Thursday, July 22, 2004

Reasonable judge reversed by PA high court

A Pennsylvania appeals court reversed a trial court judge's decision not to hear small cannabis possession cases. The judge routinely dismissed cases involving small amounts of the herb. He was reported to have said, "Little bags of marijuana, I'm not trying those cases."

The higher court's logic escapes me.

"Not only did the trial judge fail to consider the protection of the public, he gave no consideration to (the defendant's) individual need for treatment, supervision, rehabilitation or welfare. The trial judge is taking a 'one-size-fits-all' approach," wrote Superior Court Judge Debra M. Todd.

Excuse me? He most certainly acted in the best interests of the defendants, one of whom was a 16 year old caught with one gram of cannabis. You could barely see that small an amount in the corner of a baggie. Smoking the whole thing at once would barely have an effect. Saving a teenager from having a criminal record following him around for life over this piddling amount is exactly what he needs. Even this small a bust would prevent him from obtaining educational loans under HEA and it's unlikely he needs treatment for addiction if he's only carrying that small an amount. You think having to deal with his parents and the courts would not be a deterrent in and of itself? Not to mention the savings to the taxpayer in court costs if the case is not brought forward.

And as far as one-size-fits-all justice, isn't that exactly what the federal sentencing guidelines now at issue under the Blakely decision is all about. They're okay with one-size-fits-all punishment but don't like it when a courageous jurist applies the same principle to judgments?

This member of the public prefers to be protected from the high court's intractable support of a flawed and ineffective sentencing system and its refusal to consider cases on their merits. A kid who wants to try marijuana is no danger to me and frankly, one thinks these teenagers should never even come to court in the first place. This kind of experimental use is best dealt with in the home by the parents. We think grounding them for a month would have more of a deterrent effect.

And don't even get me started on how much of the taxpayer's money has already been wasted on prosecuting a kid for having the equivalent of one tiny marijuana cigarette. Don't you think the thousands of dollars of court costs would have been better spent in restoring extracurricular activities at the local school?


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