Critics Say Law Gives Officers Too Much Power, Profit Motive
Thousands of dollars that help Greenville County sheriff's deputies
pay for their dog team and aircraft maintenance are the fruits of
what critics say are state laws making it too easy for authorities to
seize alleged drug money.
The Sheriff's Office spent $107,870 in forfeited drug money last
year, much of it on its K-9 team, two helicopters and a Cessna
airplane, according to records obtained by The Greenville News
through the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.
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Local agencies say they follow law, not interested in intrusion
New technology is being used to give law enforcement agencies a leg up
in fighting crime - advancements that have elsewhere raised tricky
privacy issues that in some cases remain unresolved by the courts.
Greenville County sheriff's deputies are planning to spend $225,000 in
federal money on a new thermal-imaging camera that would be installed
on a helicopter to help search for suspects and missing people on the
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Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Sanford deserve credit
for passing and signing a sentencing reform bill
that this state needed in order to make residents
safer and save taxpayers money.
The bill enacts reforms that mirror the
recommendations of the South Carolina Sentencing
Reform Commission that was empanelled by
lawmakers. The goal of the reforms is to save
taxpayers money, help the Corrections Department
run more efficiently, equip nonviolent offenders
with the skills they need to become productive
citizens and ensure that the state's prisons have
room for the most dangerous offenders.
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Greenville County Schools would consider implementing a drug testing
for student athletes "if a need is expressed and documented by the
principal, school athletic director, coaches" and the community,
spokesman Oby Lyles says.
Bill Utsey, director of athletics in Greenville County Schools, he
thinks it would be well worth the $5,000 to $10,000 a year he
estimates it would cost.
However, in a tight budget year, there hasn't been any community
support for implementing such a program, he says.
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The Senate has wisely given its approval to a
sentencing reform bill that largely mirrors
recommendations by a sentencing reform commission
established last year by the Legislature.
The House should follow suit on this bill that
would save taxpayers money, help the Corrections
Department run more efficiently and help equip
nonviolent offenders with the skills they need to become productive
Provisions in this lengthy bill would further
define violent and nonviolent crimes, streamline
sentencing to ensure there is room in state
prisons for the most violent offenders, and
reduce sentences for some nonviolent crimes. In
addition, the bill would establish options for
community-based treatment and programs such as
the drug courts that have worked in Greenville.
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Violent cartels that import drugs from Mexico could be looking to
strengthen their presence in South Carolina as a crackdown drives them
out of their distribution hub in Atlanta.
The gangs could bring a whole new set of problems - including
shootouts with police -- to a state plagued with the nation's
second-highest violent crime rate.
Their drugs are already flowing through Greenville by way of
Interstate 85 and heading for destinations all over the East Coast,
As local, state and federal authorities seek to turn up the heat, it
isn't unusual for them to make huge busts in the Atlanta area.
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CLEMSON - It's troubling but probably was inevitable, said Clemson
University chemist John W. Huffman, who after a lifetime of scientific
research is seeing marijuana-related compounds he developed as lab tools in
a quest to improve health used for a potentially dangerous high.
Synthetic marijuana-related compounds he painstakingly developed over two
decades to study their biological effects and ultimately develop
medications to help AIDS, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy patients, now
are gaining popularity with recreational drug users as "fake" pot.
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The lead story on the front page on Feb. 22 was about South Carolina
turning loose non-violent inmates from our state prison system. It
spoke of these being mostly people convicted of drug offenses. Why
bother going through the judicial process just to turn these people
back on the street?
State after state is now legalizing marijuana, and taxing and
regulating it. This puts money into the state coffers; it isnít taking
money out. It also frees up law enforcement to devote their time to
crimes that are more of a threat to society.
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A bill introduced this month in the state Senate would adopt changes
in sentencing rules that were recommended by the legislatively created
S.C. Sentencing Reform Commission. These, by and large, are sensible
changes that will alleviate prison crowding, save tax dollars and help
prevent repeat offenses.
As lawmakers debate this bill that mirrors the Sentencing Reform
Commission's recommendations they should resist the temptation to
tinker with the set of changes recommended by the commission they
appointed. The changes won't work if they're adopted in piecemeal
fashion to meet the whims of individual lawmakers or the expectations
of certain narrow constituencies.
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COLUMBIA -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
balked Tuesday at ordering the early release of
nonviolent inmates to ease a $29 million deficit
at the Department of Corrections. Instead, he
said there needed to be consensus among all three
branches of state government before any prisoners are set free early.
The governor's comments came during the state
Budget and Control Board meeting. The panel
cleared the way for the prisons agency to spend
more money than it has. It's the third time in
three years the prisons agency has run short of
cash as budget cuts have taken a toll on its operations.
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Efforts to improve the criminal justice system are too often reduced
to political slogans. Proposals labeled "tough" win, while those
branded "soft" lose.
We seem trapped in an "I'm tough -- you're soft on crime" debate. It's
an unproductive debate that doesn't tell us whether an idea will
actually improve the criminal justice system. Even worse, our
get-tough-only politics is over-filling our prisons and costing us
more than we can afford.
There is a better approach. Instead of just getting tough, we can get
smart on crime.
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State taxpayers spend millions each year to lock up prisoners for
probation violations, driving under suspension and other nonviolent
offenses -- and the costs are expected to swell by hundreds of millions
if nothing is done.
Prison admissions have grown 26 percent in a decade with a large chunk
coming not from murderers, rapists and other violent criminals but
Forty-nine percent of the state's inmates are imprisoned for
nonviolent offenses, mostly drug and property crimes. Forty-four
percent of new inmates have sentences of less than 18 months.
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South Carolina would save money and better serve inmates if it makes
some sentencing changes recommended by a commission that was created
by lawmakers in 2008.
The state Corrections Department has seen a tremendous increase in the
volume of inmates. According to data presented by the S.C. Sentencing
Reform Commission, the state's prison population has increased from
9,137 inmates in 1983 to more than 25,000 today. The department's
budget has increased by more than 500 percent in that same period from
$63.7 million in 1983 to $394.1 million in 2008.
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I think Sen. David Thomas' proposal to drug-test
people in South Carolina before they can receive
unemployment benefits is one of the most asinine
ideas that I have ever heard of in my lifetime.
I am a native Greenvillian and graduate of Wade
Hampton High School and Furman University. As of
January 2009 I was employed with a global
engineering company in Greenville =AD until major
contracts were canceled by customers and all
contract and many direct employees (like me) were
laid off, placed on =93leave of absence=94 or our
jobs were cut. With all of this going on, just
exactly how do you think that I have felt this
past year without a job? And it is not because I
have not tried to find a job that I am still
unemployed, as I have sent literally hundreds of
resumes locally and all over the country. My only
prospect was going to work as a contractor and
then deploy to Afghanistan in order to have a
job. Although to some, this prospect would be
fabulous, it was not an opportunity that I wanted
to explore and therefore I still find myself
unemployed. So on top of all of this, then I had
the pleasure of reading about Thomas' drug testing proposal.
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Bravo to Sen. David Thomas for proposing a bill that would require
those receiving unemployment benefits to prove they are free of
illegal drugs. It should be no different than what occurs in the
workplace: If you are found to be under the influence of illegal drugs
while working, you will be fired, plain and simple. One need not be
shown to have performed his or her job poorly while under the
influence. Do drugs and lose the privilege of keeping your job.
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High Court Rules Seizure at Checkpoint Unconstitutional
COLUMBIA -- The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the
suppression of drug evidence found during a Greenville County
roadblock after ruling the checkpoint was unconstitutional, violating
the protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
A lawyer for the defendant in the case said the ruling is the first
in the state since U.S. Supreme Court decisions on roadblocks and
could limit the discretion of law enforcement in making future checkpoints.
But Chief Justice Jean Toal, dissenting, argued that she saw nothing
wrong with the roadblock and would reverse the ruling of Circuit
Judge D. Garrison Hill.
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At least 17 people have been released from prison in the Upstate in
the month since federal judges have had the leeway to reduce crack
cocaine sentences, and more are to come as orders to release
prisoners trickle daily through the federal court system.
Early estimates are that 800-900 federal inmates serving sentences on
crack convictions will be granted early release statewide under new
sentencing guidelines that are designed to shrink the disparity with
powder cocaine sentences, said Quincy Avinger, deputy chief of the
South Carolina District U.S. Probation Office.
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Is it the person sitting two rows over from you in church? Is it the
nurse helping you at your doctor's office? What about your real
estate agent or attorney? Maybe it's the clerk behind the counter at
the dry cleaners?
They are hard to spot. They lead normal and productive lives. But it
didn't use to be that way for them. It is hard to tell just by
looking at them, but they are different. They are "in recovery" from
addiction to alcohol or other drugs. They are living proof that there
are real solutions to addiction, but their stories of recovery are
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Eddie Young felt like he didn't fit in. He felt like "an alien." He was
lonely and afraid.
Crack cocaine took all that away.
"It takes away all the pain, all the fear," he said. "It became my best
It took away more than that, though, the 38-year-old heavy machinery
operator said during an interview at the Phoenix Center, a drug and alcohol
rehabilitation center in Greenville. He blew his life's savings, $24,000,
in a one-month binge before hitting bottom last month - again.
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When we treat people, it is our duty to do it using as much science as
I still remember the woman who came to the hospital in the middle of
the night for chronic headaches. Her pain was terrible, she said. She
had already taken the powerful narcotics she used daily, and yet her
"chronic pain" was worse.
She said to me, with slurred speech, "You haave to helppp zzzzzz." And
with that, she drifted off to sleep. In a person with a sudden, new
onset headache, that would have been cause for alarm. It would have
been reason for a CAT scan of her brain, maybe even for a lumbar
puncture (spinal tap) to look for a bleeding aneurysm or meningitis.
In her case, however, this was just another normal day. I looked at
her husband, who said with a sigh, "Why don't I just take her on home."
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