Another shining moment for the US justice system

Stupid laws and sentences have been hot topics here lately, and the latest example of a 17-year-old parolee sentenced to life imprisonment for testing positive for marijuana use is even more appalling – and terrifying – than our earlier discussion of another 17-year-old given a 10-year sentence for receiving a consensual blowjob. The background in a nutshell

Brown, who pleaded guilty to his first and only offense at age 17, was given probation after a $2 armed robbery in which the victim wasn’t harmed and had his wallet returned. But months later, Brown violated his probation by testing positive for marijuana. In most cases of marijuana violations, Texas judges – and Dean – often recommend counseling and allow the defendant to remain on probation with a stiff warning.

In this case, however, without explanation, Brown was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Last month 20/20 exposed this aberration on national television and now it appears Brown will soon be released – after serving 16 years.

I believe the US justice system is deeply flawed, but considering what it’s up against, I also feel it’s amazing that it functions as well as it does. We are lucky to have a relatively free media that can bring at least some of these aberrations to light and expedite change. But I have no illusions: For every horror story like this that the media expose, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of similar stories that don’t get told, and where the victim is not so lucky. The wheels of the US justice system grind on, protecting us and punishing wrongdoers and making sure rule of law in America works as best it can. But God have mercy on the souls of the little people who get caught up in its cold, heartless machinery. Tragically but not at all surprisingly, the poorer they are, the more likely they are to get sucked into these legal black holes. In the US, and certainly in other countries we talk about here as well.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

And he’s black.

No wonder African American community cheered on O.J. Simpson’s “not guilty” verdict.

Richard, remember a while ago we talked about “brutality and inequity” in one country’s development?

Now ask any black man living at the ghettos that question…

December 23, 2006 @ 2:46 am | Comment

It’s also Texas – Texas is a freakin’ horror show and responsible for more bad justice than most of the rest of the states combined.

Not to mention Bush.

December 23, 2006 @ 2:55 am | Comment

Outrageous. Even for Texas.

December 23, 2006 @ 3:18 am | Comment

Xue, I won’t disagree. Few subjects make me as furious as the way my government treats disenfranchised black people, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina and the Florida vote recount of 2000. One of the bitterest fights I ever got into here was in defense of affirmative action, in which I was accused of reverse racism. If it were true that we were a color-blind people, like Stephen Colbert, then the reverse-racism charge would be true. But we all know that when a white businessman has two qualified people applying for the same job, one white and the other black, he will choose the white one. We have given blacks the short end of the stick (to put it very mildly) for so long, affirmative action is the least we can do. Without it, Colin Powell and Justice Thomas would be nowhere (although in the case of Thomas that’s where he deserves to be).

Yes, it’s Texas. Bush was busy executing as many death-row inmates as he possibly could, famously mocking some of their pleas for mercy, and then he had the balls to get up in front of the nation during the Terry Schiavo media circus and plead with us to “err on the side of life.” Practice what you breach, Mr. President – there are few leaders in the civilized world today with as much blood on their hands as you.

December 23, 2006 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Richard I agree with most of what you said above, except that line about “when a white businessman has two applicants, he will choose…”

It’s true that people tend to choose people “like them” (and if you look at all the articles about the “glass ceiling” for high-level positons, you can see how this applies to women as well). I am also a supporter of affirmative action for the reasons you state. But as a person who is in the position of hiring staff, I look at diversity as a plus. So do a lot of other businesspeople, regardless of their race. I’m happy that I work in a genuinely diverse environment. I know you didn’t mean that all white businessmen will always hire the white guy, but I thought I’d point this out.

A lot of large companies have come around to the view that diversity is good for their business. Where this doesn’t necessarily translate, even now, is in the highest positions. The rank and file, the mid-level execs, yes. But at the ranks of the really powerful decision-makers, that’s where we still need much more diversity, in every way.

Look at Congress. We have how many African American senators? And how many women in both Houses?

And Texas still bites.

December 23, 2006 @ 3:47 am | Comment

Lisa, we’re in agreement. I don’t mean all businesses, but probably most. I’ve read so many horror stories of businesses refusing to hire a black candidate because they are “over qualified” or other BS excuses. America’s come a long way, but there’s still a lot of very serious prejudice out there.

December 23, 2006 @ 4:22 am | Comment

How do you expect that a Black businessman would react when confronted with one black and one white candidate to chose from? I’m not being facetious, I just don’t know what the general perception is.

As for the young man who was jailed – he was jailed for parole violation after armed robbery, not simply for drug use. Just assuming that he was left on parole, what could his next parole violation have been – armed robbery under the influence of harder drugs and an ‘accidental’ shooting of some innocent convenience store assistant? Maybe, just maybe, jailing him saved some lives and more than likely his own as well. If he’s 33 now and he really is ‘rehabilitated’ then he has every opportunity (albeit very difficult) to rebuild his life and make his mother proud. If he’d been shot by a cop at age 18 she’d be a lot more unhappy that she is now.

I’m not condoning what was done to the guy, and we’ll never know where he could have ended up if justice was served – but we’ll also never know how bad he could have ended up.

December 23, 2006 @ 10:27 am | Comment

How do you expect that a Black businessman would react when confronted with one black and one white candidate to chose from? I’m not being facetious, I just don’t know what the general perception is.

That would be a valid comparison – if most of the available jobs were being offered by black men and not white men. But they’re not. The deck is still stacked against blacks.

About the armed robbery charges – I don’t care what it was. Life in prison without parole for having smoked marijuana is insane. If he killed someone while on parole I might understand it, despite his being only 17 tears of age. But for smoking a joint – totaly fucking insane.

December 23, 2006 @ 11:03 am | Comment

I’m condoning what happened, but he wasn’t jailed for smoking a joint, he was jailed for violation of parole. I’m not sure what the publicly conceived penalty is for this crime in Texas and maybe it was a harsher sentence than would be given in other circumstances, but I’d guess that in normal situations a parole violations is a parole violation regardless of what the violation was.

I think the thing that stinks the most about this story is the part about “Another man, convicted of murder for shooting a male prostitute in his backyard, was also given probation. But after numerous violations with a much more serious drug — cocaine — that man was never jailed. He was from a wealthy family and had political connections and a private attorney.” That’s the problem I have with the so called justice system in that’s it’s not fairly applied. I actually believe the young guy should have been sent to jail, not for life but based on the punishment expected for the original crime with some years added on for violation of parole. However, applying the same standards to the rich-guy (who should never have been given parole in the first place) then he should have had the key thrown away. We’re too soft and far too inconsistent.

December 23, 2006 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

oops – that first line should read ‘not condoning’.

December 23, 2006 @ 12:20 pm | Comment

Richard, you remind me of most of the people I grew up with. My high school in the suburbs of Chicago once won a national award for diversity. Most of the kids hated racism and if you were labeled a �racist� you were in some serious trouble. During University I spent a lot of time hanging around and working in Chicago�s chinatown and the experiences I had there reshaped my thinking about race. I began to see just how much more complicated the problems were. Just a bit of background, Chinatown is on the south side and generally safe but sandwiched between an Italian neighborhood (yes that kind of neighborhood) and a housing project with predominantly black people.

I found the Chinese people there much more openly racist against black people. They would essentially yell out the equivalent of the N word when they spotted a suspicious looking black person wandering into Chinatown. My Chinese boss at one point who owned several upscale art studios openly refused to hire black people.

However, the strangest experiences I had were with black police officers. Some of them told me that they would stop black people in Chinatown and search them. They told me that black people were more likely to be �causing trouble� and they shouldn�t be wandering around there. One guy wished that Chicago had a Guiliani style mayor to clean things up.

There were also many people on all sides of the spectrum. Good and bad people of every race.
I picked two experiences here to illustrate my point that racism is more complicated than simply a white businessman not choosing the black guy. I think we need to start discussing some more difficult questions and facing some serious issues here if we want to make any progress on racism in America.

December 23, 2006 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

Pha, this is not a comprehensive study of racism, but hastily written comments in a blog on a busy shopping day. I completely agree the topic is much more complex, and so are my thoughts about it. I am also aware of the inherent unfairness of affirmative action and all its imperfections, but it’s the best solution I know in terms of its proven worthiness. Life is unfair; God knows, it’s been unfair for the blacks whose ancestors were brought here in chains, and whose persecution lasted far longer than the abolition of slavery.

The whole racism issue was actually a distraction from the point of my post, which was how sentences and the crime often don’t seem to fit, and how bizarre I – and the 20/20 news team and now the judges reviewing the case – found the lifetime conviction for a parole violation that was hardly a violation at all – certainly not one calling for life in prison without parole. One day I’ll put up a long, thought-out post on racism in America, but I know in advance it’s an invitation to trouble, kind of like talking about Japan with certain friends of mine in China.

December 23, 2006 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

that’s an unbelievable story. reminds me of the possible capital punishment for tax evasion in China. not sure about Texas law on parole violation. but where is the public defender for this man now? this is a horrible defense work. life in prison without parole would constitute a cruel and unusual punishment for such a violation.

December 24, 2006 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Ok. We’ll leave it for another day. I’m just trying to counter people who break down the whole issue of race in America to “white people hate black people”. It’s just a lot more complicated than that.

December 24, 2006 @ 11:54 am | Comment

Look for the newest season of “Family Guy” on DVD, in one episode all of the town’s cops get sent to Iraq, so there is no police force except for the guy in the wheelchair. Upon hearing this, all of the town’s white residents turn out to be black people in white person costumes, they take off the costumes and have a big song and dance routine.

This case as well as the whole Bush presidency only highlight, underlines and italicizes the disgusting evil, twisted nature of the the evangel-o-facist influence in the US. And would you believe that evangelical chicks love to get drunk and take it all off (blaming the booze of course) while their evangelical boyfriends pass out on dope.
Bad, Bad, Bad

December 24, 2006 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

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