Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dallas News: 35-year pot sentence unreasonable, excessive

Abraham Lincoln famously said that "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly." If that's true, perhaps in the future we'll look back at the recent 35-year sentence in Tyler for a petty pot offender as a turning point regarding Texas drug policy. Or perhaps we must inarcerate thousands more just like him before those lessons will be learned.

At least the case has sparked a much-needed discussion regarding whether drug sentences are too high. In an editorial this morning, the Dallas News seems to generally agree with my contention that a 35-year sentence in Tyler for penny-ante pot dealer signals a need to reevaluate Texas' existing drug statutes: "What's the proper sentencing range?," asked the News' editorial board. "Something far less than the rest of his life, which could be the case now and could stick the state with the tab for health care in Wooten's last years." Yesterday I suggested penalties should be ratcheted down to max out at 20 years for such offenses.

On the paper's Opinion blog they rounded up individual views about the case from writers on the editorial board, and only one person supported the sentence. Presentation editor Jarrett Rush thought the DA and jury couldn't be blamed for applying the laws on the books and that "
If there is a problem with this type of sentence then what needs to be looked at are the sentencing guidelines that would allow a DA to ask for 99 years in this case." I'm in total agreement with Rush that a) the DA and jury had legal authority to do what they did, and b) the law should be changed so they can't do the same thing in the future. But I join the rest of the DMN editorial board in condemning the sentence as pointless and counterproductive.

RELATED: From the Houston Press Hairballs' blog, "Same Crap, Different County: Another Small Texas Town Overpunishes Another Piddly Drug Offender."

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh! It gets even better--this three time loser (re: his 3rd felony conviction) was on PAROLE when he was caught with baggies of weed (I'm sure for personal consumption only--sarcasm alert) in his pockets near a day care center. And on his resume was a prior conviction for..................yes, dealing drugs. You question the propriety of a 35 year sentence??
He got off light!
"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time"....sing it with me Baretta people.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon, be sure to come back to praise this sentence when TDCJ paroles a violent offender who then gets out and commits violent crimes because they need room for Mr. Wooten. Life is full of tradeoffs - If you want room to incarcerate every petty pot peddler for decades, you don't have room for the violent types. But then, please don't let reality or fiscal responsibility get in the way of your self-righteousness!

And yes, he was on parole ... for an offense from 1989. That means he'd been under supervision for 20+ years successfully - a grave risk, this guy.

Anonymous said...

What's your take on this? Is WillCo any better?

I thought this was interesting: It comes from “Busted in Austin!” A local weekly mugshot newspaper sold here in ATX.

Ask the Chief (Acevedo): Q: “Why are Austin Police Officers still arresting citizens for Possession of Marijuana less than 4 .oz’s if the officers have the discretion and have had this discretion over a year to merely issue a citation?”

Acevedo: In cases where we are, it’s likely one of the following reasons:

1. violation occurred in county outside of Travis (note: the city of Austin annexed a portion of Williamson County);

2. Suspect resides in county other than Travis;

3. Suspect did not have valid identification;

4. Suspect was booked on warrants or other charges and the marijuana is but one of several charges.

So I understand answers 3 and 4. However, he’s pointing to Williamson County in answers one and two. What was interesting was #2, because I guess what he’s saying is your likely to do your probation in Williamson County since you live there.

Williamson County is no better than Smith County when it comes to backwards ass thinking.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:37, IMO Smith County is pretty much in a league of its own. On drug crimes maybe Wichita County comes close. In Williamson it's more a product of PR than policy - you don't see John Bradley's ADAs arguing for 99 years in pot cases.

As for the citations - the law doesn't require Acevedo to ask Williamson's permission. It gives police authority to issue citations in those cases, it does not say DAs have a veto: IMO Acevedo should have consistent policies throughout his jurisdiction regardless of what Williamson prosecutors want.

Faceless Man said...

11:25,

The point is that the cuff 'n stuff policy for non-violent offenders isn't working and it has/will continue to burden taxpaying Texans.

Nobody was adovocating a dismissal of the charges.

Anonymous said...

"IMO Acevedo should have consistent policies throughout his jurisdiction regardless of what Williamson prosecutors want."

That smells like a MOU between Acevedo and WillCo. Grits. So before anyone praises his ass for issuing citations in ATX for POM under 4oz's, better think again.

kaptinemo said...

Does it have to said?

Jury Nullification, as recocgnized in US vs. Moylan. From the conclusion of that case:

"We recognize, as appellants urge, the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by the judge, and contrary to the evidence. This is a power that must exist as long as we adhere to the general verdict in criminal cases, for the courts cannot search the minds of the jurors to find the basis upon which they judge. If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused, is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic of passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision." (US vs Moylan, 417 F 2d 1002, 1006 - ca. 1969. (Emphasis mine - k.)

Given the entrenchment of 'special interests', whose meal tickets are bound to the DrugWar like conjoined Siamese Twins, and given the difficulty experienced in attempting to change the laws (thanks to those entrenched 'special interests' using taxpayer-funded resources dollars to lobby against such changes), this may be the only avenue left to prevent such gross miscarriages of justice.

Anonymous said...

35 years in prison for pot? Do that with me and half a town will go down with me!

Anonymous said...

Jury Nullification would have been the correct thing to do.

However, it is my understanding that Texas courts no longer inform the Jury about their right to utilize Nullification. So unless a well informed jury member knows about nullification and tells the other jurors - they will believe they have no choice but to enforce a law which in various circumstances, if not in it's entirety, is plainly unjust.

It is also quite common for prosecutors to introduce motions (that are typically granted) to specifically prevent the Jury from being to about or utilizing nullification.

Can anyone comment as to whether my understanding is correct?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you continue to mince words on this issue, Grits. Why don't you just say you believe drugs should be legalized? Or that any sentence for possession of any amount of drugs is too much? On the other thread regarding this topic people were on there extolling the virtues of The Netherlands. Personally, I have absolutely no desire to see the country become anything like The Netherlands. With that said, I can at least respect the intellectual fortitude and consistency of those who advocate a libertarion view that government has no business dictating whether free adults willingly consume harmful substances into their bodies. They don't hide behind pretextual arguments, like this falsehood that TDCJ will have to parole some violent offender in order to incarcerate this Wooten character. This incremental "Chinese Water Torture" attack on the war on drugs is, quite frankly, pretty transparent. First you lower the penalties. Then you legalize pot. From there you legalize cocaine; and on and on until there are no longer any bounderies. It's clear what the ultimate objective is for many in this regard. But don't be critical and judgmental toward the good people of Smith County because they have a very conservative and intolerant view of drug use in their county. They have the same right to their opinions and beliefs as you do. They certainly have the the right to want a community free of the problems associated with drug use and abuse. And their sentence, in this case, was evidently within the sentencing discretion afforded them by law.

Anonymous said...

"That means he'd been under supervision for 20+ years successfully ....."

That means no such thing. You have no idea how many times this guy could have violated parole and gone in and out of the pen. It happens all the time.

Anonymous said...

"And yes, he was on parole ... for an offense from 1989. That means he'd been under supervision for 20+ years successfully - a grave risk, this guy."

Amazing how this story keeps building. On parole you say.

Sounds to me Scott he was getting a heck a deal. Smoking and selling weed and able to pass a drug screen for the last 20 years. Now how did that happen?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:35-38 (since you're obviously the same person), what evidence do you have that this fellow has been selling dope for 20 years? None. You're just making up spurious accusations for which no evidence exists. That's what people do when their position can't be supported by the facts. 21 years on parole without revocation is an impressive record of compliance - he hasn't been back to the pen, contrary to your assertion, but hey - don't let facts get in the way of your anonymous smears of someone you've never met.

As for your comment @ 4:35, I'm not mincing words, I've been very explicit about my public policy position on this, even if you insist on mischaracterizing it.

Anonymous said...

Another victory in the war on reality,uh,I mean drugs. I'm confident it'll be "mission accomplished" any day now!

Anonymous said...

Grits,
How do you know he was "21 years on parole without revocation and hasn't been back to the pen."

I don't recall seeing that in any of the articles posted so far. Are you assuming that fact or did I miss that somewhere?

Token days and Token nights said...

I'm going to form a protest group called "Citizens Aligned for Legalizing Marijuana" (or CALM) and organize a smoke out in Smith County.

But then again, maybe not.....

Anonymous said...

Your right Scott and you don't know that he hasn't either :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually, we do know. The press coverage said he hasn't been to prison since the '80s.

Anonymous said...

Actually, he was in the Sanchez State Jail and Middleton Unit last year before being bench warranted to Smith County. Wonderful success rate! At least he gets to travel!

sunray's wench said...

PLEASE can we stop assuming that the BPP (not TDCJ) will be releasing "violent" offenders to make room for guys like this. Scott, you know that it is difficult for non-violent offenders to get parole, but for those convicted of a violent offense it is almost impossible to get parole at the first opportunity that the LAW says they are eligible.

What the BPP will do is create an even bigger revolving door of low-level offenders who get paroled easier and then only spend a few weeks out of TDCJ before being hauled back in again.

If the BPP listened to the statistical evidence available they would know that many of those convicted of violent crimes are the LEAST likely to reoffend. They are good candidates for parole when the law says they are eligible. The ones most likely to offend are the ones like Mr Wooten. But of course, they aren't "dangerous" are they.

Anonymous said...

Yes, legalize pot and next it will be cocaine. Do you mean like smoking pot leads to shooting up, free basing or snorting?

We should be more concerned about crimes of moral turpitude being committed by elected officials, prosecutors, law enforcement, etc.
Start smacking some of those guys with 35 year sentences.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, we do know. The press coverage said he hasn't been to prison since the '80s."

"Actually, he was in the Sanchez State Jail and Middleton Unit last year before being bench warranted to Smith County. Wonderful success rate! At least he gets to travel"

The press coverage said.......the press is a joke. The days of investigative journalism and getting it right have been replaced with beating someone else to the story, complete or incomplete.

Thanks 10:15. I will take your word for it vs. what the press had to say.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, be sure to come back to praise this sentence when TDCJ paroles a violent offender who then gets out and commits violent crimes because they need room for Mr. Wooten."

From the Grits post..."You're just making up spurious accusations for which no evidence exists. That's what people do when their position can't be supported by the facts."

Ditto to you Grits....you are making up a spurious accusation yourself that Mr. Wooten will be occupying a bed better suited for a violent felon.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many Tyler businesses would give a black man on parole a job.

BJ said...

This is the same thing happening in regards to other offenses in Texas. We have 55 year old men who have molested 5 year olds on parole or less and 21 year old men who had sex with a willing 16 year old girlfriend receiving prison sentences for up to 40 years even though the "victim" did not even want to press charges. Should they both be punished. Of course! But does a young man who has a relationship with a willing teenager warrant a more severe sentence than someone who preys on very young children? Texas laws need to focus the bulk of our resources on the most dangerous, violent criminals. Our valuable resources are being wasted while not providing any additional protection for the public from dangerous criminals.

culturalpropertylaw said...

The Lincoln quote reminds me of about five years back a judge in Vermont enforced a child molestation law very lightly in order to draw attention to it's leniency. Sure enough, concerned mothers and activists were on the legislative steps the next day with the "Think of the children!" and whatnot.

Anonymous said...

How's this marijuana story work for for you????????


Dallas teen accused of giving marijuana brownies to classmates

12:00 AM CST on Saturday, March 13, 2010
By REBECCA LOPEZ WFAA-TV rlopez@wfaa.com

A 14-year-old boy has been accused of giving marijuana-laced brownies to classmates, leading some of them to become so ill they were taken to the hospital, Dallas police said.

Authorities said at least eight students at Advantage Academy ate the brownies baked with marijuana.

"She said he was just passing out brownies," said Barbara Cunningham, whose granddaughter was given a brownie. "She said he was just passing them out, not selling them."

Cunningham said that within a couple of hours after eating the brownie, her granddaughter became ill.

"She was incoherent," she said. "She could barely stand. Her eyes were rolling in her head, and she was throwing up. It was terrible."

She took her granddaughter to a hospital and had her tested.

"They said she had marijuana in her urine," Cunningham said.

The news came as a surprise to the grandmother.

"I was like, 'Marijuana? I don't have marijuana in my house, and I don't have brownies.' "

After taking the 14-year-old boy into custody, authorities found three baggies of marijuana at his home.

Police said the boy could face charges of bodily injury, a count that could be upgraded to assault.

Boyness said...

This thread is just nasty-mean. LOVE IT!!! The law and order anti-dope crowd (the same ones who supported building 112 prisons...thats ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE PRISONS) are all over this guy but the central fact remains we are talking about POT! This is a POT CASE not cocaine, not heroin so GET OVER IT.

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that unreasonable 35 years pot sentence reminds me the knee anatomy myths that change our plans a few years ago.

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