The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let's rumble

A few evenings ago I was having a drink with a former judge, another lawyer and a journalist. I know. I know. Nothing good can come of that. Anyway, the discussion turned, as it will, to Prohibition. I ventured the opinion that it is immoral for a judge to hear a legal case brought under an immoral law.

The former judge said vehemently, "Judges take an oath to defend and enforce the law. They don't have the option to refuse to hear a case." I replied that judges once were forced to say, as a matter of federal law, that a runaway slave had to be returned to his owner regardless of the fact that he had escaped to a non-slave state.

Everyone in this group tells me that the drug laws are, at the very least, ineffective. I think they all agree with me that the drug laws are counterproductive. All four of us are affected negatively by the drug laws. All of us would redraft Prohibition laws for the better (not achieving that would take REAL effort). However, our drafts would vary widely. Each of us would attempt to redraft the law in a form that benefited us personally; not selfishly, or intentionally to someone else's depredation, but because we each have a different perspective on the issues involved.

A little later in the discussion, I mentioned the obvious fact that in the case of misdemeanor pot and paraphernalia cases, it was all about the money. The former judge nearly came unglued. "I've never seen a judge take into consideration the amount of money for the state that is involved in a case."

I like this guy, and he has done me a favor or two, but that statement is just wilfull blindness. Judges in petty offense and misdemeanor cases have little else to think of. Judges set the fines, for Christ's sake. Well, at least within a range provided by the legislature, who most definitely take into consideration the amount of money for the state that is involved in a case.

In a city/county jurisdiction, misdemeanor pot and paraphernalia offenses serve a couple of purposes at least. They provide a steady stream of easy guilty pleas which builds numbers for the state's attorneys' offices. Those numbers directly translate into federal drug money distributed to local law enforcement. I'll take a stab and say the Rapid City police and sheriff's department are funded more than 40% of their total budget by federal money. Places like Deadwood and Belle Fourche are probably federally funded more than 60%.

They also provide a steady flow of $250-$1000 fines. "Getting-caught" taxes.

I'll sign off now by making a statement or two of my opinion. Any cop who thinks he's doing a good thing by arresting people for possession is too stupid to be allowed to play with guns. Judges and lawyers who accept drug cases are propagating the plague.

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