Pubdate: Thu, 22 May 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Radley Balko
Page: A19


I recently wrote about the absurd way that drug laws can allow law
enforcement officials to determine the quantity of an illicit drug in
deciding how to charge a suspect. The laws aren't written to hold
people accountable for the amount of a given drug they have made
available to the public (or, put another way, for the amount of harm
they have done). They are written to inflict the maximum amount of

Here's a good example of how that can play out, as reported by
KEYE-TV in Austin:

"A Texas man accused of making and selling marijuana brownies is
facing up to life in prison if convicted. That's because officials in
Round Rock have charged him with a first-degree felony.

"'It's outrageous. It's crazy. I don't understand it,' Joe Lavoro, the
man's father, said.

"Like many familiar with the case, Joe does not understand why his son
is in so much legal trouble. . . . [Jacob Lavoro, 19,] is accused of
making and selling pot brownies. He's charged with a first-degree felony.

"'Five years to life? I'm sorry. I'm a lawabiding citizen. I'm a
conservative. I love my country. I'm a Vietnam veteran, but . . . this
is wrong," the father said.

"Lavoro's lawyer agrees. 'I've been doing this 22 years as a lawyer
and I've got 10 years as a police officer, and I've never seen
anything like this before,' Jack Holmes, the attorney, said. . . .

"The charge is so severe because the [brownie] recipe includes hash
oil. That allows the state to use the sugar, cocoa, butter and other
ingredients to determine the weight of the drugs. ' They've weighed
baked goods in this case. It ought to be a misdemeanor,' Holmes said."

It's unlikely that Lavoro will actually get a life sentence; the
Williamson County prosecutor told the Associated Press that a plea
deal is possible. But the threat of a life term does give the
prosecutor a better hand when negotiating that plea bargain.

If the harsher sentence is unlikely but could help persuade a guilty
person to admit to his or her crime, what's the harm? Well, as it
turns out, the threat of decades in prison can also be awfully
persuasive in getting innocent people to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Also, should Lavoro go to trial and lose, a judge and prosecutor could
leave him with a felony record, a year in prison and five years of
probation and come off looking downright reasonable.
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