Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Jailing drug offenders and the interests of justice

Tom Kirkendall at the always-excellent blog Houston's Clear Thinkers extrapolates the signficance of the unopposed recusal of local district judge Brian Rains (see "Judge removed from trial of teenager in drug case," Houston Chronicle, Oct. 4). Judge Rains was removed for the second time this year because he insists on giving all low-level drug offenders jail time, ignoring state law. The lawyer this time was Dick DeGuerin, so the kid hired a really big gun, but the bigger news was the notoriously reactionary Harris DA's office didn't even oppose it.

After saying some nice things about Grits' series on Harris jail overcrowding last year (thanks!), Tom offered his take:
I'm sure Rains' "tough" stance on requiring jail time for all drug offenders plays well on the campaign trail. But it sure stinks as a matter of justice and Harris County jail administration. Here's hoping that the local criminal defense bar continues to recuse him in drug cases and that a political opponent emerges to call him out on the short-sighted nature of his policy.
I agree it'd be nice to see an opponent call Rains on this, but I wish an appellate court would do it first. Texas state law (via HB 2668, passed in 2003) requires judges to sentence first-time low-level (less than 1 gram) drug offenders to probation and treatment instead of incarceration. What Judge Rains is doing is sentencing first-time offenders to up to six months in the county jail as a condition of probation. (Sneaky, huh?) That has led directly to Harris County's jail overcrowding, according to several analyses. I wrote last year that judges were to blame for Harris County Jail overcrowding, and this is a great example why.

Not only is this thoughtlessly regressive policy costing the taxpayers extra money, in many cases it costs offenders their employment and keeps addicts out of treatment. In the words of the recusal motion, Judge Rains' policies do not serve the "interests of justice." Regardless, Judge Rains has presided over the 176th District Court in Houston without these policies being contested for the last 18 years.


Mike Howard said...

Wow, that's blatant. While he's gotten around the letter of the law, he's obviously in flagrant violation of the spirit of the law. I guess that's something we need to take the to lege this upcoming session.

You know, I'm not even sure defense lawyers in Dallas even know that first time low-level drug offenders can't be sentenced to jail time. I mean I see a few everyday on the jail chain that plea out to time. A few a day per court per county is probably a huge number!

Anonymous said...

Its Just Easier For The police To Arrest These Sort Of Offenders.. Less hassle And Less paperwork.. Why Would They Wanna Arrest Real Criminals?

Anonymous said...

The point has to be made as personal as possible: How much does the DrugWar cost the Average Working Stiff?

What is the mean per capita income in the area? How much does it cost to incarcerate a 'pot-head' or any other drug offender there for a year or more? Subtract the latter from the former. And point out to Mister and Miz Average what that would mean if they had to pay the entire amount personally, before taxes.

Chances are that they wouldn't have jack left over to buy a bag of rice and beans, and would be looking at public assistance to make ends meet.

Put it in these 'kitchen cupboard' terms, and watch people's eyes get wide...then watch the anger build when they realize they've been taken for chumps by the DrugWar gravy train.