Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

The Drug War

January 12, 2009

I was reminded earlier today of the instance where the futile stupidity of the drug war became so apparently obvious to me. For quite some time now (ever since reading Friedman & Szasz’s Liberty & Drugs) I have held the standard libertarian position in favor of drug-legalization. But it was always a rather abstract, almost esoteric position – something I accepted intellectually – almost as part of a check-the-boxes-of-libertarianism – but never really applied or actually felt. Then one day I actually was able to see first hand the effects of the drug-war, and its insane stupidity, and I felt like I was quite literally hit.

Essentially throughout last year (while I was completing my Masters in Public Policy), I took advantage of my law degree and worked part-time as a defense paralegal. I was observing a case where a teenager was convicted of ‘deemed supply’ of ecstasy – essentially he just had enough in his amount that it was ruled he was a supplier, even though there was no evidence of this. In NSW, 3g (or roughly 30 pills) is enough to have you deemed a supplier – hardly enough to make you a drug baron.

Merits of this particular case aside, I was watching this trial and conviction unfold and began to think about the cost involved.

Now, this trial went for 5 days, plus sentencing. The government paid for a judge, his clerk, court officers, security, prosecution counsel, defense counsel (both barrister and solicitor – and their many house of case preparation), jury fees, court operating costs, witness expenses,  and obviously all the costs involved in the police preparing for the trial.

Adding these up – and remember how exorbitantly staggering particularly defense legal fees are legal aid or not – and it’s a staggering amount. Plus of course there’s the cost of sentence on top of this. Quite possibly over $100,000 in total. And why? Because a kid had a few pills on him.

We could have spent $100,000 – or even more – of taxpayer money to punish a kid for having a small bag of pills. $100,000. Heck, even if it was only half that it’s still a staggering, staggering thing to think about.

Then multiply this by all the drug cases our courts hear. All the police resources they take up.  And think how much better the money could be spent.

[As a side note, working in the legal industry made me rapidly lose most of the respect I used to have for police as an institution, and realise just how f**ked our justice system is – quite scary really. But thats for another post]

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Sloppy Journalism

January 12, 2009

“Loophole gets criminals off” led the SMH earlier today in respect to no-conviction-recorded sentences (known as Section 10 orders).

On one hand the Sydney Morning Herald (sensibly) decries the Law & Order auction, and then on the other comes up with such ridiculous headlines.

Whilst I do not dispute the potential of the Section 10 orders being overused, they are a fundamental part of our criminal justice system, and an important check & balance on the power of the state. To call something so integral to the courts a ‘loophole’ – as if the guilty are getting off scot-free on some technicality – is just mind-boggling.

Granted, it’s probably the fault of an ignorant sub-editor, but still, this headline is just sloppy journalism and precisely what encourages the simplistic hysteria that is the NSW Law & Order Auction.

Update: There have been a number of letters to the editor of the SMH published today,  including from my former boss, which I shall quote here:

“The hysterical headline “Loophole gets one in six off the hook” (January 13) misleads the reader about the effect of section 10. That section may save a defendant from a criminal conviction for a good reason. A conviction for lower-level offences can have a disproportionate effect on a life.

There is a public benefit in allowing a magistrate to place a miscreant under the pressure of a good-behaviour bond. A year or more under the sword of Damocles can do far more to deter offending than a conviction and fine. Reoffend while on a good behaviour bond and you may deserve a conviction and penalty. Deterrence and rehabilitation are both facilitated by section 10.

After 20 years as a defence lawyer, I know a section 10 is not that easy to get. The circumstances of an offence and the life history of a defendant can cry out for something better than a hardline approach. Listing the outcome of celebrity cases tells us little about the successes of section 10.

I will give the Herald a section 10 and hope for rehabilitation.”