Study: Drug, Driving Charges Sap Nation’s Courts

Article criticizes why low-level drug and driving charges are a financial burden for misdemeanor courts.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/405652_misdemeanor28.html

My opinion?  As a former public defender (and proud of it), I was dismayed when defendants were prosecuted and jailed on Driving While License Suspended charges.  Indeed, defending these kinds of cases exposed me to some ugly truths about the criminal justice system.

Here’s a typical situation: “Speeder” gets pulled over for speeding.  Speeder can’t afford to pay the ticket.  They miss their court date.  Court gives them a “Failure to Appear” for missing said court date.  The Department of Licensing catches wind.  Speeder’s license gets suspended.   He is now Speeder-Turned-Suspended Licensee (STSL).  Eventually STSL get pulled over – and possibly arrested – on the suspended license.  If STSL is lucky, police officer won’t (1) investigate STSL for DUI, and/or (2) search STSL’s car following the arrest.  If unlucky, STSL might have had a couple of drinks before being pulled over.  They get investigated for DUI.  Or STSL has contraband tucked away in the glove compartment that gets discovered on the search.

All of the sudden, “Speeder” is now a criminal.

The grinding wheels of justice.  Steel jaws gnashing away at people’s rights.  Police using a suspended license as probable cause to arrest you and search your car.  Unbelievable.

Now, more than ever, change is necesssary.  King County has implemented a program which simultaneously circumvents the criminal justice system and allows people get their licenses back.  Legal fees are waived if people successfully complete it.  The program is a success.  And it costs less than prosecuting/jailing people.

There’s more.  In 2007, the study’s authors found, 11,553 misdemeanor marijuana cases were filed.  Of those, 3,638 convictions were made, which resulted in about $7.6 million in direct costs to the state.

Again, unbelievable.  Taxpayers subsidize these enormous costs.  However, most people believe small-time drug cases should NOT be prosecuted.  Remember Seattle Initiative I-75?  The measure – which passed successfully in 2003 – directed police officers and prosecutors to treat the personal use of marijuana by adults as the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.

It’s time our court system caught up with the will of the people.