01 May 2012

Just Say No to Delusions

I was in Court in the 19th Circuit today for a criminal docket.  Over the past year, I’ve moved a good part of our trial practice to that Circuit because the bar was shrinking and I’ve always enjoyed the people there.

In smaller circuits, some judges have docket days where 10 or 15 cases are all set for 9 AM, and we go through them in whatever order makes sense.  (In some metro areas, a similar system is used because there are too many cases to schedule for “times certain.”)

Today, 8 or 9 defendants entered guilty pleas and were sentenced to various alternatives such as “community corrections,” which is a very closely monitored probation.  Of those cases every one - EVERY DAMN ONE - featured some sort of drug addiction, and several also had alcohol added to the mix. 

Every one.

In the 19th Circuit, the Judge inquires of any defendant who is pleading guilty how they got into trouble.  When drugs are a problem, he’ll discuss with the defendants how the drug use started, how it grew and what the now-convicted person is going to do about it.  There are lots of reasons that’s a good idea.  One is that confession is indeed good for the soul, at least once a person has decided to plead guilty.  Also, we need to know what’s happening and how bad the drug problem is getting.

Sorry - am I boring you?  Goodness, this has been the subject of public service announcements, solemn pronouncements about what great things we’re doing, editorials, studies and political bloviating for the last 40 years.  We’re all getting numbed.  That’s a problem, because the extent of  the costs of drug addiction are overwhelming.

I can’t not pontificate about what “the answer” is to the whole mess.

First, I don’t have a clue.

Second, anybody who says there even IS “the” answer isn’t very bright.  And the simpler their “answer” is, the dumber they are. 

“All you have to do is ...” can be interpreted accurately as “I’m a blowhard AND a dumbass.”

I also hate to talk problems without at least suggesting some solutions or even just some lines of inquiry.

The best I can offer tonight is to identify some things that aren’t working.  That’s not totally useless.  Edison wasn’t joking when he said that he had to find 10,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb before he found one which worked.

I cannot even say that the things society is doing are worthless - just that the current mix and intensity isn’t really denting the damage done by drugs.

Long sentences - Those are popular.  After the federal government started using “sentencing guidelines” (and some states followed suit), drug sentences got MUCH longer.  That is effective to some extent because those particular dealers put in the penitentiary are not out dealing.  On the other hand, those sentences do not much deter other players from getting into the business.  The money to be made is considerable and the consideration those folks have for their own futures is limited.  Indeed, there is a profound fatalism in Generation Whatever-The-Hell-the Current-One-Is-called. 

When one dealer goes away, that just creates economic opportunity for others.

By the way, in the penitentiaries, there is a brisk trade in drugs, primarily REAL hard drugs because they concentrate strength in very small packages.

How about education?  Cute public service announcements haven’t done much.  (“This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs.  Any question?”  Remember that one?  Clever but still a laugher.)

Parental education?  I’ll tell you what got me on this subject this evening.  Today, I heard a really sad statement by a parent of one of the guys pleading guilty, after the defendant described his years of drug abuse.  The judge asked the parent, “When did you know your son was a drug addict?”  The parent replied - I wrote it down - “We knew that he smoked marijuana now and then, but we didn’t know it was serious until he was arrested the first time.”

Sigh.  This is a blog. Blogs are supposed to rant and roar, like Dutton Peabody to expose the rotten underbelly of society.

What’s the use?  Was it the old Greeks who said “Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain”?

But a little weed?  That’s already serious.

Oh, yeah, the STUDIES.  Darn, I ought to pay more attention to that stuff. 

I have not done academic research on drug abuse.  I have not gathered any statistics.  (For that matter, the last time I massaged statistical data, I was using a punch card machine.)  So all I have is anecdotal evidence.

At some point, you amass enough anecdotes that the points which are very common start to sound valid.

And what we hear in these plea hearings these days is, “I started using marijuana when I was 14 [15, 16, or 17], then pills and then ...”  Sometimes, they start on pills, and sometimes later than 17, but not often.

We know the rest.  We’ve heard it time and time again - weed as a gateway drug; the kind of people in that culture; cost and the need to do illegal things to cover the cost; the violence because so much money is moving; and so forth.

But it’s still the truth.

How do we come to a place where drug use is considered unacceptable, genuinely immoral (as in it really DOES offend nearly everyone) and the demand lessens?

I.  Don’t.  Know.

In the name of God, I wish I did.

1 comment:

Joshua Patty said...


I know that you are extremely serious about this, and rightly so. Still, I kept reading hoping that you would consider a potential neo-con discussion in the ongoing war on drugs: why is the nuclear option off the table? If it's reasonable to sentence drug users to terms 2x, 3x, or more longer than, say, manslaughter, why isn't it reasonable to blow half of Colombia and the drug trail through Mexico back to the Stone Age? Sadly, though, such discussion would only prove your larger point of futility.

This makes me think of historical context. Has any culture every successfully weaned itself off of narcotics? Or have such narcotics been abandoned only when other products were discovered/distributed that had the same perceived benefits with fewer side effects?