Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

The Over Simplification of the Drug Sentencing

Posted by Adam Graham on March 11, 2007

Radical Russ has a post about two men before the same judge who received disparate treatment:

Story #1: A seventeen-year-old high school dropout is walking with a friend of the same age. They happen upon a man. The friend pulls a pistol and they rob the man, but only get $2 cash, and give the wallet back to the man. Cops catch the kids and haul them before Judge Keith Dean. They plead guilty, he sentences the dropout to 10 years probation.

Story #2: A man picks up a male prostitute and pays him $30 for some sex. Afterwards, the two have a disagreement and the man shoots the prostitute in the back, killing him, and steals money out of the prostitute’s pocket. The man is brought to the court of Judge Keith Dean. The man pleads not guilty and he claims he shot the prostitute in the back on accident in self-defense. The prosecutor and defense come up with a plea bargain…The man agrees to plead guilty to murder in exchange for 10 years probation.

The first man messed up and was sentenced to life in prison and is just getting out. The second has had several breeches of paraole and has never seen the wall of the prison.

It’s obvious what the problem was. State-sanctioned discrimination against straights! Don’t believe me? Makes as much sense as the racial component.

Aside from these differences, there are some material differences between the two men:

1) Class:

We have a high school dropout v. a well-connected man who can hire fine attorneys. Does that have anything to do with this? I’d say so. More likely than not, having a good attorney is a key factor to working a deal. If you were to posit to me that rich people had a better chance of getting good treatment in court, I’d agree, but race has nothing to do with it. (Hello, OJ Simpson.)

2) Likelihood of Being Convicted Again:

I hate to say it, but at least at the initial hearing, the judge had a point in responding harshly to the young man. Let’s understand this. We have a guy who:

1) Got a woman pregnant out of wedlock

2) Robbed someone at gun point.
3) Used drugs

Statistically, the guy was headed for more and greater trouble. One thing about being well-connected is that you generally are thought to have friends who will help keep you on or get you back on the straight and narrow.

This guy had no network, no community, no nothing. The judge looked at this and said, “There’s no end of the trouble.”

A judge has to make a choice with limited prison space, not everyone can go. Who posed the greatest risk to society? Given his decision to join a gang inside prison, who would say it could be different outside?

While I’m not defending the sentence, what I’m saying is that this situation is far less simplistic than Russ is making it out to be and arguments like this don’t do the cause of reasoned debate or finding a solution a service.

And might I add while the fact that the person who was robbed only had $2 may make the robber more sympathetic, but it’s really quite irrelevant. The crime of armed robbery is not based on the fact that the robber was unlucky, it’s based on the fact he stuck a gun in someone’s face and demanded his wallet. He clearly hoped the man was carrying more than $2, but even that doesn’t matter. He threatened someone with a gun to get what he wanted. That’s the crime.

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