Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?….New Jersey says No

September 15, 2008

The State of New Jersey last December became the first state to abolish the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed states to impose the death sentence.  The legislature enacted the measure after a special state commission recommended the abolition a year before. New Jersey has not executed since 1963.  After the 1976 Supreme Court decision, New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982..  The state had chosen lethal injection and built an elaborate facility to carry out the injections, but never used.

The commission found the death penalty was more expensive than life in prison and had not deterred murder.  The legislature’s bill was approved by Governor Jon Corzine, a death penalty opponent, December 27. 2007.

New Jersey’s replacement of the death penalty with life without parole spared eight inmates.  Juries had sentenced four dozen people to the death penalty, but all but eight had been overturned in appeals.  A state appeals court ruled that the state’s lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional, and the state rewrote the procedures, but they were never finalized and expired in 2005.

One of those awaiting execution was Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender whose crimes sparked Megan’s Law.  Timmendequas was convicted of murdering 7-year old Megan Kanka in 1984.  As a result New Jersey enacted a law requiring law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.  Other states have copied this law, certainly including Oklahoma.

Last year,  the legislatures in Nebraska, Montana, Maryland and New Mexico debated bills to repeal those states’ death penalties, but each measure failed, often by a slim margin. Oklahoma continues to enforce the death penalty and shows no indications of repeal. However, It will be interesting to see if other states find that life imprisonment is less expensive and change their laws, which could cause Oklahoma to rethink this position as well.

Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?

September 8, 2008

A group of college presidents is urging the lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18.  They say current laws encourage binge drinking on college campuses.  The college presidents number about 100, and they represent some of the best known universities, like Dartmouth, Duke, and Ohio State University.  Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse are also members.  They actually form a movement.  It’s called the Amethyst Initiative.

They are facing determined opposition from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who say lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car wrecks.  MADD also accuses the college presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem.  MADD officials address parents when they claim the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at the campuses of the presidents who are part of the movement, saying parents should be careful in sending their children to those schools.

Both the college presidents and MADD agree that alcohol abuse by college students is a problem.  Some research has found more than forty percent of college students have reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependance.  One study estimated more than one-half million full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, including about 1,700 who die in accidents.

Other college presidents disagree with the Initiative.  Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami refused to sign the Amethyst Initiative.  She was Secretary of Health and Human Services  during the Clinton administration.  “To just shift [the drinking age] back down to the high schools makes no sense at all,” she said.

No Oklahoma college presidents are members of the Amethyst Initiative.  Both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have strict laws prohibiting the use of alcohol on campus.  After the alcohol-related death of a fraternity pledge in 2004, the University of Oklahoma enacted a three-strikes policy that can lead to a student’s suspension.

“Since we adopted our alcohol policy three years ago, alcohol-related offenses have been reduced by almost 50 %, “ O.U. President David Boren.  He and Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said they had not been asked to sign the Amethyst Initiative and had no plans to sign it.  President Hargis speaks to fraternities and sororities about alcohol awareness.

Of course, there is the obvious argument that young people are allowed to serve (and die) for our country at age 18, vote, marry, and generally, be responsible as an adult at that age ……so why shouldn’t it be legal for them to drink then also? However, the results of lower deaths and accidents for 18 to 21 year olds is evidence of the benefits of keeping the legal age at 21. And even though reducing the drinking age would likely produce more clients needing a criminal defense lawyer….that’s not my goal. I’d much rather see young people have that extra time to mature before being faced with learning how to handle the issues of drinking responsibly.  These issues are difficult enough for older adults, and I know every individual is different — with some more responsible than others at any age…. but, if the older drinking age saves lives and keeps more people from going to jail and ruining their lives I’m all for that.

If however, you or someone you care about is charged with an alcohol related offense, such as DUI or DWI, you should equip yourself with as much education about the process as possible, including learning how to avoid common mistakes, how to choose the right lawyer, and other critical issues. That’s why I encourage you to visit my site at to become educated on these issues. I’ve even added a couple of free videos in the library tab that will be very informative for someone accused of a crime. So be sure and check those out before making any decisions that can forever affect your life.

Cocaine penalties & federal sentencing pitfalls

September 3, 2008

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the penalties for crack cocaine were about 100 times those for powdered cocaine.  These penalties have now been changed last November.  Then the United States Sentencing Commission made the changes retroactive.  That retroactivity has allowed and will allow approximately 19,500 inmates, mostly black, to seek reductions in the sentences they had received.  Four out of five crack defendants are black.

Crack is smoked, so it gets into the bloodstream faster than powdered cocaine, which is ordinarily snorted.  Crack therefore produces a more intense high and is considered more addictive than powdered cocaine.

Experts say the difference between the two types of cocaine do not merit the 100-to-1 disparity that was written into the federal sentencing guidelines in 1986.  Under those guidelines a mandatory minimum of 5 years imprisonment for trafficking in 5 grams of crack, less than the amount of two packets of sugar, whereas it would take 100 times that quantify of powdered cocaine to result in this sentence.

Powered cocaine was typically sold in the mid-1980s by the half-gram or gram for $50 to $100, while crack was sold as small rocks costing as little as $10.  Crack became popular in poor, largely minority urban areas, and it developed a reputation as a drug used mostly by violent, inner-city youths.  It became a “demonic new substance, “ according to Craig Reinarman, a sociology and legal-studies professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, editor of the 1987 book “Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice.”

When crack first became popular, there was an increase in murders and other crimes associated with crack.  But the bloodshed was not necessarily the result of something inherent in crack.  Most of that violence was typical for what happens when any illegal drug is introduced and drug dealers with guns compete for new markets, according to Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems and operations research at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Adding fuel to the concern about crack in 1986 was the death of Len Bias.  He was a basketball star at the University of Maryland just drafted by the Boston Celtics.  His much-publicized death made an impact on Congress.    It was blamed on crack cocaine, although months later one of Bias’s teammates testified Bias had actually snorted powdered cocaine.