By Michele Hanisee
The California State Senate voted to reward repeat drug dealers by repealing a three-year enhancement imposed for a subsequent conviction for selling drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and PCP.
Senate Bill 966 was introduced by State Senator Holly Mitchell, and in its original version would have repealed the enhancement in its entirety. The original bill was defeated, but then resurrected and passed with two slight changes-enhancements would still apply to those who used a minor to sell drugs, and to those who manufactured drugs. These changes are meaningless, applying to only a small fraction of those who are engaged in the business of selling drugs.
Senator Mitchell’s reasons for this legislation are, quite frankly, absurd. “Piling extra years onto jail sentences for repeat offenders of nonviolent crimes overcrowds our prisons, sucks money out of taxpayers’ pockets and makes punishing a greater priority than preventing crime,” she said. “It doesn’t work. Why continue to waste lives and money on a failed policy?” Note to Senator Mitchell, the enhancements are added to “prison sentences”, not jail sentences. You would think a legislator making public safety policy would know the difference.
Let’s examine Senator Mitchell’s arguments one at a time.
- The “piling” of extra years reflects the foundation of our criminal justice system, where first offenders get treated less harshly than those on a second, third, fourth or more offense. Such individualized justice is designed to both deter offenders, and punish those who persist in repeating their criminal conduct. Reducing punishment for those who engage in the same repeated criminal conduct serves neither to deter nor punish. (Kudos to Senator Mitchell for working in the magic buzz words “non-violent offender” which are used in Sacramento to justify every inane “criminal reform” change one can imagine.)
- The argument that taxpayers would “save money” by this change is likewise puzzling. First, while there might be some savings from not housing the convicted drug dealer for another 18 months, when a previously convicted drug dealer resumes selling drugs and is caught, there will be money spent to arrest and prosecute said dealer-not to mention the rehab programs for their buyers when they decide or are ordered to attend rehab to end their drug use. Of course, if we took Senator Mitchell’s “logic” to the natural extreme—we should stop putting drug dealers in prison, and exult in the taxpayer savings!
- As for the claim that we make “punishing a greater priority than preventing crime”, where to begin? How, exactly, does the good Senator believe reducing punishment for selling drugs will result in prevention of that crime? Inquiring minds want to know. On a similar note, when Senator Mitchell claims that imposing a three-year enhancement is a failed policy, she was unable to note any study that supports her claim. We look forward to that data as well.
One of the Deputy District Attorneys in the Major Narcotics Division wrote to me about a case he is currently prosecuting to provide an example of the type of repeat drug dealer Senator Mitchell and her Senate colleagues voted to reward. The defendant in his case had just served five years in prison for selling drugs, and was recently found in possession of one pound of methamphetamine, two rifles, and a handgun. Maybe this “non-violent offender” will send a thank you card to Senator Mitchell for knocking a potential three years off his next prison sentence.