Why politics and prosecution don't mix

I admit I'm not a big fan of politicians. With a few exceptions I don't think they truly believe anything. Instead, they are more worried about what the general public thinks - or at least what they believe they are thinking. In the area of criminal justice that  can lead to disaster. Everyone thinks they want to be tough on crime - until it's someone they know caught up in the system, or they discover they don't have money to lock up everyone.

Prosecutors have to walk a fine - and there are very who do it well. They are charged with the obligation to see that justice is done. Unfortunately, that is not so easy to discern, or do. Justice does not  mean locking up everyone and throwing away the key. Punishment is appropriate, but justice requires more than giving in to the interest of victims and the general public. Justice also requires considering the individual defendant, as well as the interests of the general public and society.

Every case is different. Crimes are committed in all sorts of ways. There are also all types of defendants and victims - where you have a victim based crime. No one approach can ever hope to balance all the varying circumstances. To be fair, some consistency is required - if for no other reason than to know where to  start at. When you try to pigeon hole all cases into one disposition though problems are bound to arise.

What caused me to write about this is a post in Grits for Breakfast about the policy of the McLennan County District Attorney - Abel Reyna - to impose an increased fine on all defendants convicted of DWI. He says all t he things you expect a District Attorney to say when pandering to the public; they should of thought about the consequences before they did it, etc.... No doubt he wants to appear tough on DWI's - and is quite proud of that. There's nothing wrong with that ; unless of course you let political considerations influence the outcome of cases - which is exactly what is happening here.

Over the years the legislature has jumped on the DWI bandwagon - and used defendants as a means to raise revenue. The $1,000 surcharge has been a disaster, with the result that the legislature has been forced to set up a procedure for handling those individuals who can't pay it. They recognized too late what every one told them at the beginning - not everyone can pay that, and you are going to end up with a lot of unlicensed and uninsured drivers who have no other choice. (BTW -  Scott Henson aka/Grits has long been advocate of an amnesty program for surcharge payments and has covered that issue better than anyone)

Is is really in the best interest of society to saddle defendants with costs they can never pay? No doubt some may choose to sit out their time in jail - which taxpayers will pay for. They will then lose their license, and get caught in the vicious cycle of trying to work and support their family without having a way to get to and from work.

There is one important thing prosecutors fail to consider when implementing a "get tough on DWI" policy.  Most DWI defendants are average hard working people who made a mistake. They will probably never do it again, and they learned their lesson when you put them in the police car and threw them in jail. They are the people who pay taxes, support their schools and civic organizations, and generally keep society thriving. And by the way - they also vote.

 

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