The “these are not my pants” defense against drugs found in a pocket does not work, so quit using it, suggests Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley.
In almost 20 years of prosecuting crime, he has heard that excuse, or some variation, too many times to remember.
With methamphetamine and heroin trafficking on the increase, Nisley wants drug users to know that the law doesn’t care where the pants come from, just who has custody of the drugs.
“They very well could have been someone else’s pants at one time but the reality is, you are wearing them and the meth is in your possession,” he said.
Second on the list of excuses is, “Oh that’s not mine (drug), I’m just holding it for someone else.” Or the variation, “Somebody else must have put it there.”
In one case, Nisley said police went to a home in The Dalles on the hunt for a person of interest in a criminal case. The man who opened the door was not the individual that officers were seeking.
He was bare-chested and wearing a short terry cloth towel wrap, with his hands inside the pockets.
“The officer asked him politely to take his hands out of the pockets for everyone’s safety. When he did, a little bindle of meth fluttered out of his hand and landed next to his foot,” said Nisley.
“He was standing there with his arms straight out, staring straight ahead and his eyes were wide open in one of those ‘Oh Oh’ moments. He first claimed not to know that the drug was in his pocket. He also pretended not to know that a spoon, syringe and Army knife were in there.”
The spoon, explained the district attorney, is heated with a lighter until the drug becomes liquid. It is then drawn into a syringe and injected directly into a vein.
When police asked why the man in the towel did not notice that a heavy knife was in the pocket, he switched gears and blamed the presence of the paraphernalia on a houseguest.
The other male staying in the house was also found with a spoon in his belongings.
“I told the jury it was highly unlikely that he ran down the hallway when he had his own spoon and put another one in the man’s pocket,” said Nisley, who was successful in convicting the man of drug possession.
This spring, authorities noted a “snort tube” for meth on the bedside table of a woman’s home in The Dalles. Officers had been granted permission to search her residence for two individuals wanted in a criminal case. Although they found two other people sleeping in the house, they were unable to locate the individuals they wanted to question.
The woman first told police she “didn’t know” what the tube was. She said it had probably been left behind “by wanderers who often came into the apartment.”
“My advice is: If you find a snort tube on your night stand, call the police right away,” said Nisley, who convicted her of drug possession.
“This is all a sad reflection on a person’s ability to reflect reality,” he said.
There are plenty of other excuses for drug possession heard by Nisley, some of which he says have no basis in reality:
“My kids (ages 2 and 4) must have put it there.”
“Someone must have snuck into my bedroom through an open window and planted the pipe and baggie in my dresser.”
“That’s my boyfriend’s, not mine. Well, yes, we use together – but it’s not mine.”
In 2005, Oregon passed a law to reduce meth production by putting a key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, behind store counters. Those buying it are required to show identification. However, the Oregon Department of Justice noted in a June report that, while production has decreased in the state, large shipments of meth and heroin, another popular drug, are now coming from Mexico and other South American countries.
Oregon currently ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of residents using illegal drugs, according to state statistics. Nisley doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
He said 75 percent of people who are convicted of felony drug crimes in Oregon end up only with 18 months of probation. In that situation, he said there is even less incentive for them to seek help and many return to criminal activity to support an addiction.
“The law in this state is set up so that people selling meth within 1,000 feet of a school can end up with just probation,” he said.
He wants to see more treatment centers opened to help people overcome addictions that cripple their ability to lead functional lives.
“Sometimes you have to put people in jail or prison to get their attention. But jail and prison doesn’t reverse an addiction. I don’t think more treatment options are going to happen until: A) society has funding; and B) the desire to do something different.”
With 65 to 70 percent of the criminal cases crossing his desk related to drug and alcohol abuse, Nisley said the problem needs to be addressed at some point.
“’Getting baked,’ ‘Getting stoned,’ ‘Crank,’ ‘Dope,’ those are the words used to describe drug use or an illegal substance,” he said. “Just the names alone tell you that nothing good comes out of involvement in that world.”
For that reason, he is strongly opposed to Measure 91, a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana that voters will decide Nov. 4.
“Some of the information the proponents of this measure are using to gain support is a complete lie,” he said.
For example, Nisley said claims are being made that 11,000 people are arrested in Oregon each year for possession of a small amount of pot. He said there are about 14,000 people incarcerated in jails and prisons across the state at any given time, and approximately 100 of them are behind bars for a marijuana-related offense.
“The proponents of this measure are using statistics for people who receive a citation similar to a speeding ticket for having less than one ounce of pot,” he said.
He said about 1,000 inmates have been incarcerated for crimes involving harder drugs, such as meth and heroin.
“As the law stands now, you can have four pounds of marijuana in Oregon and have been convicted of murder three times, which is a worst case scenario, and you will get a presumptive sentence of 10 to 11 months,” he said. “The whole story that people are going to jail for marijuana is complete bunk.”
Under the current ballot proposal, Nisley said people who take pot into a jail will face only a $200 fine for an infraction.
However, if they smuggle in tobacco or alcohol, he said the person is guilty of a felony offense.
If voters decide to legalize marijuana, Nisley said it will be his job to put aside his personal feelings and enforce the new law.
“The law is the law. I don’t make them, I enforce them,” he said. “My position is that it is a pharmaceutical, it’s a drug. Would you go into the neighbor’s basement if they were manufacturing Tylenol and pick up a bottle to take home?”
He said the hybrid pot grown today is a genetically engineered product so it will be interesting to see if people who support Measure 92, to label foods that have been altered, also support Measure 91.
“Drugs are a very serious issue that I don’t think society is fully addressing,” he said.