I have been around as a Boston criminal defense attorney for an uncountable number of years. Laws and procedures that make little to no sense is nothing new in the trenches.
One such sentencing-related law was changed this past week.
On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives unanimously voted to repeal a 1989 law which dealt with convictions for drug offenses. The law basically mandated that someone convicted of such a crime (whether by plea or after trial) would automatically have their driver’s license suspended whether or not said drug matter had anything to do with driving.
The Senate passed a similar law repealing that 27-year-old legislation in the fall. Governor Charlie Baker has indicated he is “open” to the legislation as well, the Boston Globe reports.
The original hope had been that the added punishment would intended to deter drug use. The problem was more in Reality than in Hope Land. In Reality, suspending licenses limited the ability of prior drug users to get their life back on the path to recovery.
Somehow the powers that be have discovered that if you take someone who is already disadvantaged in the work force and, as a punishment, limited him even further, that the result tended to be worse than expected on paper in Hope Land.
“If you were going to develop a public policy to promote recidivism, isn’t this just the way you would do it?” said Nancy T. Bennett, deputy chief counsel at the state’s public defender agency. Attorney Bennett has been involved in Boston criminal justice for a long time. She could not be more right.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Reality vs. Hope Land
Attorney Bennett, like many defense lawyers, has seen how criminal statutes that are enacted in reaction to a particular happening often do not transfer well to the land of Reality.
We have discussed many times instances when there is a sudden and dramatic movement in reaction to a tragedy. In short, the citizenry suddenly screams for “tougher penalties” for the across-the-board criminal defendants. Not so long ago, we were discussing our still-standing-yet-doing-nothing statute against bullying. At the time, I was also reflecting on how more and more instances when kids behave in an anti-social way (arguably criminal) had been finding their way to being high profile juvenile/criminal matters. The result was to decrease options for a youth who already had issues.
The fact is that we are not likely to live in a utopia. Further, I also submit that the way to improve our circumstances is not relying on blind protests of retribution. Harsher penalties may feel good at the time, but, since they effect flesh and blood human beings, there are often other effects which make circumstances worse.
This is what the legislature has now seen and what Attorney Bennett is talking about.
Davey Drugabuser is arrested for being in possession of an illegal drug. We have learned that addiction is, in fact, a disease. Maybe Davey had issues which led him to the drug possession. Maybe he simply saw it as a “way out” of his problematic life.
Suddenly he is arrested for being in possession.
Let’s say that he is lucky enough to encounter a prosecutor and judge who want to give Davey a new start. However, in order to do so, Davey will be on probation.
Probation costs money. Often a condition of probation is to have a job. Certainly a condition of having food to eat and a place to sleep is usually having a job.
These days, it is hard to get a job if you cannot drive.
So, simply by being convicted for the crime, Davey cannot drive and cannot work….who does that hurt?
“It hurts Davey…but what if we have little to no sympathy for Davey?”
Then one would imagine that we have sympathy for ourselves…who will now have to deal with Davey as he is found in violation of probation and locked up. Particularly when he gets out of custody.
Sometimes giving someone a “break” benefits everybody.
No, not always. Nothing happens always. But, on the other hand, what had we accomplished by taking away Davey’s license? Smack him around a bit more? It seems to me that it’s a bit more like a childish rant than Justice.
…But that’s just me.
Have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!