Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's the appropriate sentence for official corruption?

Rooting out corrupt law enforcement would do more IMO to stymie drug cartel smuggling activity than all the interdiction tactics we can muster, so on one hand I'm glad to see the prosecution of a DPS crime lab technician and his cohorts this week in Houston for stealing 26 kilos of cocaine from the evidence locker. The technician was sentenced to 45 years in prison (out of a possible range of 5-99).

One Chron reader declared that "Whenever a public safety employee betrays the public trust they can and should receive a harsher sentence." That's true. But we see drug sentences that long for civilians, too, so it's not the official corruption that explains it. Even if the 31-year old lab technician is paroled after half his sentence, it will cost taxpayers $360,000 (in present-day dollars @$16K per year) to incarcerate him that long.

I'm all for prosecuting corrupt cops, but I agree with Chronicle readers who found the sentence over the top. After all, it's possible to get probation for murder in this state. An elected Sheriff from Cameron County who was actively assisting a drug cartel smuggling loads through his jurisdiction only received a 24 year sentence under federal guidelines.

What do you think? What's the right sentence in a case like this?

I'm not sure I see a good public safety reason for any non-violent offense to garner more than a second degree felony charge, which brings punishment of 2-20 years. The only possible argument for such long sentences is to "send a message," but in my book if you want to send a message, rent a billboard. Criminal law should be about justice, not public relations, but this sentence seems more about the latter than the former.

11 comments:

sunray's wench said...

If you can find a similar case under the same juristiction (Texas law) that resulted in a lower sentence, then the guy involved should be appealing right now. But if he loses his appeal and the sentence stands, he could be released on parole after 12.5 years. Now would THAT be a suitable time to serve? Perhaps that's what the court had in mind ~ because if they sentenced him to 12 years, he'd have the chance to be out in 4.

Of course, this would all rely on the BPP giving more than 45 seconds to the guy's case when it went before them, no matter how long he had served.

Ron in Houston said...

Call me a liberal, but I really believe sentencing should be done on the likelihood of repeating criminal conduct and with the idea of rehabilitation.

Sentencing for vengeance or to be "tough" hasn't worked.

Anonymous said...

Non-violent offense grits he should get probation.

Malik said...

The guy stole 26 kilos of cocaine. He may not have directly committed any physical violence in the process, but the amount of collateral damage caused by putting about 57 pounds of cocaine out on the street merits a punishment as harsh as the one he received IMHO. I think you have to evaluate a crime in terms of the total effect it has on a community. Otherwise, we get laws like the ones we have now, where people who commit assault in the course of a robbery can be locked away for decades, while a white collar criminal who deprives hundreds of people of their livelihoods by stealing millions, or devastates entire communities by polluting them, gets a fine.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

I,ll chime in with the comment on not using prison for vengeance. The appropriate response to official corruption is to remove them from committing such acts in the future. For cops, make it impossible for them to ever have another position in the CJ system. For administrators and judges guilty of financial corruption, remove all possibility of having financial dealings involving public funds. For legislators, remove them from office and bar them from lobbying.

Tom Coleman got probation for perjury. Many people were disappointed that he did not have to do some time. But he is barred from ever serving as any kind of police officer. He cannot be in possession of a firearm during the period of his probation (ten years). He received a substantial penalty. While a part of me wanted him to serve time, my more rational self knows that his sentence was more in the public interest than sending him up the creek.

JT Barrie said...

Putting a cop in prison with the rest of the criminals is pretty tough. I've heard that most people in jail have an even lower opinion of these pathological liars than I do - and they are more violent! I doubt that a corrupt and convicted [read: stupid] police worker would get that much protection from guards either.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rev. Kiker, I've got to give you credit - you said the same thing when Coleman was sentenced, in the heat of the moment. Your wisdom in these matters is as humbling as it is appreciated.

Malik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Malik said...

@Rev. Kiker:

What, in your view, is the difference between vengeance and justice? And is simply debarring public officials from having the opportunity to repeat their crime truly justice?

Anonymous said...

Grits: I hate to nitpick, but you are wrong! (Just this once.) Probation is no longer available as a sentence for murder in Texas, at least not for offenses occurring after September 1, 2007. Thanks for all your hard work - you provide an invaluable service.

Anonymous said...

Probation may not be a sentence for murder, but as a probation officer I had people on my caseload who received probation for: vehicular manslaughter, injury resulting in death, and other "less severe" ways of classifying the offense as what it truly is. Although that topic isn't exactly what this article is about, I felt the need to add my two cents.