Special Counsel’s Questionable Testimony in Support of DC’s Draconian Liquid PCP Possession Penalties

Unlike every other drug you can (illegally) possess in the District, the D.C. Council has made possession of any amount of liquid PCP a felony punishable by up to 3 years and/or $3000 fine.* In part, this was because the D.C. Council felt that PCP is a more dangerous drug than other so-called “hard drugs,” in that the Council believes that:

Although a person might commit a crime related to heroin or cocaine (usually a robbery to obtain the money to purchase the heroin or cocaine), individuals often commit crimes because they are on PCP. PCP give users the feeling of strength and invulnerability.

Obviously, the D.C. Council has collectively forgotten the ’80’s and the heyday of powder cocaine. Anyway, the D.C. Council then goes on to list several bizarre crimes committed on PCP as testified to by Patricia Riley, special council to the U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ms. Riley testified that:

A friend I talked to about this testimony this morning remembered a case where a man stabbed his girlfriend 57 times. I remember a case where a woman put her baby in the microwave and turned it on.

There was no support or testimony about any actions Ms. Riley may have taken to verify that these acts actually occurred. Unsupported urban legends don’t belong in sworn testimony to the D.C. Council.

While there have been a couple of cases where a woman microwaved a baby, and a few more where a man was involved, none had any link to PCP (although one case where a man put his baby in the microwave after smoking pot all day and splitting a fifth of whiskey with his girlfriend claimed that the marijuana may have been laced with PCP or another hallucinogen). I could find absolutely no news articles about a man stabbing her girlfriend 57 times while high on PCP – one would expect this to make the news, no? But why let truth get in the way of a good story?

Ms. Riley also listed case studies of crimes involving PCP, which presumably were more fact based (I am not going to check each one), but that does not excuse the fact that she felt the need to testify to the above unsupported horror stories to get the Council to pass this draconian law.

Anyway, I certainly don’t support PCP or other drug use, but I don’t judge it either (unless you’re one of my children, in which case, Bad Kiddie!). But the fact is, no drug compares to alcohol when considering involvement in violent crime. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports, based on a review of DOJ statistics, that alcohol is involved in 40% of all violent crime in the U.S. But we ignore the link between alcohol and crime because we tried that unsuccessfully in Prohibition.

The real reason for the extra-harsh penalties for possession of liquid PCP is that the D.C. Council believes that liquid PCP is more consistent with distribution than use, but doesn’t want to make prosecutors have to prove it.  Notwithstanding its recounting of the horrors committed by PCP users, the D.C. Council says that its action “should not be considered as a bill to punish users.” The Council stated its belief that “sellers typically carry liquid, [but] users typically carry one or two dippers.” This shows that the D.C. Council intended to incorporate an unrebuttable presumption that a person possessing liquid PCP intended to distribute, a presumption that results in unconstitutional burden shifting to defendants.

* These are maximum penalties, not the likely penalties; as a felony, sentencing would most likely follow the sentencing guidelines, which would recommend 6-18 months (some or all of which could be suspended) for conviction for possession of liquid PCP for a person with very little criminal history. By contrast, simple possession of other drugs, including PCP in any other form (powder, dipper, etc.) is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 180 days (also not the likely sentence in many cases).