The prosecution of local rave promoters under a federal "crack house" law
was ill-conceived from the start -- so much so that, two months after a
plea bargain was supposed to end the case, the whole matter is still
tangled up in court.
After complaints about rampant use of ecstasy and other drugs at all-night
raves at the State Palace Theater in New Orleans, a grand jury indicted
theater manager Robert Brunet, his brother Brian and rave promoter Donnie
Estopinal in January on charges of maintaining a building for the purposes
of drug sales.
The prosecutors' case was never strong. Nevertheless, a company run by
Robert Brunet pleaded guilty in June and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.
( Charges against the three men themselves were dropped. ) In the plea
bargain, the company also agreed to ban glow sticks, pacifiers and other
rave-related items from future events at the State Palace Theater.
Now some rave fans say that ban is keeping them from expressing themselves
at raves. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit this week to lift
the ban on glow sticks and pacifiers. And on Thursday, U.S. District Judge
G. Thomas Porteous issued a preliminary injunction that blocks enforcement
of that provision.
Granted, it's peculiar that an outside party is trying to involve itself in
a plea bargain that has been accepted by prosecutors, defendants and a
federal court. And it's not clear why people who run a party in a privately
owned building can't ban glow sticks if they want to -- or if federal
prosecutors browbeat them into doing so.
But there was no good reason to include the ban on glow sticks in the
Brunets' plea bargain in the first place. It won't keep anyone from using
ecstasy or other so-called club drugs, any more than a ban on tie-dyed
clothes and Grateful Dead records would keep anyone from smoking marijuana.
The U.S. attorney's office must decide whether to appeal the decision, but
the ban on glow sticks is not worth fighting for.
From a humanitarian perspective alone, rave promoters should try to make
sure that their customers don't get hurt by abusing illegal drugs.
But the plea agreement in the State Palace case wouldn't prevent such
abuse. It was a declaration of war on the trap-pings of rave culture, but
it was unlikely to cause any appreciable improvement in the well-being of
Before Judge Porteous on Thursday, prosecutors made arguments that they
themselves must have recognized as silly. While Assistant U.S. Attorney
John Murphy allowed that glow sticks and pacifiers are not drug
paraphernalia, he also insisted that they help enhance the high caused by
Truth is, though, anything that is visible and has a smell, taste, sound or
texture -- which is to say, any object at all -- can cause a sensory rush
of some sort. Why single out glow sticks?
The June plea bargain was a convenient way out of the case for everyone
involved. The Brunet brothers escaped going to jail. Prosecutors got to
claim victory in their efforts to fight drugs at raves.
But in the end, the deal was little more than feel-good justice. And its
only real consequence is that a bunch of people may end up spending more
time in court.
MAP posted-by: Beth