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For prosecutors, it’s not about justice. It’s about power over people

I’m generalizing, of course. I know that there are good prosecutors and state’s attorneys out there who are interested in finding justice. I’ve even heard of one.

And yet, for the most part, particularly given the news I cover, the overwhelming view I tend to get of prosecutors is the justice-be-damned, power-hungry official who is looking to maximize convictions and make themselves look good.

A lot of this has been attributable to the drug war, where it became impossible, due to the sheer number of cases, to actually provide a jury trial for all defendants. Prosecutors soon discovered that they could ramp up their convictions without spending a day in court as long as they had enough “tools” in their arsenal to force a plea. Soon, prosecutors realized that having these “tools” made them the equivalent of God — judge, jury, and executioner, and they lobbied for more of them, with legislators eager to rush to their cause and pass more “pile-on” laws, particularly in drug cases.

Now that they have this power, they won’t easily give it up.

Case in point. Proposal to shrink drug-free school zone draws ire

A proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick to shrink the drug-free zone around Massachusetts schools is drawing fire from police and prosecutors who say they need the 1,000-foot area and the tougher prison terms that go with it.

We’ve talked about these drug-free zones before. The 1,000-foot zones are absolutely ridiculous, particularly in inner cities where there’s almost no place that isn’t inside one of these overlapping zones. They do absolutely nothing to deter drug sales to children since most people don’t know if they’re in a zone or not (which may include their living room) and there are separate laws against selling drugs to children. The only purpose they serve is as a “pile-on” charge.

And prosecutors don’t even seem to care to hide that fact anymore.

Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz said prosecutors already use discretion when adding a school zone violation to a suspected drug dealer’s charges and generally don’t use the law for first-time offenders with small amounts of drugs a safe distance away from schools. But he said the law gives prosecutors leverage in getting suspected drug dealers to plead guilty to other charges and to give authorities information about larger dealers.

“Why would we want to take away that tool for prosecutors instead of giving them more tools?” Cruz said.

Maybe because justice is about something different than giving prosecutors more power. And maybe someone should let him know that the role of prosecutor is to serve the people, not to rack up conviction numbers.

Of course, we also need to do a better job of educating people about how our justice system is supposed to work, and that adding more laws and more sentences doesn’t make us safer.

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27 comments to For prosecutors, it’s not about justice. It’s about power over people

  • Cannabis

    When I was a city official I voted against drug free zones.

  • denmark

    Stubborn people with huge ego’s to feed.

    Isn’t Massachusetts going to be one of three states, I believe without checking, that’s going to push for Legalization in 2011?

    • Duncan20903

      I think you’re counting Washington twice. They’ve got a ballot initiative collecting signatures and a bill in the legislature.

  • Mark

    The DEA is a U.S. government agency whose mission is to destroy people’s lives. Under the pretense of fighting drugs, the U.S. government spends millions of dollars surveilling, following, snooping, breaking and entering, tampering and stealing, harassing, haranguing, heckling, taunting, pestering, bullying and assaulting its own people via the DEA–paid for with tax dollars. Every day, DEA agents ruin the reputations of innocent people via a circus of innuendo, slander, defamation, and character assassination, and they ridicule and humiliate them with their family members, friends and coworkers. The DEA perpetrates and perpetuates injustices. What the DEA does to trash the lives, the jobs, the livelihoods, and the psyches of our own American citizens is a crime.

  • Bill Fatora

    This kind of thing should outrage judges, as it is just another example of the infringement upon their duties by politically motivated DA’s, in the form of mandatory minimums and attorney-levied sentencing. More judges need to speak out about this, as it is a breakdown of the judicial branch’s powers.

  • Sick........!

    Pile on chages for crimes that should not be crimes. Anyone should be able to sit in the living room , burn one and not have their lives ruined for a 1000 zone that means nothing. Its illegal to sell alcohol to kids, so should it be for drugs. Let a person answer to that “crime” instead of made up ones.

  • vicky vampire

    The DEA its this horrible smelly dangerous evil Predatory Viral Disease that wrecks lives, beyond repair, and they often in a very smug way ,Think they are doing the lords work.

  • Ben

    These unelected officials are granted near-unlimited power to steal property from citizens by civil forfeiture laws. Anyone who sees the injustice of the Drug War needs to understand the most powerfully evil tool used to enforce it: http://forfeiturereform.com/

  • WELL I NEVRY GET INTO TROUBLE I LOAN MY GIRL FRIEND $10,000 AND THEN SHE BUT HARASSMENT ON THE COURT, THE JUDGE SAID FOR 99YRS NO CONTACK ORDER SHE WAS SMART SHE RUIN MY LIFE WELL I WILL TALK TO GOVERNMENT IN PERSON I CALL LAWYERS AND THEY SAY O- WHILE MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE LIFE? SHE TOLD MANY LIES ABOUT ME SHE IS FROM VIETNAM ME USAI WILL NEVERY FORGET THIS AND IF I END UP IN JAIL FOR VIOLATE ORDER THATS MY BROBLEM THE PROSC. DIDN’T ASK WHY I CALLED HER SO MANY TIMES AND SAME FOR THE JUDGE PEOPLE POWER IS NOT GOOD IN USA

  • I DON’T LIKE LIER’S
    SHE WILL PAY FOR HER LIES SOME DAY HOPE THE LAW READS THIS I TALK NO LIE I WILL NOT BROTHER HER NEVERY THE MEANEST PERSON I EVER NEW I AM SAD FOR HER
    SHE COMES FROM THE 3RD WORLD MANY PEOPLE LIE TO SIRFIVE AND SHE IS ONE OF THEM

  • I just found you blog; good reading. I’m a cop and a SWAT operator and I agree with you on the war on drugs. Keep up the good fight. Maybe our current war on drugs will go the same way as prohibition.

  • POWER OVER PEOPLE THEY SHOULD READ AND THINK WHAT THEY READ ABOUT OTHER PERSON NO YOU PROS. JUST WANT BROWNING POINT’S GET MORE MONEY AND THEY THINK YOUR SMART IT’S JUST A PAPER WORDS PEOPLE SAY ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. I WILL WRITE TO THE GOV OR CALL FOR APPOINTMENT I SPELL NOT GOOD

  • darkcycle

    H.J., First, welcome…we’re glad you’re here. Second, what do you know about LEAP, their work and are you a member yet? It is good to know that this insanity is obvoius to all sides. Now we change it, right?(You landed on an activist site, not a place to bitch and moan…O.K., we bitch and moan some too, but we’re ACTIVE about it!)

  • darkcycle

    Yeah, William spell not good.

  • Servetus

    A functioning police state needs no police.”—William S. Burroughs

    To declare that in the administration of criminal law the end justifies the means – to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure conviction of a private criminal – would bring terrible retribution.”—Justice Louis D. Brandeis

    Justice is incidental to law and order.”—J. Edgar Hoover

  • GruffyGuy

    Abuse a dog too long and he will bite. I’ve had all I can take and am in a biting mood. If Big Brother were to turn nice and smiley tomorrow I would still want to bite him. The damage is done. 10 years probation for the M:F’er!
    GrrrrrruffF!!!

  • malcolm kyle

    Replace Austerity With Freedom, Independence, and Prosperity

    …The war on drugs criminalizes victimless behavior, discourages personal responsibility, and has been a boondoggle for law enforcement agencies through confiscation of private property and through bribery, and has caused a black market in drugs which incentivizes the formation of drug gangs and cartels that leads to increased violence, as well as the corruption of otherwise “good” cops and other government officials. What would happen if we immediately ended the War on Drugs and required individuals to be responsible for their actions and decisions? Do we really need to have costly government “anti-drug” enforcement agencies?

    More Here

    .
    William, get yourself a dog and a dictionary!

  • Matthew Meyer

    Reminds me of some cases I heard about in the last couple years living in Charlottesville, Virginia.
    http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2009/11/11/school-rule-1000-feet-add-felony-drug-charge/

    In VA, school bus stops count, as do university softball fields. These guys were selling drugs in a parking lot, no kids around, no students.

  • warren

    The only difference with many people now and during the inquisition is technology. Lots of people get their rocks off with other peoples suffering for [moralistic] reasons.Enter drug war.Perfect modern day inquisition.Remember two important lines. No you cannot search.I would like a lawyer. With some luck we will not have to use the second amendment to take back our free state.

  • Duncan20903

    So everyone remembers our special weekend when we did all that drinking alcohol laced with (OMG!) caffiene and discussed the banning of that foul sounding ‘For Loco’ concoction or whatever it was called right?

    Did we talk about the recent release of cannabis infused soda that are coming soon too a dispensary near you for medicinal use?

    Well how did we miss the similarity between the two, and that ‘fore loke oh’ is slightly better because it isn’t ‘marketed to the cheel-dren’? Evidently it’s going to start causing school children on college campuses to overdose and die, just like 4loko did.

    Oh well, it looks like it’s scientific fack now because livesciene.com is facking the subject. On the “Strange News” page:

    http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/pot-soda-vs-four-loko-which-is-more-dangerous-012811.html#commentForm

    Obliviously great science at livescience.com, did you know that “On the other hand, “heavy users in Jamaica, for example, may consume up to 420 mg of THC per day”? Wow, what a coinkydink, 420 mg. You see that in a lot of SWAG estimates in published literature around the world. I think they got it wrong, isn’t the Rastafari mandated daily allowance (MDA) exactly 420 mg, no more or less, except for pregnant women who have an MDA of 840 mg per day?

    Don’t bother working on a comment to crack wise like Urkel, when I went to log in I was told:

    Currently, the forums and all community functions are being improved, and are unavailable. Please check back soon!

    On the other hand it seems the author is a twit: “Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover (no fooling?)” I think you can find on the hack science page. Somebody tweet this twit and ask her why our world looks so alien and foreign to us when people who know nothing about it make comments? I would but I’m not a registered twit and have not yet learned how to tweet. Oh yeah, axe her why she writes for a page that has ‘science’ in its name too, willya?

    Apparently “science” is whatever you make of it.

  • Duncan20903

    .
    .
    In California there are no school zones in living rooms IIRC even if you share a property line with the school.

    In DC, school zones for drugs are 1000 feet, and 300 for guns. Right, guns never killed anyone from 301 feet away while pot kills people almost 1/4 mile away from its target.

  • vicky vampire

    I would love to try the soda infused with cannabis, I have tried the lollipops niceee. No Duncan20903, can not say say I have tried four LOGO cause they banned it so soon HELLO.!!!

  • BruceM

    As a defense attorney who routinely deals with prosecutors, many of whom graduated from law school with me, in my experience anyone who remains a prosecutor for more than 6-12 months becomes a real sociopath. I’m not using that word as a euphemism for “asshole”… no, I really mean it per the word’s true definition. And most of these people eventually get promoted to the highest position in the DA’s office – judge. And we wonder why we have the highest prison population in the entire world.

  • taxedtodeath

    In Hawaii county its so bad its like there are two sets of laws one for the people and another for police, prosecutors, and politicians, who can lie, steal even kill, while so many good people are terrorized and prosecuted for marijuana even for legal medical cannabis.

    Kona Judge Convicts Legal Medical Marijuana Patient For 1 Gram

    http://hawaiinewsdaily.com/2011/01/kona-judge-convicts-legal-medical-marijuana-patient-for-1-gram/

    Mahalo to all those that are resisting and speaking up…..

  • vicky vampire

    Wow I just read your link,Taxedtodeath, in kONA-JUDGE-CONVICTS-LEGAL MEDICAL-MARIJUANA-PATIENT.whoa, and here I though Hawaii had a Hang loose attitude more like hang em, and throw away the key this forever changes my attitude about the islands, I thought they were way more compassionate, and the laws more lenient all around was I so wrong!!!.

  • kaptinemo

    My favorite quote from Nietzsche:

    “But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful! They are people of bad race and lineage; out of their countenances peer the hangman and the sleuth-hound. Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking. And when they call themselves ‘the good and just,’ forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but- power!”

    The DrugWarrior prosecutors generally believe themselves to be wearing the ‘white hats’. But their actions betray them. They should watch Les Miserables and see if they find a distressing degree of similarity between themselves and a character named Javert.

    Everyone else can…