“I’m pretty sure I can get the drug possession charge dropped in exchange for a fine for the paraphernalia charge.”

“And what kind of fine do you think I’m looking at?”

“Probably $400–$500.”

“And that’s it?”

“Yup, then you’re done. You don’t need to ever come back to Wellton.”

So I thanked him and hung up. Then I called a friend who is a law clerk in San Diego.

I explained my whole story, and afterward she explained to me that it is in the court’s best interest to expedite cases like mine. There was a strong likelihood that the Arizona justice system wanted only my money, that they didn’t want to rehab me, monitor my probation, or put me in jail. “The public defender in Wellton (who is called from a pool of PD’s in Yuma) has a responsibility to defend you, to also try to get your charges reduced, or to at least work on your behalf. Just like the lawyer who offered to represent you for a fee.”

I delved a little further, to see if I could find a lawyer who might work more cheaply on my behalf. I found one in Wellton (less travel time I figured than the big boys from Phoenix) who, in a photo on his website, looked like a cowboy with an old pickup truck. His offer was also a flat fee–based one. For $1000 he would do the same thing as the first lawyer but also submit the paperwork to get the conviction removed from my record (which might take several months, he said).

My wife and I discussed it for a week or so. She made the point that Arizona didn’t want to have to jail me, monitor my probation, or rehab me. They just wanted to scare me and get some money. Having weighed all my options, I decided to save some money (that we didn’t have) and take my chances. I would return to Wellton to face the music.

My wife was nice enough to make the drive back to AZ with me. Early on the morning of my court date, we headed east toward Yuma on I-8. Déjà vu all over again.

Before we got as far as Dulzura, California, we came upon a Border Patrol checkpoint. The same checkpoint a month before had been casual. They’d barely slowed us down, waving us through at five miles per hour. Today, they were all business. They had a dog, stopped us for a moment, and when the dog didn’t respond, let us pass. So now, my friends, be forewarned that well before El Centro, as you head to Ocotillo or points east of San Diego, you might be stopped in a place you least expected to be. And those dogs have amazing olfactory skills.

We continued heading east, the day was beautiful with no traffic to speak of, and we made good time. At about noon, we reached the Wellton exit and looked for a place to eat. Court time was 1:30 p.m., and according to my watch, we had over an hour to kill. To frequent travelers on the interstate, Wellton used to be known as a speed trap, a section of desert where there’s so little to look at you might be inclined to go faster than usual. It’s well past Yuma and on the way to Gila Bend, Phoenix, and Tucson. These days, it’s got a slow, sleepy, agricultural feel that underscores all the activity happening on I–8 nearby. The Border Patrol seems to be the largest employer in town. Their headquarters occupy a mesa near the courthouse, packed with patrol cars and portable trailers for their offices, a virtual city.

Geronimo’s was the only place in town that looked as if it had any customers. It’s a small Mexican café filled with what I guessed was off-duty Border Patrol agents (the military-style haircut is hard to miss), and my longish hair, goatee, and sandals were a bit out of place.

We sat down to enjoy a cold beer, and as we looked at the menu, we figured that with the drive behind us, we were doing okay. We ordered lunch. The food coming to other tables looked really good. As I looked around, I noticed a small plastic clock on the wall. From across the room, it barely registered, but it looked as if it was 1:20.

I got up and walked closer to the register and asked a customer who was leaving, “Is that the right time?” “Yup,” he answered. Yikes. We had forgotten about the time difference between California and Arizona. So I asked the waitress to cancel our food order, and paid for our beers, and we scooted out of there and headed over to the court with minutes to spare.

The courthouse in Wellton is hard to forget. It is a series of trailers, built into a semi-permanent structure. The courtroom is about 20 x 20 feet, with a simple facade to mimic a judge’s seat and give a basic courtroom feel. The room was full when I arrived. An extra chair would be wedged into the room each time another defendant came in at the last minute.

Court got underway right away. Family members and visitors were allowed to watch and listen to the beginning of the process from the hallway. The judge explained the process: you would be offered a plea agreement that you could accept or reject. If you rejected it, you would offer a plea of not guilty and then be offered a chance to speak with a public defender about your case. At no point along the way would the judge or the prosecutor answer our individual questions. Having said that, the judge left the court, and the door was closed so that visitors in the hallway could no longer hear the proceedings.

The prosecutor was about 35 years old, trying to be very serious, with short buzzed hair, wearing a collared shirt and slacks from a Lands End catalog.


David Dodd Jan. 20, 2010 @ 1:22 p.m.

What a load of complete corruption. Great story, and a great example how injustices in many parts of the U.S. really works.


PistolPete Jan. 20, 2010 @ 3:24 p.m.

Nothing will change until WE THE PEOPLE, get off our lazy asses and do something about it. Save a doughnut-kill a cop...


reddragonfly Jan. 21, 2010 @ 1:08 p.m.

refriedgringo and Pistol Pete -

Just so I'm clear on where your heads are - what mental dysfunction have you been diagnosed with? This is a serious inquiry because you both comment regularly and I want to be able to know that I'm not wasting my time since the Reader doesn't edit comments.

One commentor uses words of "corruption" and "injustice" because someone went to ANOTHER state; broke THEIR law and had to pay a fine.

The other one advocates murder just so he can smoke pot. A weed has more importance than a life. By the way, "WE THE PEOPLE" also includes those of us who don't care what illegal or self-destructive behaviour you do as long as you (and any other consenting adults) keep it within your four walls.

I appreciated that Mr. Graham's recounting of his experience in Arizona was informative, a "heads up" for others and respectful to Arizona's process. I'm sure Mr. Graham is intelligent enough to know that it's not all about the money for Arizona.

Mr. Graham's approach might make me vote for legalizing the purchase of marijuana even though I don't smoke - refried gringo's and Pistol Pete's would not.


PistolPete Jan. 21, 2010 @ 1:12 p.m.

First off, I don't smoke pot anymore. Second, if you're as much for freedom as you'd like to claim, why isn't pot legal already? The War on Drugs has failed and died a miserable death. Anyone can see that Arizona is only in it for the $$$. F Arizona, f the cops for participating in the death of America and f you for sticking up for these csuckers!


David Dodd Jan. 21, 2010 @ 5:36 p.m.

reddragonfly: If you read the story carefully, you will note how the checkstop is used as a source of revenue. By using the Border Patrol, a function that is supposed to be curbing illegal immigrants, the "great State of Arizona" is threatening felonies on recreational users of marijuana. They are counting on nabbing travellers that don't know any different State to State. Certainly, individual States are able to treat certain laws any way they choose, and the injustice is that revenue is gained by utilizing Federal agents to enforce State law. To believe that this is not all about money seems naive on your part.

And before you ask, I do not use marijuana nor any other drug.


samadams Jan. 22, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

Yeah, what a LAME System we have....and I say "we" because California is no different...go figure...a state that may as well fully legalize marijuana in order to get us outta this "deficit of doom" we're in. If you've ever been subjected to THE SYSTEM, you find out really quick that it has alot to do with money...if you get in trouble...you go to court and pay fees...then if you go on probation, you pay an "enrollment fee" (wtf?)...then theres community service, which the county gets paid for also, you'd be suprised how much someone pays the county for a van full free labor..(wtf?x2)...then there is the strong possibility that you go to rehab or classes of some sort, which again youre paying for...most counselors or facilitators that run these classes dont care wether youre fixed or not, just another dollar sign walking thru the door...have another relapse with the law?...payday again for the man, cha ching! Those small towns like the one mentioned in this article just love operations like the one they are using out there in BFE...just imagine if that border patrol checkpoint didnt exist? that town would probably shrivel up and turn to dust! I agree with the fact that if you do something illegal, be prepared to face the music...HOWEVER when you go to a court system that has a prosecutor giving a blanket, "here's the deal we have for you" statement...you gotta be kidding!!! talk about quick money, process in/process out so we can call it a day and go home...guess what, when you enforce laws or regulations be prepared to put in the time...Im not coming in for a quickie! This whole article just stinks like crooked-a** good ole boy politics. It wouldnt suprise me if DHS isnt getting a kickback somewhere, somehow, someway from the town of Wellton. I work for a very, very, large organization and you find out after you've been around for awhile, even the most disciplined and straight-laced peeps out there manipulate when its beneficial to them...and I wouldnt categorize our counties or states depts to that same level...youre kidding yourself if you do. Awesome article...the average mo who's never been in any kind of trouble or been subjected to the machine wont grasp any of this feedback that myself, gringo or pistolpete deposit..I would expect either validation or frustration...


PistolPete Jan. 22, 2010 @ 11:28 p.m.

reddragonfly-I've been on YouTube tonight transfering over a thousand of my favorite videos to playlists and came across this golden oldie. Hope you enjoy...



SDaniels Jan. 23, 2010 @ 6:27 p.m.

re: #7: one eye roll

So, have you seen Ice T's recent girlfriend?


PistolPete Jan. 23, 2010 @ 9:48 p.m.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...


sickgirl1503 Jan. 24, 2010 @ 1:32 p.m.

So the exact same thing happend to us and when I was reading your story I had to ask my husband if was telling anyone else what had happend. We actually we bored on day and decided to drive to Yuma, what a mistake. As soon as we crossed over the state line we were followed by the Border Patrol helicopter and it's spot light.Keep in mind that we are two of the whitest people you'll ever meet both being Irish. When we pulled over to find a decent hotel, a Border Partol officer pulled up behind us and actually started when he saw who was in the car, asked us if we had been to Mexico and sent us on our way. Then the next day we decided to head North to Bullhead City where I have family, and that's when we got stopped at the checkpoint with less than a gram of Medical Marijuana on us. My husband took responsibilty for it and got a ticket and were told we'd have to appear for court in 1 month. So in a months time we appeared in court and the judge laid down fines and my husbands options very similar to yours. Apparently even if you don't come back to court the Public Defender's office will still send you a bill.


PistolPete Jan. 24, 2010 @ 2:09 p.m.

F the Border Patrol. Someone needs to remind them that the border is....well, the border. The Border isn't 50 miles north of the border. It's not in L.A. It's the border. Border Parol agents are some of the biggest pieces of s on the planet. GED rent-a-cops.


jerome Jan. 25, 2010 @ 9:31 a.m.

redragonfly: yep complete injustice and MASSIVE CORUPUTION ; zonie's i've heard ya called since moving here with the californicators, used to be a tree sitter thats what ya all call oregonians well, we all have our fun eh? And feel we got the clue on the good life but let me tell ya red-fly you are the biggest part of the problem in america today i dont think it is arizona's corruption but yours ---personally yours ! i do try to try to think the best of people but when they expose themselfs with that kinda pycosis....i really have to dig deep for compasion

should i laugh or cry????????? oh yes my diagnosis of psycosis is a professional one;you are a sick man.


SDaniels Jan. 26, 2010 @ 12:19 a.m.

"yes my diagnosis of psycosis is a professional one"

Snort. Sorry Jerome, but that is just too funny...;)


whathappened July 13, 2010 @ 9:28 p.m.

Besides the fact that this "recreational drug user" checkpoint is a ruse to financially support a town with no industry but law enforcement, both the writer and commenters miss the fact that the use of drug dogs themselves are a ruse. If every encounter between drug dog and vehicle were videotaped, it would become clear that it's not the dogs that decide which cars to stop, it's the dog handlers (usually National Guards). Training of both dogs and handlers is insufficient, and conditions at the checkpoints are not conducive to accuracy or reliability. These dogs don't have as much training as service dogs, and records of "false negatives" are not kept, or, if they are, are not publicized. The allegation that the "dog" smelled drugs is simply an excuse to search your vehicle, because without the "dog" telling them to search your car, the search would be unconstitutional. Now you can't question your accuser in court when that accuser is a dog, can you? It is my understanding that performance and records of dog handlers and dogs are so inaccurate that dog handlers no longer wish to appear as witnesses in depositions or court appearances that are videotaped, because they are caught in so many discrepancies and inaccuracies. Also, at least one dog handler, when asked in court what the "signal" or "alert" was that the dog exhibited when it found drugs in the car was, told the court that the "signal" was a secret, and different for each dog handler and dog, and was known only to the dog and the handler. The handlers are profiling cars with out of state plates, cars driven or occupied by minorities, and other types of cars they (not the dog) believe might contain drugs. If they had to prove that the dog actually signaled on each vehicle they pulled over (such as videotaped evidence) and hand over records showing the accuracy rates of both the dogs and handlers (how many times they searched cars that did not contain drugs), these ridiculous checkpoints would eventually be proven unconstitutional and seen for what they truly are - money making schemes disguised as "border protection", and supported by people who have no education in civil liberties.


whathappened July 14, 2010 @ 8:09 a.m.

Also the location of these checkpoints makes no sense. If I were an "illegal immigrant", I'd be leaving Arizona as fast as possible, most likely through California - but they are searching cars on a road that not only does not cross the international border, but this particular checkpoint searches cars coming INTO Arizona. This is because people IN Arizona already know about the checkpoints. Recreational drug users in AZ leave their drugs at home when they drive through checkpoints. The checkpoints aren't stopping drug use. They have to catch unsuspecting people, people who assume they have constitutional rights, like out of towners coming into Arizona for tourism or job purposes, or those traveling through the state to get somewhere else. This is why the majority of cars pulled over are from out of state. This is why the prosecutor does his spiel about Oregon, Washington, and California. They WANT to catch medical marijuana users from these states. It's not at all about "illegal immigrants" at this checkpoint, it's all about small time recreational personal drug use, and nothing else (well, besides the money they get from these unsuspecting motorists). And if you listen carefully while you wait for them to search your car, you'll here the staff at these checkpoints bragging about wild parties, excessive drinking, their own marijuana use, unlawful driving, and all kinds of stuff that they are arresting or citing people at the checkpoint for. Somewhere I read a quote from a law enforcement officer trying to justify searching, citing, and arresting "grandmothers" for small amounts of marijuana. He basically said that ultimately the "grandmother's" marijuana comes from the drug cartels in Mexico, so grandmothers are contributing to drug violence. There are a few things wrong with this logic. No one buys Mexican marijuana - it call comes from BC and California. Also, if you want to put the drug cartels out of business, legalize marijuana and grow it in the U.S.. The drug cartels are no longer about small time marijuana use, and these checkpoints are rarely if ever impacting them.


whathappened July 16, 2010 @ 10:28 p.m.

The whole thing is a complete scam. That checkpoint is actually designated by law enforcement as "Project Stone Garden". Now you can't tell me that that's the best name for an immigration checkpoint. I-8 is not at the border, and never crosses any international border. They are only stopping cars on the way INTO Arizona, and not on the way out. If they ticket approximately 200 people a week for marijuana possession alone, that equates to roughly $400 per ticket for the county, or $80,000 per week in revenue (over $4 million dollars per year). Without the checkpoint, as someone said, Yuma County would dry up and blow away.

And it turns out, the dog handlers now refuse to testify on videotape because they started to get caught in so many inaccuracies and discrepancies. Also, they don't keep records of the dogs' "false positive alerts" - where the dog allegedly tells its handler there are drugs in the car and it turns out there are no drugs. And when one handler was asked in court what the signal was that the dog gave when the dog smelled drugs (because nobody can tell when the dog signals), she told the court that the signal is different for each dog and that the alert signal is a "secret" between the dog and the handler.

Now how can a DOG determine probable cause? You can't question a dog in court. It's like using a divining rod or something. It's the handler that's doing the profiling, not the dog. Out of state plates? Check. Crappy car? Check. Minority? Check. Mexican? Shoot 'Em.

It's all so maddening. Even a local public defender got pulled over and searched after a dog "alerted" his car, and this guy is straight laced. Everyone but law enforcement readily admits that it's a ploy to get money from travelers, mainly from California/Oregon/Washington, who don't know the checkpoints are there. According to the author of this blog, the prosecutor rants about how Arizona won't recognize medical marijuana cards from those states

I can't believe none of these cases have gone to higher courts on the basis of illegal searches.


vshely Aug. 3, 2010 @ 2:35 p.m.

Mr. Graham,

I just had the same situiation happen to me on my way to Arizona

and have been given a court date in Wellton this August, I was

wondering what you think will happen to me, or if you have any

other in sight or words of wisdom you could provide, it would

be very appreciated. Thank you for your time in advance and

thank you for the article.



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