Small Time Drug Busts At Sierra Blanca

Roughly 85 miles southeast of El Paso along interstate 10 stands the now notorious immigration inspection checkpoint of Sierra Blanca - made famous by the many high-profile celebrity drug busts occurring there. For instance, agents at this particular well-travelled border crossing have stopped Willie Nelson, Fiona Apple, Armie Hammer and Snoop Dogg for alleged drug-related crimes.

While many may be surprised to discover a busy border checkpoint in such a remote area of West Texas, agents at Sierra Blanca routinely inspect 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles crossing the U.S. and Mexican border on a normal workday. And, given the large number of drug arrests at this checkpoint - in particular arrests related to marijuana possession - local officials are now claiming that the costs associated with detaining and prosecuting these small-time drug busts are unsustainable and putting great strain on the county's budget.

expansion of drug arrests at sierra blanca

Sierra Blanca is located in the Border Patrol's Big Bend sector, which currently has some of the highest rates of drug-related arrests in the nation. In fact, according to a review of government data by The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Big Bend sector had the second largest number of drug-related busts of any sector in 2011 with 2,102 - representing an astonishing 300 percent increase from 2009.

Not surprising, the number of agents in this area has tripled in order to meet enforcement demands. Consequently, this "immigration checkpoint" has essentially become a drug checkpoint as mostly U.S. citizens are the ones being arrested.

Interestingly, however, the federal government routinely declines to prosecute small-time drug busts at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, instead relying on local law enforcement and courts to deal with these offenders. And, although the federal government does provide some funds to the county to detain and prosecute these individuals, county officials claim these fund are inadequate.

According to the county officials, it costs the county $2 to jail and prosecute offenders for every $1 it receives from the federal government and seized assets. It has become so expensive to prosecute these low-level drug crimes that the local Sheriff recently told WAMC News that it isn't fair to burden local taxpayers with the extra costs and that he plans on stopping the practice of prosecuting drug cases for the federal government.

Unfortunately, this situation is just the most recent example of the problems associated with the need to prosecute and jail each and every minor drug offense - although the feelings in the U.S. regarding this belief may be shifting. Recently, the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated that federal prosecutors will likely start charging defendants accused of low-level drug crimes so that they will not be subject to current mandatory sentences. According to Holder, long prison sentences for these individuals serves no good "law enforcement reason."

However, this should not mean that those charged with drug-related crimes should take the situation lightly. Accordingly, if you are currently facing drug charges it is generally best to seek the counsel of an experienced drug crimes defense attorney.