Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The cost of thinking outside the box

I'm no fan of Pat Lykos.

Her job is to infringe upon the rights of the citizenry as zealously as the courts will allow. She is part of the mechanism by which the state seeks to keep folks under its thumb.

But there are a couple of areas in which Ms. Lykos got it right.

Now, with apologies to my colleague, Murray Newman, I don't mind the chaos emanating from the 6th floor of the Criminal (In)justice Center. Chaos in the prosecutor's office is a good thing for the citizens of Harris County. So long as prosecutors are fighting with one another, with the District Attorney and with law enforcement, they aren't waging total war against our clients.

Ms. Lykos was right when she changed her office's policy on drug residue cases. Let's face it, the war on drugs has been a colossal failure (it makes Vietnam seem like a good idea). Even State District Judge Michael McSpadden acknowledges its failure.
"No one respects law enforcement more than I do, but they're wrong about this. I want them out there going after the career criminals, the sex offenders, the people who pose a real threat to our society, and not someone who has a residue amount of drugs." - State District Judge Michael McSpadden
There are far too many folks in the Harris County Jail on possession cases. There are far too many folks in the penitentiary on possession cases. Most of these people are addicts. Locking them up in jail does no one any good. The addicts aren't receiving the treatment they need and there's no room in the inn for those who really need to be put away.

No, local law enforcement doesn't like the policy. They want to go out and arrest everyone they possibly can, lock 'em up and forget about them. That's fine and dandy - but where are you going to put them? Maybe it's the fear that with fewer drug arrest, jobs and overtime might vanish. Maybe it's the fear that the public is fed up with the overcriminalization of American life and desires a bit of sanity.

Ms. Lykos also understands that the stigma associated with a DWI conviction is a little bit out of whack when compared to the consequences befalling those convicted of some violent crimes. DIVERT may have been a good concept but the execution is poor (not to mention illegal). The reason given by the DA's Office for DIVERT is so that folks arrested for driving while intoxicated can get treatment to help prevent them from doing it again. The reality is that Ms. Lykos thought that too many people were "getting off" with time served and a fine. What better way to force them into probation than to make the minimum sentence 30 days in jail?

Need I even mention that the judges who signed off on the program are violating their constitutional duty to consider the full range of punishment in a DWI case? But, then, most of those on the bench are part of the DA's "trial court" division.

Sometimes change comes from the most unexpected agents. Just as it took Nixon to open China, maybe it took Lykos to bring some sense to drug prosecutions.

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