said. He went to school with Thomas and knew him well. “He’s a young, intelligent guy trying to have a life. I don’t see why good people have to go behind bars.”
Skidmore is also Native American, from the Navajo Nation. He believes the government has been unfairly targeting Native Americans. “There’s absolutely racial disparity,” he said.
Thomas’s case is alarming since the US Department of Justice “has a poor record of prosecuting violent crimes against Native Americans,” David Beck, professor of Native American studies at the University of Montana, explained to Levin.
“There are major crimes that occur in Indian country where the federal government has jurisdiction, and they fail to investigate, and they fail to prosecute,” he continued.
Iñiguez says that his client has pleaded “Not Guilty” and the case is heading to a trial, on September 13th.
(Article by Jeremiah Jones)