Day after day, week after week, year after year, the war on drugs in the US is filling court dockets across the land. This week, we visit three different jurisdictions to get a snapshot of the role of the drug war down at the local courthouse.
In April, district court judges in Grayson County, Texas, about an hour north of Dallas, sentenced 95 people on felony charges. Of the 95 cases, the most serious charges in 16 were for simple methamphetamine possession, making that charge by far the most common of any before the court. Most people convicted of meth possession were given probation. One person was charged with enhanced meth possession and sentenced to 14 years, while two were charged with possession with intent to distribute. One got 20 years, the other got 10 years probation.
Seven people were sentenced for simple cocaine possession, with sentences ranging from probation to a month in jail to 10 years in prison. One person was sentenced for enhanced cocaine possession and got 6 years, while one other was sentenced for possession with intent to distribute and got 15 years. Four people were sentenced for possession of more than four ounces but less than five pounds of marijuana; two got probation, one got one year, and one got two years. One person was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of more than 50 pounds of marijuana.
Probation violators made up a sizeable contingent, with 13 being sentenced in April. Drug offenders accounted for nine of the violators, with meth, cocaine, and marijuana each accounting for three violators. Every drug-related probation violator was sent to prison, as were all other probation violators.
The rest of the cases where sentences were handed out were your typical array of assaults, aggravated and otherwise, burglaries, DWIs, frauds, robberies, and sexual assaults. In only two cases, aggravated sexual assaults on a child, were the sentences as long as the 20-year meth distribution sentence mentioned above.
All in all, persons charged under the drug laws accounted for 41 of the 95 cases adjudicated in Grayson County last month. That's more than 43% of the court's business being taken up with the drug war.
Meanwhile, down in the Pensacola, Florida, area, Tuesday was a typical day for felony arrests in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. In Escambia County, there were five arrests for probation violation (original offense unspecified), four arrests for narcotics violations, three for aggravated assault, two for aggravated child abuse, and one for introducing contraband into a jail. All in all, 29 people were arrested on felony charges Tuesday, with only six directly linked to drug prohibition.
In neighboring Santa Rosa County, there were a total of nine felony arrests Tuesday. One was for drug possession, one for possession with intent to distribute. Three were for unspecified probation violations. Throw in an aggravated assault, a failure to appear, a DWI, and "throwing/shooting deadly missiles," and there's your daily docket.
If the drug war seems mellow in the Florida Panhandle, that's definitely not the case in Licking County, Ohio. Last Thursday, five people had bond hearings in Licking County Municipal Court in Newark. All five were on drug charges, and every case seems to be an example of over-charging. Three people were charged with drug trafficking offenses for buying drugs. As the local paper noted in the case of a woman charged with crack cocaine trafficking: " On April 11, she allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying less than one gram of crack cocaine, according to court reports."
One woman was charged with aggravated drug possession for having a methadone tablet without a prescription. But most bizarre was the charge facing a Newark woman. She was charged with "permitting drug abuse, a fifth-degree felony." As the local paper noted: "Between March 29 and 30, [she] allegedly allowed an associate to buy about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions. Both alleged purchases were made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports."
In Licking County, Ohio, the drug war accounted for all the court's business one day last week. In Grayson County, Texas, the drug war accounted for nearly half of the court's business last month. In the Florida Panhandle, the proportion was much lower. But all across the country, drug prohibition is taking up the time of police, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards. But then again, that's their choice because policing and prosecuting drug offenses is a matter of deliberate policy.