I recently represented a man charged with minor possession of marijuana. The facts of the case were as follows: my client and his friend were at the W in midtown Atlanta. Allegedly, hotel security guards saw the two men throw away what appeared to be a bag of marijuana into a hotel trash can. The guards confronted the two men and detained them while the police were called. Once the police arrived they searched the trash can and discovered, lo and behold, a bag of marijuana.
Apparently hotel security had been called to confront the two men on another matter, something involving their attempt at using hotel rewards points. Consequently when reviewing a video tape of the two, one of the guards noticed my client throwing away a bag into a trash can. This security guard instantly realized that the bag was marijuana thanks to the extensive training he had previously received by the ATF in drug recognition as part of his hotel security guard training. (I wish there was a font for sarcasm)
So the case I end up with is based on some idiot rent-a-cop at a hotel observing someone on a grainy CCTV system throw SOMETHING away in a trash can, which is later observed to have some sticky icky inside of it. I realize this must have been surprising to the police considering that the W is famous for its frequent appearances in the most anti pot smoking musical genres: Hip Hop. (see how helpful that font would be?)
Fortunately for my client the case was dismissed and he was able to move on with his life.
How the prosecution would have convinced a jury that the marijuana inside the trash can actually belonged to my client I have no clue. But don’t blame them for trying to put together a case. I have many friends who work for the State and they have a job to do.
The real problem is the drug law itself. What would the state of Georgia have gained from my client if they had managed to convict him?
Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor in the State of Georgia. This means that the maximum punishment is up to 12 months jail time and a $1,000 dollar fine. Let’s say the State hit him with the max on the fine. With court costs and other ancillary fees the final amount would be around $1400.
So here are some of the costs to the State:
1. Cost of the police officers investigating this matter.
2. Use of the drug lab to test the material to prove it is indeed, sticky icky.
3. Court cost and resources for the arraignment and trial.
4. Cost of the prosecution spending time preparing this case.
Keep in mind that this maximum punishment is only going to occur AFTER a jury trial of six citizens. This just increases the cost to the State.
The amount of tax dollars it takes to open a case like this is more than the $1400 they would have gotten from my client.
"Well," you say, "why not just increase the fine?"
Then you are pushing minor possession into felony world. The costs of prosecuting a felony are higher and more draining on resources.
But it isn’t only the cost to the tax payer that is troubling. There are a host of misdemeanors that are not given the attention they need because of overcrowded court dockets. Presently, our State Court Criminal Dockets are so backed up that if you get arrested for abusing your wife tonight you might not been in court for another two years. This means victims of battery, domestic violence, and theft are forced to wait absurdly long periods of time for resolutions to their cases.
Why are we draining our tax dollars and resources? Just so two dudes don’t sit around their hotel room eating too much junk food and tripping out over how in sync Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of Moon is with the Wizard of Oz?
Thanks Federal and State Government, you guys are really fighting the good fight. (someone really needs to work on that sarcasm font)