I must be terribly old-fashioned. Once upon a time, the fact that a criminal – a burglar, say, or a car thief -was also a junkie, was an additional black mark against him when he came up for sentencing. Now it’s become a “Get out of gaol” card – literally. Not a day goes by without some smart-aleck public defender claiming that his client is actually a victim, enslaved to his drug habit and that, if only the defendant could be rehabilitated (at the tax-payers’ expense, of course), at one of the many rehab centres that seem to spring up overnight, then Society would benefit far more than by sending him to gaol. Never mind that very few hard-core addicts actually succeed in the long-term. Never mind that there are drug rehab programmes in gaol. Never mind that nobody forced them to take drugs to begin with and that the very taking of drugs is itself a crime. Whatever happened to Morality? How did it happen that the original breaking of the law (using drugs) became an excuse for further lawbreaking?
And what about the difficulty in prosecuting drug dealers and getting them put behind bars for a reasonable amount of time? It’s practically impossible without having to resort to undercover agents – either drug users or undercover cops. If the prosecution tries to base a case on the testimony of a drug user – almost always in return for closing files against said drug user – then it is claimed his testimony is unreliable because he has something to gain by it. And if, instead, the prosecution relies on the testimony of undercover cops, the defendant frequently whines that the cop pretended to be his friend and then begged him to get drugs for him. Then the defence attorney will point out that there is no evidence the defendant sold drugs to anyone else and will scream agent provocateur. And the courts, while, in general, rejecting the agent provocateur claim, will reprimand the police for not making do with one drug deal instead of luring the poor sod into selling his poison again and again to the undercover cop. I declare, you can’t win. Even if the courts convict, the sentences are ludicrously lenient.
I do remember one exception, however. I had a case a couple of years ago of a cocaine dealer who was convicted on the basis of phone-taps and recorded conversations with various buyers who were later followed to the meeting place with the defendant and witnessed making their purchases. They were then arrested, in possession of cocaine. Only two implicated the defendant and a third tried to divert suspicion from him by claiming he had bought the cocaine from an unknown Arab. The latter was the only one to testify whereas the other two went to ground when subpoenaed and their statements were presented in court after the prosecution managed to convince the judge that illicit means had been used to frighten them out of testifying.
The defendant was convicted. His lawyer asked for a probation officer’s report before sentencing. The report was highly negative and the judge, who is known for his lenient sentences, sent the defendant, who already had a twelve month suspended sentence hanging over him for prior drug dealing offences, to gaol for a total of four years. He appealed – first to the District Court and then, when his appeal was rejected, to the Supreme Court. The Court upheld both the verdict and the sentence.
A small victory perhaps. But I like to remember that case when I become discouraged.