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Methodology for Arbitrary & excessive: Marijuana trafficking sentences in Alabama

For the analysis within this report, the SPLC took a dataset of people incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections as of February 2020.

The information was scraped from the agency’s website and included individuals with charges of “TRAF CANNABIS 2.2-100 LBS.” The process returned 139 total individuals with a “TRAF CANNABIS 2.2-100 LBS” charge documented.

The pool was narrowed to 50 individuals with a “TRAF CANNABIS 2.2-100 LBS” charge, but no other charges running consecutively or concurrently, which allowed for an examination of how trafficking charges alone are prosecuted. With this information, we created a dataset of these 50 individuals, as well as their demographics, sentence terms, arrest location, county where convicted and other information found on ADOC’s website.

We examined each of the 50 cases and searched through court documents that included warrants, criminal complaints, indictments and any forensic analysis documents to determine the weight of the marijuana in question for each case. As noted in our analysis, 11 cases did not document a weight, five cases were marked “N/A” because they were documented as an item made with or from marijuana, such as gummy bears or butter.

This process left 34 cases with specific marijuana weights to analyze. Each case was examined again to determine if any sentencing enhancements were used, including a habitual felony offender enhancement, a firearm enhancement, school zone enhancement or public housing enhancement. Additionally, we documented each case where a firearm was seized during the arrest or as a part of a civil asset forfeiture case. We were able to determine prosecutors used the habitual felony offender enhancement in nine cases, and found only one case where a firearm enhancement was applied. We found seven cases where any firearms were seized.

Finally, we used a supplementary dataset of documented arrests scraped from Alacourt, the state’s online court case management system. This dataset was made up of cases labeled “trafficking-marijuana” and filed between 2015 and 2019, in order to examine a manageable number of cases filed in recent years. The dataset contained over 326 arrests. It also included information about the case status, such as whether it was dismissed. We did a similar analysis of marijuana weight for our arrests dataset and gathered information about outcomes of these arrests to help examine prosecutorial discretion across Alabama.