About That Eye For An Eye Thing

Quick, list the top five problems facing New Orleans.

Now, check out the priorities of the local DA:

Shortly after Keva Landrum-Johnson took over as district attorney following Eddie Jordan’s resignation Oct. 30, hundreds of new felony cases flooded the public defenders office, overwhelming the 29 defense attorneys.

After New Orleans regained its title as the nation’s murder capital, the public demanded its city leaders crack down on violent crime. By filing hundreds of new felony cases each month, it appeared as if the new DA heeded their call.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, said Steve Singer, chief of trials for the Orleans Public Defenders Office.

The flood of new felony charges didn’t target murderers, rapists or armed robbers — they targeted small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threatened them with lengthy prison sentences.

The resulting impact has clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system and damaged low-income African-American communities, Singer said.

So what’s wrong with that? This guy puts it nicely:

“If you want a recipe for bankrupting society, you got it here in New Orleans,” [Tulane Prof Peter] Scharf said. “You charge someone for smoking a joint, clog up the time of attorneys, juries and judges and then give them a 10-year sentence that will cost society $300,000 for keeping them in jail. They can’t catch murderers so they may as well go after dope smokers.

“This is a really bad business model where there’s no sense of priority, no sense of cost and no sense of a return on investment.”

There’s also this:

Nearly all of the people facing felony charges for smoking pot are black and poor, because, as everyone knows, virtually no middle-class white people smoke pot. One defendant cited by the paper is a man who was “arrested once before as a teenager 20 years ago” and since then “has married, raised a family and kept out of trouble.” Now he may have to spend the money he saved for his son’s college tuition on legal expenses. Take that, crime!

In addition to the waste of resources, racial slant, and collateral costs to families and neighborhoods, how about the lack of proportionality? I have no problem with people who invoke the “eye for an eye” saying to justify executing murders. But it cuts the other way, too. In other words, for the punishment to fit the crime, the punishment can not be less severe or more severe than the damage done by the crime. Sending people to prison for nothing other than getting high? I want to say that’s an eye for a stubbed toe, but that implies the pot smoker actually stepped on someone else’s toes.

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