Canadians, I-502 and Marijuana at the Border in Washington

Am I the only one who thinks it maybe a little odd that Marijuana will be illegal at the U.S. border, but will be allowed in the interior of Washington state? It is inevitable that the Canadian citizens will visit the U.S. in order to use marijuana legally.  It is estimated that about 20 marijuana stores will open on July 8th, 2014.  However these stores will be a long way from Canada.  The Washington liquor control board will conduct a lottery on July 7th, 2014 to see which stores get to open up on July 8th, 2014, but the stores will most likely be in the Spokane and Seattle area.  Those locales have the most planned stores, so it is more likely that the stores will open there on July 8th.  The population center closest to Canada is Bellingham, Washington.  That city has a number of planned stores, grow facilities, and processing facilities, but it is unknown how many will draw a license to open as soon as July 8th.

Marijuana possession is illegal under the laws of Washington state, but remains illegal under federal law.  While it is unlikely that federal prosecutor would bother to file charges for the possession of marijuana possessed within the interior of Washington, they may be more likely to take cases the involve possession at the U.S. border. Likewise, Canadian officials are likely to be on the look out for marijuana coming into Canada once the Washington stores open.

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Six Things That (Almost) Guarantee a Speeding Ticket

Coming to visit the U.S. and plan on driving?  Here some advice from my lawyer friend Justin Surginer on how to avoid a ticket.

Your driving style and road etiquette are the main reasons why you may be prone to get speeding tickets. “Road etiquette” is used for road violations such as tailgating, cutting other drivers off and abrupt braking.
Car Types as Targets
Contrary to the common belief that the red cars are the cop magnets, it is actually certain makes and models that attract the attention of police officers. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, the Hummer is at the top of the list followed by various makes of Scion, Mercedes and Subaru. Add a flashy color, and you are the main target on the road.
Fast Driving Habits
Many of us enjoy passing the other cars on the road and leaving the traffic behind. However, the police officers are looking for the drivers who are going noticeably faster and are easily detectable. Following the flow of the traffic will reduce your visibility even you drive a car the police favor to pull over. If you are the leading car, the officer will notice you first. If you trail behind the pack even if you’re speeding, the police will position themselves behind you. The safest place to be is in the middle of the faster driving group to decrease your chances of being pulled over. The logical choice is to follow the posted speed limit and not to exceed it by more than 5 miles. Staying in the middle lane also assures safety and maintaining reasonable speed.
Attention Grabbers
Many drivers draw the attention to themselves by speeding but also by decorating their cars in outrageous colors, decals, paintings and slogans. More often, the car will be more visible if it is in poor shape. If your muffler is missing, or your car is creating loud sounds, you are more likely to be stopped by an officer in uniform. Maintaining the physical condition of the car and following the road rules will keep the driver safe and will not raise any suspicions while operating the vehicle. Common sense dictates not to speed if you are the only car on the road.
Most Common Times to Get a Speeding Ticket
When you choose to speed is as important as the car you drive. Rush hour traffic attracts more police force to patrol the streets and highways due to more frequent accidents and traffic violations. The commuters are more likely to drive aggressively because they try to get to their jobs on time in the morning, and they are anxious to get home in the afternoon after a long day’s work. By following the speed limit, you won’t have to use other methods to hide your car within the oncoming traffic just to avoid a speeding ticket.
The police are on the roads to keep us safe. The constant monitoring ensures road safety, and the high fees for fast driving keep the drivers aware of the road conditions and imposed speeding limits. By following some basic rules and driving tips, you can greatly diminish your odds of getting a ticket for a moving violation.

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Issues Immigrants Face with Traffic Tickets

A traffic ticket is a minor nuisance for most United States citizens. Traffic tickets pose much larger problems for immigrants. Both illegal and legal immigrants face serious consequences as a result of a traffic infraction. These consequences include arrest and deportation.

Some Immigrants May Face Enhanced Scrutiny by Police Officers
Law enforcement officers are often more likely to pull over people of Hispanic descent for routine traffic infractions. Once in the law enforcement system, immigrants can encounter serious problems. Something as minor as a broken tail light can lead to deportation.
A Driver’s License Does Not Protect an Illegal Immigrant
Some states, including New Mexico, Utah and Washington, allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Even if an illegal immigrant has a license, a routine traffic violation can lead to severe penalties. The authorities can detain an illegal immigrant with a traffic infraction in an immigration hold. The illegal immigrant then faces deportation to their country of origin.
Federal Immigration Authorities Seek Information About Traffic Infractions
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contacts local courts to get information on any cases involving immigrants. ICE is interested in any violation of the law, including traffic infractions. Legal immigrants with traffic tickets can encounter problems with their immigration status, while illegal immigrants with traffic infractions risk arrest and deportation.
Immigrants Without Licenses Risk Greater Penalties
Many immigrants are not properly licensed drivers. Illegal immigrants cannot legally drive in most states. Driving a vehicle without a proper license is a crime, and immigration courts deport illegal immigrants who have committed a crime. Even legal immigrants risk the loss of their legal immigration status by driving without a license.
Immigrants can Face Immigration Holds Upon Release
ICE has a joint program with local authorities to locate illegal immigrants. This voluntary program is called the 287(g) program. The program provides local law enforcement officers with training in questioning and detaining illegal immigrants. When the local authorities release a suspected illegal immigrant, that immigrant is not free to go home. Instead, the local authorities release suspected illegal immigrants to federal custody. The immigrants will remain in an immigration hold until the immigration court decides their fate.
An Experienced Lawyer Will Help Immigrants with Traffic Infractions
Immigrants who receive traffic tickets face steep penalties. A good lawyer will represent the interest of an immigrant facing law enforcement and immigration issues. Any immigrant involved in a traffic infraction should immediately consult with an attorney to get the best possible outcome. Immigrants who receive traffic tickets face an uncertain future. A seemingly innocuous traffic ticket can cause an illegal immigrant to face arrest, criminal charges and deportation. A skilled attorney can help an illegal immigrant navigate the sometimes confusing judicial system.

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Marijuana at the Washington State Border After I-502

In November 2012, the voters of Washington State made history by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This has effected the way marijuana charges are handled at the border. However, while state and local authorities may not prosecute individuals for marijuana possession, the drug is still illegal under federal law. Since federal authorities rarely prosecute people for small amounts of marijuana, I-502 has limited the options for border officials. It used to be that border officials would arrest a person for bringing marijuana into the country but then refer the matter to local officials for prosecution. Now that state prosecutors are unable to handle such cases, it is solely left up to the federal authorities to prosecute. Since the federal authorities have not been taking the cases, border officials have been simply seizing the drug and denying the Canadians entry into the U.S. In some instance a small fine is levied.

While it may be reassuring to Canadians that they won’t be prosecuted, it can be a bigger problem to be denied entry into the U.S. The issue is likely to arise whenever you again try to enter U.S. The U.S. Border officials are given broad discretion as to whom they let in. There is no appeal process. A traveler can file an I-192 form requesting admission, but such a process can prove very cumbersome. A person can be classified as an “addict” and denied entry on those grounds even if he or she only admits to occasional use of marijuana.

While Washington State has done much to liberalize their policies on marijuana, the federal officials have not changed their positions. Travelers are well advised to avoid having any marijuana on their person when traveling near the border.

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Strip Searches at the U.S. Border

There has been a case in the news recently that led to much discussion about the appropriateness of strip searches at the U.S. border.  That case is Loretta Van Beek v. United States.  Ms. Van Beek filed in U.S. federal court complaining that she was strip searched and inappropriately fondled after failing to declare that she had raspberries in her vehicle. Ms. Van Beek is a resident of Ontario, and was apparently traveling to her vacation house in the United States at the time of the search.  She entered the U.S. at the Ambassador Bridge Detroit-Windsor border.   The U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman explained that strip search are left to  ”…the judgment of [the] individual CBP officers to use their discretion as to the extent of examination necessary.”  The limit on this power,  spokesman explained, was that “…CBP officers are expected to conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveler with dignity and respect.”  However, that is not really a correct statement of U.S. law.  To conduct a strip search, a border agent must have some level of individualized suspicion.  Strip searches can’t be done as a matter of routine.  U.S. courts have explained: ”While anyone at a border can be stopped for questioning and subjected to an inspection of luggage, handbags, pockets, wallets, without any suspicion at all on the part of customs officials, real suspicion is required before a strip search may be conducted.” United States v. Rodriguez, 592 F.2d 553, 556 (9th Cir. 1979). See also, Kirkpatrick v. Los Angeles, 803 F.2d 485, 489 (9th Cir. 1986) (government interest in preventing entry of contraband into country justifies searches at border that would otherwise not be constitutional, but border officials nonetheless must have “real suspicion” that contraband will be discovered before ordering strip search).  In Ms Van Beek’s case, it is hard to imagine why the border agents would believe that she had contraband hidden on her body just because she failed to declare that she possessed fruit when she crossed the border.  While it may be common for a person to hide such drugs as marijuana or cocaine on the person, the same just isn’t true for fruit.  It will be interesting to see how the Van Beek case turns out in court. In my practice as a defense lawyer, I rarely see strip searches at the border in Okanogan County, Ferry County or Stevens County, Washington.

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Marijuana Arrests At U.S. Border – Fueled by Overstaffing?

In the Seattle-Times recently there was an interesting article discussing the staffing levels for border patrol and customs agents on the U.S. / Canadian border. The article explained that since the 9/11 attack, that the number of agents at the northern border has swelled from 340 to 2263. One agent explained that when he began his job, “there was rarely any casework to be done, if at all, so I just roved … wasting gasoline.” “Today this has not changed and there still is rarely any casework to do, if any, and we agents are bored.” Bored? That is kind of scary mindset to have for law enforcement. As a practicing criminal defense lawyer in these Washington border counties, I have seen an increasing involvement in border patrol units in the county cases. For, example when sheriff deputies need back up, and the border patrol is in the area, it can be the federal agents who accompany the locals. I don’t just mean local drug cases; I have seen federal agents respond from everything from domestic assaults to murder scenes.  So I wonder if this overstaffing helps explain why the agents at the US border seem to have so much time to go after Canadian coming across the border with a gram or two of marijuana, as we discussed earlier this year.  The intent of the U.S. congress was to increase the staffing at the border to prevent terrorist attacks.  However, the remote locations see such little traffic that the agents priorities seem to have shifted elsewhere.

Learn more about Washington marijuana law.

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Tips for Canadians Caught with Marijuana at the Border

In Canada the possession of smaller quantities of marijuana is more tolerated then in many areas of the U.S.  For Canadian citizens, being caught at the U.S. border with even tiny amounts of marijuana can be a disturbing experience.Image of Border Arrest Marijuana  In recent years at the U.S. border, foreign nationals caught with marijuana have been held up to 8 hours while U.S. federal agents search every inch of their car and personal belongings, and while others federal agents observe with one hand on their holster.

In many states in the U.S., policies toward marijuana have liberalized.  However, it seems that with federal agents at the U.S. Border, marijuana policies are stricter than ever.  Since the September 11th attack, the number of agents at the U.S. border has increased dramatically. But rather than focusing exclusively on potential terror threats, many of these new agents pass their time scanning the border for Canadian citizens with a gram or two of marijuana.

Here are some tips for Canadians at the border

  1. Be aware of border stops.  Often times a Canadian will end up at U.S. Customs by accident.  This is particularly true for many of the small border crossings in very rural locales.  Particularly at night, these crossing are not easily identified.  Many major Canadian routes are located parallel to the U.S. border, and one wrong turn can bring a person right into U.S. Customs.  Many people mistakenly believe that you can approach the border station and then ask to just turn around.  However, all the actual border stations are located within the territorial U.S., and travelers will be subjected to the same scrutiny as those attempting to cross the border.  Sometimes, Canadians will drive near the border to wait for the arrival of a friend. In this circumstance, be aware of any signs that warn travelers: “Beyond this point traffic must proceed directly to the border.”  In other words, if you drive near enough to the border crossing, you will find border officials waiving you in.
  2. Remain Silent. I can’t speak to Canadian constitutional law, but in the United State you have the right to remain silent and not make statements that would incriminate yourself.  At some point an agent might read you your rights, but by this time you may have already incriminated yourself.  You may exercise your right against self-incrimination at any point.  If marijuana is found in your car, don’t make any statement confessing that you knew of its presence.  If the marijuana is in your luggage, your knowledge of its presence might seem pretty obvious, but then again no one knows that your friend couldn’t have just left it in there if you were previously traveling together.
  3. Don’t try to talk yourself out of the charge. The border authorities don’t care if the marijuana was for personal use.   Border marijuana cases are referred for prosecution even when the amount in question is .1 gram. The agents might give you the impression that they will be more lenient if you are cooperative, but this is usually a ruse to get you talking.  Although some local city police in the interior of the U.S. might let you go with a warning, this never happens with marijuana at the border itself.
  4. Know what to expect. While the border agents might seem excited about finding marijuana in your car, remember that federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office will only rarely prosecute for a quantity of drugs that is relatively small.  Bringing any amount of a controlled substance across the border is a federal offense, but in practice you will be referred for charging in State court in the nearby counties.
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