An insider's view of what is really happening in the Harris County Criminal Courts
Murray, as a prosecutor, did you face any ethical or moral dilemmas about prosecuting non-violent drug offenders? I am a layperson, not a lawyer, but I don't think I could be a prosecutor, because the War on Drugs is so repugnant and offensive to me.
He won't need much time to prepare if the court has a Republican "4th Amendment my ass" Judge.
Anon 1:06 p.m.,I never considered it an ethical or moral dilemma when prosecuting a drug case, although I didn't get too fired up about them like I did on violent offenses. I'm certainly not a true believer in the War on Drugs, but I'm not a big fan of legalizing them all, either.There are ramifications that widespread addiction has on communities, and as a prosecutor I would often see elderly people in older neighborhoods who were too afraid to set foot outside their door because of the side effects that crack had caused there. Crack heads would take up residence in their front yards, and sometimes even Bogart their way into their homes. It is a very big mess to try and sort out, but I don't know what the solution could be.
Murray,Are you sure your use of the term "Bogart" is correct in the context that you used it?
Knowing me, and my master of the English language -- probably not.The point is that I've seen people have their homes turned into de facto crack houses against their will because they were just to old and weak to resist and kick people out. It's a very sad situation.
Thanks, Murray, for sharing.You wrote: "... I would often see elderly people in older neighborhoods who were too afraid to set foot outside their door because of the side effects that crack had caused there."I say that the side effects you describe result not from the crack, but from the *prohibition* of crack.
OK, I can't resist the issue of legalization of drugs. In my view this is the single biggest problem with the criminal justice system. We waste valuable resources in policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating mostly drug addicts. For what? There has always been a segment of society that will abuse drugs. Whether it is alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or pills. It is the height of hypocracy that we pretend that folks can responsibly use alcohol, but not other drugs. Individuals need to be responsible for their use of any drug, whether it is legal, illegal, prescription, or sold over the counter. I am not advocating making all drugs freely available to anyone who wants to use them. But it's time to treat them all the same. Regulate their distribution. Tax the crap out of them (especially those substanses that are used for recreational purposes only). And educate folks on the dangers of use and abuse, while treating the addicts. It should be viewed as a medical problem not a legal problem.I have spent over 25 years on both sides of the bar and have personally profited alot from the war on drugs. So my opinion very much goes against my self interest. That interest is a big part of the problem. There is so much money generated by prohibition of drugs, that their continued prosecution is almost inevidable. Government tends to justify it's own existence. It will be very difficult for our political leaders to overcome the giant money making business that drug prosecution has created. It is one of the main reasons we lock up more people than every other country in the world. In my view it is a done at great cost to our system by distracting from the prosecution of violent offenders and by eroding our civil rights in the name of fighting an unwinnable war against drugs.
Murray and I don't often disagree, but when it comes to dope, we do. I spent several years in the dope squad and have many narc cop friends. At that time, the so called war had been going on for 20 years. It has now gone another 20 with no resolution in sight. Very few narco officers will tell you that they have accomplished much in their careers. In my opinion, it's time to try something else. Prosecute the crimes dopers commit, just like we do alcohol related crimes. Start with marijuana and tax the crap out of it.
Agree with Jigmeister from another veteran prosecutor. It's a huge culture shock to go to California. In some cities, pot is openly smoked in parks and streets in upscale areas by non-thuggy folks.And it's as easy to buy as getting a doctors recommendation and walking into a store.
I certainly don't support the criminalization of everything, but we have to look at the "war on drugs" in context. One of the arguments put forth by those who support legalization is that the rise of bootleggers, Al Capone and organized crime was fueled by prohibition. The belief is that had alcohol been legal, there would have been no way for organized crime to have gained the foothold that it did in the early 20th century. Alcohol was later legalized, and all of our problems have been solved, right?? According to NHTSA, there were over 16,000 death attributed to DWI in 2007. There is no mention of the number of people injured or property damage, but I would guess that those numbers are pretty staggering as well. How many cases of intoxication manslaughter have been filed in Harris County over the last few years? Has the legalization of alcohol solved our problems, or has it just replaced one set of problems with a new set of problems. Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's safe. I would rather not have our freeways packed with people who snorted cocaine or smoked some meth a few hours before they got in their cars. At least now, there is some risk and stigma associated with buying a rock of crack cocaine.
I'm with jigmeister
Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's safe.Your making my point. Alcohol is legal and yet it's abuse causes major problems in society. In fact it's abuse causes more problems than all the illegal drugs combined by a factor of about 100. But we don't lock people up for drinking. We only lock them up (and rightfully so) for committing a crime while drinking. The fact that a drug is illegal or legal does not effect whether it will be abused. A segment of society will abuse all drugs regardless of their legality. People still abused alcohol during prohibition, but automobile use was completely different in the twenties and thirties so there was not a big problem with DWI like there is today. People drive under the influence of illegal drugs everyday. If we don't lock people up for using illegal drugs, it does not follow that more people will drive while using them than already do now. We will still prosecute people who drive while intoxicated. Focusing more on education and treatment will do more to reduce abuse of drugs and thereby reduce the commition of crimes while under their influence than will putting people in jail for just using them. It's also a better use of society's resources and less hypocritical.
Anon 7:08I agree. Treatment and education are much better uses of taxpayer money, and are much more productive than incarcerating indivuals who use drugs. In fact, right now, in the Harris County jail, the number of inmates serving State Jail time for PCS PG 1< 1 gram is absolutely staggering. If all of those individuals participated and successfully completed treatment and stayed sober, it would save millions of taxpayer dollars. We would take a population of chronically unemployed addicts and eliminate, or at least dramatically reduce their dependence on drugs. They would learn skills like balancing a checkbook, looking for and keeping a job, anger management, stress management, etc. They would contribute to the tax base and would no longer be a drain on county resources. That would be a perfect world. That's not reality.There is a great deal of emphasis now on preventive medicine. If people ate better, exercised more and didn't smoke, drink, do drugs, etc, health care costs would dramatically decrease. Why would I, if I made public policy, want to make crack or MDMA as accessible to people as alcohol and cigarettes already are. Do you think you can make crack, MDMA or marijuana safe? Is that sort of like the way cigarettes were advertised in the 50's and 60's (they'll help you lose weight, give you energy, etc.). Why would I want to condone behavior that can cause you to have some horrendouos medical problems and then have to pay for your treatment??I don't think decriminalazation makes sound public policy, but I think that a more reasonable alternative should be explored other than incarceration. Harris County has drug court programs that should probably be better funded. There are other options also.
"If all of those individuals participated and successfully completed treatment and stayed sober, it would save millions of taxpayer dollars."Ha ha ha ha ha. Funniest thing I have read in days. Thanks!
Why would I, if I made public policy, want to make crack or MDMA as accessible to people as alcohol and cigarettes already are.I would not endorse public policy that makes cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin as accessible as alcohol and cigarettes. However, I do think it is pretty clear that marijuana is as safe or safer than those two legal substances. That doesn't mean any of these substances are completely safe. The key is educating people (especially kids)with the real truth about all drugs. Not pretending that the legal drugs are better than all the illegal ones. The problem is that you can't force people to get treatment unless they really want it. So unless you decriminalize using and possessing drugs you are still incarcerating addicts. Most things in life are OK if they are done in moderation. For those folks who can't use drugs (including the legal one's) in moderation and don't want help, society can do little about them destroying themselves. We can't prevent the hardcore smoker from getting cancer or the overeater from getting diabites. However, we don't lock up smokers and fat people, and we shouldn't lock up addicts either. The addict that commits a crime like DWI is a different story. But whether that crime is committed under the influence of a legal or illegal drug doesn't matter to society. I think in the long run, if we focus on education and easily available treatment for anyone who wants it, we will get fewer abusers of all drugs, than we have now incarcerating all the users of some drugs.
That is a funny quote, though.
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