Friday, April 13, 2018

Placing people above government in criminal prosecutions

The following is the text of my editorial letter that appeared in the Lebanon Reporter on 12 March 2018.

In reading last Wednesday's edition of The Lebanon Reporter, I perceived conflicting messages about the issue of criminal matters. Crime reduction is a difficult subject which is complicated by the division of crime into its two categories; natural or common law crimes where there is a direct victim such as battery or theft and statutory crimes such as applying an aerosol weed killer to your garden when wind speeds exceed 5 mph or letting an errant marijuana seed grow in that garden and then die unharvested.

From the front page story about the killing of Deputy Pickett I read “[T]he ‘revolving door’ of criminals being caught and released from jail is trouble to both (the prosecutor) and local law enforcement.” Yet on the back page is a brief story about a guilty plea being accepted which seems to grease that ‘revolving door.’

In that instance charges of criminal confinement where a vehicle was used; intimidation where defendant draws or uses a deadly weapon; and pointing a firearm at another person were filed. Additionally, carrying a handgun without a license was filed to which the defendant plead guilty in exchange for dismissal of the other three charges. The defendant was sentenced to one year of jail time suspended in lieu of probation.

This plea arrangement is troubling in that it essentially dismisses what amounted to hostage taking [natural crime] but “punished” the paperwork [statutory] crime. Hence, threaten the lives of other people and that can be overlooked but neglect to file some paperwork and pay a processing fee and the heavy hammer of probation (with more fees being likely) is going to come down upon you.

Ample research clearly demonstrates that culture is highly influential in the expression of crimes. In our combat oriented culture a higher rate is no surprise. A cultural shift can diminish that. One way is to alter our use of language to less conflict oriented expressions — we don’t “fight crime” but instead “promote lawfulness.” Another manner could be a top-down governing demonstration that common people matter more than regulation and fees.

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