If you don’t know already, the criminal justice system needs massive reform.
Recently, I represented a criminal defendant who was charged with theft enhanced, which means he had a prior theft conviction. He picked up the charge after a witness saw him and a buddy steal a $30 bicycle. That’s right, a $30 bike.
Theft enhanced is a state jail felony. It carries state jail time up to 2 years no less than 6 months.
My client had already spent two months in jail. The prosecutor thought he should be jailed for nine months. I tried to convince him that it was nonsense to incarcerate this man any longer at taxpayers’ expense for a $30 bike. He would not budge. I was dumbfounded!
My intent is not to disparage prosecutors. Understandably, they must follow the law as it’s enacted by the legislature. In fact, this particular prosecutor is a friend of mine. He probably agreed with me but could not admit it.
The State of Texas spends $50 a day of taxpayers’ money to incarcerate an inmate. So in my client’s case, the prosecutor was proposing spending $9125 to incarcerate him for a $30 bike. This proposal was all the more nonsensical because my client was not a threat to anyone. He was a petty criminal. Had he been a violent career criminal, spending $9125 to take him off the streets would have made lots of sense.
No wonder our state and nation are broke. We are foolishly spending thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to incarcerate nonviolent thieves for stealing $30 bikes. Why? Because some right-winged opportunistic politicians and prosecutors want to appear tough on crime to further their careers. Appearing weak on crime will sink their careers like cement.
Once again, everyone wants violent offenders in jail and prison. They endanger all of our lives. But, spending tens of thousands of dollars to incarcerate petty, nonviolent career criminals is just plain dumb. Dumb, I say!
Why not create alternative programs to ensure this type of petty criminal pays back society in less expensive ways. As a taxpayer, I just don’t want my hard earned money wasted like that.
Fortunately, the judge in my case intervened and gave my client time served for the two months he had already spent in jail. Two months in jail was more than adequate for stealing a $30 bike. But, this brings me to another troubling point in this process. Judges who make bold sensible decisions like that are bullied by other pro-law enforcement judges and prosecutors to be tough on crime. Fearing that backlash, many judges just go along with the system. Fortunately, Dallas County has a good number of fair-minded judges who will buck the system when fairness and justice call for it.
Here’s what’s clear about this madness. We The People have the power to reform the system. We can vote out the opportunistic politicians who enact stupid criminal laws to appear tough on crime just to get reelected. We also can vote for judges who are courageous enough to make bold and sometimes unpopular decisions when fairness demands it. Again, We The People have the power to change the system. Let’s make our voices heard.