Dennis Roberts, via email, 9 June 2016
Ahhh, cop math. Today I read a new story about drug trafficking; a huge marijuana raid involving several grow houses in Oakland and the Sinaloa cartel. 15 were arrested. In one paragraph the police say the marijuana was worth almost $4 million dollars. A couple of paragraphs later they say they cannot estimate the value of the marijuana. How is this possible? Simple. The cops found a note which said “this marijuana is worth almost 4 million dollars” but it was not notarized so they couldn’t be sure. It’s simple to figure it out just like the cops do. It’s cop math. Just take the poundage and make an assumption. Each pound yields X joints. Ascribe a value to a joint and multiply. Cop math. No officer you cannot use your calculator. You’ve done hundreds maybe thousands of search and seizures. And yet you need a calculator. What about a pencil and paper?
A number of years ago I had a heroin case in Hayward. They had a warrant where the snitch, known, in polite terms, as a “confidential informant” with the obligatory history of reliability in past snitchings and who was a good citizen and such said there were two packages of heroin in a cereal box in my client’s kitchen. One weighed one pound and the other a half pound. Cops came in with a warrant and sure enough easily found the heroin and that’s what the packages weighed.
Me: So officer did you wait until you got to the station to do the weighing or did you use the scale that was there and which is now in evidence.
Cop: I used the scale there
Me: but that’s an Ohaus scale isn’t it
Me: and it is graded in grams isn’t it
Me: so you did the math in your head right
Me: so how many grams are in a half pound
Cop: [absolute silence]
me: let me help you out here. Let’s say there are about 28 grams in an ounce. So how many grams in a half pound
Cop: [silence continues]
Me: ok. Let’s make it easier. Let’s say there are 16 ounces in a pound. So how many grams in a half pound [more silence – but now the jury is laughing]
Me: ok let me help you out a little more here. If a pound has 16 ounces how many ounces are in a half pound [more silence – juror yells out “8”. Jury laughs].
Me: look if there are 28 grams in an ounce and juror number 3 helped you out by telling you there were 8 ounces in a half pound, how many grams were in what you tell us was a half pound. Now I walk up to the bench and snatch a yellow pad and pencil. “May I, your honor.” Here officer. Here is a pad and pencil. Now write down 28. Remember that’s one gram. Now you learned from juror number 3 that there are 8 oz in a half pound so you simply take 28 and multiply by 8. OK, what’s the number. [very long painful silence]. DA, who is now a judge and was an especially vicious DA, asks for a recess. He comes over to me but trips over his big box of files [now jury is in hysterics].
By the way, my guy is on trial with his much younger cousin. Cousin is about to go to trial on a dead bang 4+ pound cocaine case. The DA says if they both take a year in county jail he’ll dump the cocaine case. I tell him “why should my guy do that. When the jury stops laughing this trial is over.” “But – but – but – his cousin is going to prison on the cocaine case.” “And?” “Mr Roberts you have an obligation to ask your client”. So I do. I explain the deal and tell him if he agrees to a year in county jail (at that time on a County year an inmate would do 8 months) and cuz’ does the same they will drop cousin’s state prison cocaine case. Remember I am talking to a supposedly scum bag cold-hearted heroin dealer. My defendant looks at me (I was expecting an “are you nuts?”) and says “sure, I can do a year in county standing on my head” and we take the deal. Now let’s hear how all heroin dealers are blood sucking monsters who would run over mom if it helped them. How about this: Many are people with an addiction they can’t kick and this is the only way they can survive.
Another example of what my friend William Panzer calls “cop math.”
A brief biography of Dennis Roberts
I spent the summer of ’63 as a law student, then 1964-1966 as a young attorney working with C. B. King in [Albany] All-Benny, Georgia. I returned after I graduated law school at U. C. Berkeley where my then wife started the Albany Georgia Nursery School with C. B.’s wife, Carol King. It was enormously successful as it provided Head Start with living proof that you could run an interracial school in the deep South.
We then moved to NY where I was the first staff employee of the Center for Constitutional Rights (Arthur Kinoy, Bill Kunstler, Morty Stavis) I was there for three years and we returned to Berkeley where I did all the pre-trial work with Michael Tigar in the Chicago 8 and Angela Davis cases.
Among many, many others, I also represented Dennis Banks and we fought Dennis’ case for 13 years to a very successful conclusion.