One of the most fundamental problems facing the American criminal justice system is debate over the answer to the following question: Is addiction a disease? Alcohol abuse was defined as an addiction by the American Medical Association in the mid 1960s, and drug abuse followed less than a decade later.
As a criminal lawyer, I’m different than others. I want people to know their rights and protect them. That’s why we put out information – to help people just like you. Now, we’ve provided information about drug crimes before here, here, and here, but there is always more to address.
Unfortunately, addiction is still widely regarded as a moral failing rather than a disease, which is perhaps why our nation’s drug laws focus on incarceration and punishment rather than treatment. The recent drug crimes case involving a Salt Lake City former judge suggests that addiction can quickly derail the lives of even the most moral and upright individuals.
In August, the 46-year-old judge pleaded guilty to one count of drug possession with intent to distribute. Investigators allegedly tracked the woman as she picked up packages containing drugs from a post office box in Salt Lake City.
The former judge has explained that she is addicted to the prescription painkiller Oxycodone; which she first began taking after a 1998 car accident. Some of the packages apparently contained Oxycodone pills while others contained different drugs that she allegedly traded for Oxycodone.
This month, she was sentenced to 90 days in jail followed by three years of probation. Under the terms of her probation, the woman has agreed to continue drug treatment and testing, among other things.
Many outside observers have been critical of the sentence given to the former judge; believing it to be too light. But let’s examine the facts. The woman has been a faithful public servant for years. And prior to her recent conviction, she had an absolutely spotless criminal record. She is also raising two young children as a single mother; including a child with special needs.
According to her attorney, the woman admitted to herself that she had an addiction problem before being arrested. She had even been trying to ween herself off of Oxycodone.
It is fairly plain to see that this former judge’s drug abuse was not the result of growing up in a bad neighborhood, falling in with the wrong crowd or simply lacking moral character. Even her decision to take drugs in the first place was motivated by a legitimate need to manage pain after an accident.
Addiction is a disease, but it often causes symptoms that include criminal and immoral behaviors. How much more successful would we be as a society if we treated the underlying disease rather than simply punishing the symptoms?
U.S. Supreme Court To Take On Important Drug Crimes Case
It’s a classic scenario that has landed countless drivers in hot water. A police officer pulls someone over for erratic driving or some other infraction, and the stop yields something much more substantial, such as a large quantity of drugs. Many drunk driving arrests and drug crimes charges start with a traffic infraction that may be minor, but is enough to establish probable cause and initiate a traffic stop.
But here’s an interesting and tricky question: what if the erratic driving was witnessed by an anonymous tipster, and a police officer makes the stop without having seen the bad driving for himself? That’s a question central to a case that will likely go before the U.S. Supreme Court in January of next year.
The incident occurred in California after someone made an anonymous 911 call to report that a Ford 150 pickup was driving recklessly and had run the caller off the road. Dispatchers were provided with important information including the truck’s license plate number, which was then passed along to the California Highway Patrol.
Officers spotted the vehicle and made the traffic stop, despite the fact that they did not observe the reckless driving themselves. During the stop, an officer smelled marijuana and searched the truck. Four large bags of it were found and the two men in the truck pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana.
They later appealed their conviction based on the traffic stop itself. A previous ruling by a high court set the precedent that it is not generally allowable for police to conduct a search or detain someone when acting solely on an anonymous tip. The question that the U.S. Supreme Court will address is whether anonymous tips should be treated differently when they concern drunk driving or reckless driving.
In recent years, several important criminal cases have gone before the nation’s highest court, and the rulings have proven to be influential around the country, including here in Utah. Based on the details and the questions posed, there is reason to believe that this case may prove to be important to the future of criminal defense as well.
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