Crime and Punishment

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.

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About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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13 Responses to Crime and Punishment

  1. davidallon says:

    This is a story about Israel, but I am sure it holds true in many other places as well. Recently a study was published in Sweden that showed that drunk drivers were less severely punished than sober drivers for equivalent offences.

    • Silke says:

      I am not sure about driving but I am sure that in Germany there are offenses for which having been drunk at the time is an excuse.

      So if you are German and want to stab whomever, make sure to get the alcohol level up.

      Drunk Driving seems to be regarded differently. As best I know our law considers handling a car handling a dangerous object and that may be a game changer.

      • @Silke
        In Israel, drunkenness cannot be used as a defence in law unless you were made drunk against your will or knowledge. Likewise being under the influence of drugs. So if, say, someone slipped drugs in your drink, unbeknownst to you and while under the influence of the drugs, you were not in control of your own will, and committed a crime, then you would have a legal defence. But if you chose, of your own free will, to take drugs or get drunk (even without the intention of committing a crime while “under the influence”), then you would have no legal defence. You could not claim that you were not legally responsible for your actions.

      • Silke says:

        I envy you

        With us it seems to be treated a human right – I don’t know if drugs would be a valid reason for diminishing your guilt, but drunkenness is.

        Must be due in honor of an ancient Germanic custom.

    • @davidallon

      Surely driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is, in itself, a very serious offence. I know it is in Israel, in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

      • Neil Douglas says:

        If I can quote Dave Allen (as opposed to Allon):

        “Ten percent of road accidents are caused by drivers who are drunk. That means that NINETY percent of road accidents are caused by drivers who are sober. So why don’t those sober people stay off the road so that us drunks can drive safely?”

      • Ha-ha-ha.
        But seriously – what about the innocent pedestrians?

  2. Pati says:

    je pense ici aux assassins de Lee…… seront ils puni un jour ,??
    si c’est ici en France?? ce sera une petite peine…. en Israel, ils seront nettement mieux jugés, mais voilà : pas de loi d’extradition..
    qu’en penses tu Shimona ??

  3. Pati says:

    Sarkosy a refusé de les extrader. Que reste-t-il comme possibilité ??

  4. @Pati
    Oui, c’est scandaleux. Mais quoi faire, si la loi française ne permet pas d’extrader les citoyens français?
    Mais pourquoi on ne les accuse pas en France?

    • Pati says:

      La réponse est très simple, le père et le fiancé de Lee refusent qu’ils soient jugés et condamnés en France, parce que ici, la justice est trop clémente pour les accidents de la circulation…. Les prisonniers Français ne font jamais la totalité de leur peine..
      Peut être qu’ici, ils auront 7 ans alors qu’en Israel, avec en plus le délit de fuite, ils auront peut être 20 ans……et ils feront les 20 ans……
      Ils veulent prendre leur temps pour prendre la décision.. au final, 3 possibilités : ou bien ils déposent plainte en France, cela voudra dire : jugement en France…. ou bien c’est le gouvernement Israélien qui dépose plainte, et pareil, ils seront jugés et condamnés en France.. ou bien ils ne déposent pas plainte en France, et ils ne seront jugés et condamnés uniquement s’ils entrent en Israël..
      Ils sont pourris, et disent qu’ils veulent rester en France.. aussi, il n’y a pas de solution……

  5. I agree that willful drug use/influence should not be an excuse or even a mitigating circumstance. But I am concerned that people can be convicted of drug dealing on the testimony of drug users. As you yourself pointed out, one of them accused an unknown Arab. What if he had accused a named person? And what if that person was in fact innocent? If the drug user is regarded as a credible witness, that could put entirely innocent people in jeopardy.

    Sorry to play devil’s advocate here, but this is a serious point. A junkie who’s afraid to finger his dealer might have no qualms about falsely accusing an innocent man.

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