December 29, 2005


College Student Sues Over Mistaken Drug Bust (AP, 12/29/05)

When college freshman Janet Lee packed her bags for a Christmas trip home two years ago, her luggage contained three condoms filled with flour - devices that she and some friends made as a joke.

Philadelphia International Airport screeners found the condoms, and their initial tests showed they contained drugs. The Bryn Mawr College student was arrested on drug trafficking charges and jailed. Three weeks later, she was released after a lab test backed her story, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

Lee filed a federal lawsuit last week against city police, seeking damages for pain and suffering, financial loss, and emotional distress. She was arrested on Dec. 21, 2003, and was held on $500,000 bail and faced up to 20 years in prison had she been convicted of the drug charges.

"I haven't let myself be angry about what happened, because it would tear me apart," Lee said. "I'm not sure I can bear to face it. I'm amazed at how naive I was."

Forget her suing them, why aren't they prosecuting her for the hoax?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2005 4:00 PM

I doubt very much that a crime has been comitted--by the student. If there were a crime, it would be of the nature of a false report to law enforcement. The problem with anything in that vein is that she made no such report: the piggies did all the reporting, and the falsehood was theirs.

When the bacon grease and donut crumbs have been cleared away, the ugly probability emerges that some or other jack-booted thug just flat-out lied about the flour field-testing for a controlled substance.

This is nothing like pointing a Geiger counter at a mosque, this is about an intentional lie which demeans the entire legal system.

In about a month, I shall be called for jury duty. I can imaging the judge asking the panel, "Would anyone give special weight to the testimony of a policeman just because he is a policeman?" and then banging his gavel, "Mr. Gots! Stop that laughing!"

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 29, 2005 5:14 PM


It seems quite likely that pretending to smuggle drugs, or any contraband, through a federal checkpoint is criminal:

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2005 5:26 PM

If not it should be. Could it have been a setup by her? Or by her friends and she took advantage of it?

Posted by: Genecis at December 29, 2005 5:32 PM

if she had swallowed the condoms and then been x-ray'd then that would may be construed as pretending to smuggle drugs. having a sausage shaped item in your luggage that you say is filled with flour isn't. gues carrying any baked good is grounds for arrest in oj land. bizzarre.

Posted by: toe at December 29, 2005 6:45 PM

It sounds like she and a bunch of her friends were trying to pull a gotcha and she got gotchaed. All her own fault. I hope the case is dismissed with prejudice.

Don't the air inspectors have enough to worry about without these juvenile tricks by punk kids to worry about. Stupid trick by a stupid kid. Hope she learned something from it but apparently she didn't.

Posted by: dick at December 29, 2005 7:35 PM

Has anyone read the article?

This was a state prosecution, not a federal. The Philadelphia Police put a citizen through the system on a lie concerning the field test.

This was not an innocent mistake. They are going to pay on this one, and they should do more than pay money.

Whoever made the false statement should do time for official oppression. Either the field test was negative, and the J.B.T. (jack-booted thug)falsely reported it as positive, or the test was never done, and he falsely reported both that he had conducted it and that it was positive.

It has been a long time since I practiced in Philadelphia criminal courts, but this case would not have surprised me. They screw up the evidence, then they lie about it to cover the screw-up. Most of the time, the only harm done is to the integrity of the system, inasmuch as the defendant is so guilty of so much that he's going down anyway--but not all of the time.

We need to get a grip on reality. What happens when the victim of the bogus evidence and false report is you or your son or daughter? This "the policeman is your friend," business is infantile. Solzhenitsyn had it rightly: when they want a conviction, and they don't have anybody better, you'll do.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 29, 2005 7:42 PM

Lou: Lost most of your cases in Philly?

Posted by: Bob at December 29, 2005 8:08 PM

Lou's ranting aside, the fact is the student did something very stupid and was made to pay for it. Similar case around here recently where a high school student was telling friends he was going to blow up the school and was then flabbergasted when the police etc showed up and smacked him around.

Stupidity is not a defense.

Posted by: AWW at December 29, 2005 8:22 PM

Bob: As a matter of fact, no, I got more than my share of walks, just by attacking the police. The plan was to find the mistake, and then go after the lies made to cover up the mistake. Juries know about police misconduct too. To be frank, I won cases for no other reason than that the jurors entertained doubts about the honesty of the police witnesses.

And there we have the heart of the problem. Far from being a "rant," insistance on bourgiose conventions such as "truth," and a disapproval of lying J.B.T.'s are the real "law and order" positions. Lawyers like to know whether a prospective juror has been the victim of a crime. More important than that is whether the panelist knows of someone who has been falsely accused and falsely prosecuted.

Who can forget the infamous Norwthwest Detectives scandal in which innocent Philadelphians were railroaded so that some piggies could accumulate overtime for court testimony. Fortunately some Nazi bastards got real hard time for that one.

This is a very practical problem. When politics produces incompetent law enforcement, the guilty go free because the police are often mistrusted, and the innocent are jailed because sometimes they are believed. How many guilty people do you think got off because jurors knew that the police had been framing people? What do you think is supposed to happen? Should jurors put aside their doubts because the boys in blue are doing the best they can?

I am actually ashamed that commenters on this site are oblivious to the banality of the evil of lying police, or that they dare to posit equivalency between a childish prank and official oppression.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 29, 2005 9:24 PM


The comments of people on this site don't surprise me. I heard the same things in my 4th Amendment Search & Seizure class in law school. When I would argue against the increasing incroachment on privacy and personal liberty, the argument was, "well, the guys in the cases were guilty, so, of course, they thought the law was unfair!"

This was the argument until one of those persons was pulled over on a routine traffic stop. He showed the cop his conceal & carry license and pointed to where his gun was. The cop's attitude was that this man, simply for having a C&C license, was suddenly a mortal threat to him, and he put the guy through hell, tearing apart his truck, before letting him go. And this was for a routine traffic stop. Everybody thinks the law is ok until it affects them.

Posted by: sharon at December 29, 2005 9:43 PM

and when it's one of their children in jail for 3 weeks, then we can enjoy their jokes and hard ass attitudes.

Posted by: instant karma at December 29, 2005 10:47 PM

Practical jokers always deserve what happens to themselves when their warped ideas of what constitutes humor backfires big time, no matter how gruesome or minor. They are an evil that''s difficult to stop because jokers are too moronic to learn by any other method. This example is no exception.

But it seems to me that what we've got here are examples competing stupidity, and no one should be rewarded for being stupid. The punk kid shouldn't making the big bucks, and the cops involved should be looking for a new line of work, preferably one with close adult supervision.

The real problem is that when police misconduct does occur, the cops involved don't get punished, and bad guys get off, or worse. Everybody lives happily ever after except the tax payers who pay for it all.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 29, 2005 11:20 PM

Perhaps the field test for drugs WAS conducted, and some chemical on the condoms, a lubricant or spermicide, tested positive.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2005 2:41 AM


Seems like they'd learn a valuable lesson, no?

Posted by: oj at December 30, 2005 8:35 AM

Lou: Well, in that case, don't be so darn bitter. "jack booted thugs", you sound like Ramsey Clark.

(Not directed at you) but defense lawyers never lie or cheat of course. Or witnesses.

The article says that the airport screeners did the field test. Michael is certainly right, the test could have had a false positive which was not due to misconduct. In any event, it was further police tests that freed her. So I think the system worked well for her despite her reckless stupidity.

Posted by: Bob at December 30, 2005 9:26 AM

i am all for corrective lessons but putting someone's child in jail for 3 weeks is a horrifying misuse of power. i would have made her work as a screener for 3 weeks.

Posted by: instant karma at December 30, 2005 1:27 PM

This was NOT a practical joke on her part. She was so naive that she did not know that putting a white powder in a balloon-like object was something she shouldn't do. She was eighteen years old, grew up in such a conservative Korean-American household so that her parents didn't even speak English, and was going to an all girls school on full scholarship. Not every eighteen-year-old in this country is as devious as depicted through national stigma. She was naive, and did a stupid thing, but that doesn't mean she should be put in prison for three weeks. She was one of the only Asians in the prison and was tormented because of her race. As a girl growing up in California, people here are color blind and she had never been subjected to such prejudice before. Stop to think about what happens in prison. She was subjected to daily body cavity searches. Growing up in such a strict Korean-American household, she had never been seen naked by anyone before, needless to say, nobody had violated her in such a manner either. She stopped eating and sleeping in order to exert the only control over her life that she was able. Even when she was released from prison her life was still in turmoil; what do you want to bet that her way of exerting control over her life continued: anorexia? insomnia? She was trying to make up a lie to tell her parents about why she missed her flight. Obviously she did not have a strong enough working relationship with her parents where they would trust that the American government made a mistake and made her miss her plane; new immigrants trust the American system and see no faults in it. She had to fight to get her parents to believe she was innocent because of their immigrant beliefs. A hoax? You've got to be kidding me. She was so naive that she didn't know better. Your lack of empathy and understanding that somebody in this world would have less common sense and less than average knowledge of societal demands and connotations is appaling. You are missing the point: she was innocent and was held on half a million dollars bail, for three weeks, because she was carrying flour. The crime was committed by Philadelphia, not her! There is no law that states that one cannot carry flour onto an airplane. She was not trying to "pull one over" on the authorities. She was very naive. You obviously think that the punishment should equal the crime in weight. That is quite logical and I agree with you, however, I do not see how carrying ordinary flour on an airplane deserves three weeks in a Philadelphia prison. Additionally, I do not think that Philadelphia should owe only $100,000 to her: she should be sueing for a lot more money. She was featured on MSNBC yesterday, and The Today Show on NBC this morning. The minute you see her and listen to her tell her story, you can see the innocence and pain in her eyes. She was scared and still is. She is sueing in order to prevent this from happening to anybody else, not to get money. If it were for the money, she would be sueing for a lot more! This cannot happen to anybody else, and that is why this is being brought into national spotlight. A few years back some Philadelphia cops were convicted of falsifying drug tests for their own benefit (pats on the back from superiors and moving up in the ranks.) Although the were removed from the force, it is apparent that this type of behavior is still going on, and that is unacceptable. She could have sat in prison indefinitely; it was just a stroke of luck that the priest took pity on her mother and contacted the church in Phildelphia that then agreed to pay for a lawyer on her behalf. What if this were your child, what if this were you? This has changed her forever, and it takes courage that we cannot comprehend in order to relive this experience, admit to her naivety and stupidity in front of the entire nation, and stand up for her rights. You should be commending her instead of wripping her apart. You don't know enough about the case to be making the assertations you have made; do your research and then post again.

Posted by: Breanne at December 31, 2005 1:56 PM


Then why did she do it?

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 2:14 PM

At a "hall tea" the entire dorm made stress relievers-- condoms stuffed with flour-- to squeeze during finals. She brought three of them home as gag gifts for her friends in California. She thought the phallic gag gift was funny; she knew three of her friends would too. It wasn't a gag for the airlines or the security guards, it was a gag for her friends. She didn't realize that bringing a white powder on an airplane would raise eyebrows. She was too naive to realize that her white elephant Christmas presents looked exactly like drugs. She just didn't know.

Posted by: Breanne at December 31, 2005 3:03 PM

We elders think too well of you to believe you're that silly. At any rate, her lawsuit disposes of any sympathy anyone might have had for her and puts to rest the notion she's an innocent.

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:09 PM

"Then why did she do it?"

Try reading the actual story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, not the AP rewrite of it on some site called "" Or even just scan more than the four-paragraph excerpt you snipped from the AP story, whose fifth paragraph includes this: "She said she made them as a joke and would squeeze them to relieve stress."

Perhaps that would have stopped you from writing the ill-informed initial post, and blindly defending it for two entire days, in the first place.

Then again, with a thought process that allows the formulation of such ideas as, "her lawsuit puts to rest the notion she's an innocent," there's no telling what you'd have done. (Love the notion that to be "innocent" an American must be sufficiently acquainted with the seedier aspects of American culture -- what, drug movies? drug-dealing friends? -- to actively guard against looking non-innocent. Good Lord.)

Posted by: Christopher at December 31, 2005 5:44 PM


Yes, we're familiar with the hollow excuses cooked up later, but are we really to believe young people are that stupid these days?

What's the joke after all once you remove the seedy part?

Posted by: oj at December 31, 2005 5:52 PM

To quote Christopher, "Good lord!!" For years items similar to the ones that Janet and her dorm-mates made have been sold in stores: balloons filled with corn starch or flour. The joke was that it was a condom, so it looked like they were squeezing a penis instead of just a regular balloon. The joke was not that they were squeezing something that looks like a drug smuggling device. To a dorm full of eighteen-year-old girls going to an all-girls school, condoms are funny!

In regards to your question of whether you are to believe that young people are that stupid these days? YES, you are supposed to believe that. I feel incredibly sorry for anybody who believes that this world is full of people who are devious and are not sheltered by their parents. We need more people who have been sheltered, maybe then we would have more kids who got a kick out of a condom filled with flour to be used as a stress reliever, and wouldn't need to go around getting drunk, having sex at the age of 14, and whatever else you think that ALL kids seem to do now.

Do you honestly believe that a teenager should be punished because she was raised in a sheltered household? I sure hope not. Regardless, she sure as hell shouldn't be sent to a Philadelphia prison for three weeks because of it.

Not everybody had the "luxury" as you may call it, of hanging out with druggie friends, and knowing the ins and outs of a druggie society. Should she really have been punished because she'd never heard of somebody smuggling white-powder drugs in balloons before? If the airlines don't want white powdered substances in balloon-like objects on their planes, they should put it in writing.

Besides, we're getting off topic. The police either did not do a test, the equipment was not properly cleaned, or the results were falsified. No, ignorance of a law is not a valid excuse. However, there was no law against what she did. The only law that was broken was the police sending her to jail for three weeks because she took flour on an airplane. This is America; we don't just lock people up because we want to teach them a lesson-- we lock people up because they have broken a law.

Janet did not make up excuses later. She promptly told the police what the objects in her suitcase were and why they were there. She has made the same assertation the entire time; her story has never changed.

As Christopher stated earlier, read the article. I am asking you to download her interviews on MSNBC and NBC's "The Daily Show" as well. Watch them and then see if you really think she's trying to "pull one over" on the American public and the Philadelphia police department.

Posted by: Breanne at January 1, 2006 5:34 AM


Yes, the punishment of being arrested for doing something like this seems entirely justified. Her filing a lawsuit over her own stupid action unjustifiable. Growing up means taking responsibility for your own mistakes--not blaming others.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 9:17 AM