TX "Lock-em-Up" Judge Criticizes Drug Sentences

In an editorial today, the Houston Chronicle praises a tough sentencing judge's call to reduce drug possession sentences.

Recently, state Judge Michael Mc-Spadden called on the governor and Legislature to reduce sentences for low-level drug possession. In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, the judge, a former prosecutor with more than 20 years' judicial experience, wrote, "These minor offenses are now overwhelming every felony docket, and the courts necessarily spend less time on the more important, violent crimes."

The result has been that small-time offenders, some accused only of possessing residual amounts of cocaine in a crack pipe, are clogging local jails. In fact, there were almost two times as many Harris County defendants sent to state jails last year for possessing less than 1 gram of a drug — less than the contents of a sugar packet — than in all of the major urban counties of Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar combined. Possession of less than 1 gram of a drug is a felony that often lands people in state jail for six months to two years.

As the paper rightly notes, this is a problem for everyone in the community, not just the offenders:

Police say they arrest low-level users as a crime deterrent. That may be. But once in custody, addicts would be better served by improved options for drug treatment outside prison, while they remain under court supervision and fulfill requirements to be employed or get training. County officials should use some of the millions they are thinking of lavishing on new jail construction to fund such programs.

After all, the ill effects on a community of committing huge numbers of prospectless drug addicts to lengthy jail sentences and felony records without dealing with their underlying drug dependence are well-documented and long-term. And those ill effects are suffered by everyone in this county.

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    revenue ain't the half of it (4.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Joe Bob on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 05:15:03 PM EST
    I would support decriminalization for an entirely different reason: Prohibition is what makes drugs into a high-profit criminal enterprise. Take the profit out of the drug trade and there's a less incentive to become a dealer. Perhaps if the stakes weren't as high people wouldn't engage in the illicit drug trade, much less shoot each other over it.

    It's self evident that Prohibition doesn't work. Likewise, it appears that the current disincentives for using or selling drugs aren't working well either. Drugs are as easy to get as they have ever been. So, why not try a different approach, like decriminalization?

    Meanwhile, I wish policymakers would take more of a realistic view, rather than a blind moralistic one, of the consequences of their policies. For example: putting someone in prison for 7 years for possession. That's one choice. Another choice might be 7 years probation for possession...and use the money you would have spent on a prison cell to send three people to college. Alternatively, free up the cells currently occupied by non-violent drug offenders and lock up more violent offenders for longer periods.

    Texas law (none / 0) (#1)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 12:38:58 PM EST
     Allows "state jail felonies" to be punished as misdemeanors so i'm not sure where the prosecutor is coming from claiming his hands are tied:



          (a) A court may punish a defendant who is convicted of a state jail felony by imposing the confinement permissible as punishment for a Class A misdemeanor if, after considering the gravity and circumstances of the felony committed and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant, the court finds that such punishment would best serve the ends of justice.

          (b) At the request of the prosecuting attorney, the court may authorize the prosecuting attorney to prosecute a state jail felony as a Class A misdemeanor.


     In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by not more than 1 year jail and/or a fine of up to $4000. So in reality, the law would seem to allow a token fine for felony possession of less than a gram of cocaine.

    Texas Justice, an oxymoron, has always... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Bill Arnett on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 12:57:35 PM EST
    ...been strange,

    I remember reading of two cases on the same docket on the same day.

    Case 1-voluntary manslaughter; sentence-2-years State Prison

    Case 2-possession of TWO joints; sentence-7-years State Prison

    It's about time a judge there developed sufficient compassion to request changes in their sentencing laws.

    I don't know if Texas is like California, where we have a separate Health and Safety Code, the specific provisions of which take precedent over the "general" statutes of the Penal Code.

    I believe it is the rule that specific statutes are of greater consequence than general ones and that MAY be the case in Texas as well. I can't be sure, but the statute cited above would appear to be a general statute while it would seem that the judge may be addressing the sentencing guidelines specific to drug law offenses.

    'Mornin', everybody.

    Common sense (none / 0) (#3)
    by plumberboy on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 03:09:59 PM EST
    It sounds to me like this judge is crying out for a little common sense.The laws are based to much on who screams the loudest or where politicians think they can get the most votes.I mean a man getting caught pinching a womans behind (which I am not saying is acceptable)gets 90 days in jail and 2 years probation.He also has to register his addres four times a year for 25 years while a well known basketball player was involved with a group of other men in beating a man to death with a ball bat his punishment was 90 days in jail and 3 years probation.This man will not have to verify his where abouts and that is the end of his punishment which is fine but it doesn't seem to be in sink with the punishment of lesser crimes.This was in Michigan so this lack of common sense in the law is everywhere.Myself personally I would like to see them legalize drugs especially pot.I mean it cost us taxpayers here in Michigan about $30,000 per year to house inmates for a joint or a small amount of cocaine.Legalize it tax it save the taxpayer a bunch of money and increase state revunues at the same shot.