How Punitive Sentences Destroy Respect For Authority

Posted by Richard Lawson | Aug 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Very often misdemeanor defendants are punished in a punitive manner that has no nexus to their offense.  Frankly, some of the punishments make little sense.

Recently, my associate had a case involving underage drinking.  Generally, these types of cases are sent into a diversion program and upon completion of the program the case is dismissed.

In this particular case, the client agreed to the diversion program and then all hell broke loose.  Unlike a reasonable program that would include community service and classes on alcohol and drug dependency, this program required weekly testing.

The client was required to call a number every day to see if his “color” was chosen.  When his “color” was randomly selected, he had to drop everything and come in to be tested.

Keep this in mind; this was for possession of alcohol by someone under 21.  How ridiculous.  The client was in college and could not drop everything on a moment's notice.  The probation officer's solution was to “drop out of college.”  That was an exact quote.

So, the solution to “cure” the client of his use of alcohol while in college was to drop out.  This is the type of idiocy criminal defense attorneys deal with every day.  I often wonder about the hypocrisy of judges, prosecutors, and probation officers in these situations.  Am I the only person in the United States that consumed alcohol before the age of 21?

I am not saying that I think the client should not have suffered consequences for his actions; on the contrary.  I am saying that the punishment was so pointless that it made the client think the entire system deserved no respect.  The sentence itself destroyed the client's respect for authority because it was utterly unreasonable.

We do the same thing in DUI cases in Georgia.  Some of the punishments are so time consuming and costly that an ordinary person cannot do them all.  As a result, people who are trying their best to comply end up violating their probation because they simply cannot do everything required.

In our cases, we recommend that out clients get all conditions of probation completed prior to going to court.  However, it is not lost on me that anyone who can afford our office has greater resources than the average person.

The punishment must fit the crime and must fit reality as well.  We have become a society that is far too punitive, and that needs to change.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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