Monday, May 10, 2010

The 1000ft Law

A couple months ago I watched a young man plead guilty to possession with intent to deliver 10 grams of marijuana within a 1000ft of a school. His punishment: 1 year in prison.

10 grams of weed isn't much. It takes 3 times that amount to make possessing it a felony. Possession of small amounts of pot is the only drug crime in Illinois that is a misdemeanor. The class of the misdemeanor depends on the amount, but it's broken down like this:

Up to 2.5 grams=Class C
2.5 grams-10 grams=Class B
10 grams-30 grams=Class A

Most of the time, the cops don't show up to court for misdemeanor weed arrests and the case gets thrown out. If the cops do show up, the State usually offers court supervision. "Soup" as we call it, is the judicial equivalent to a little bitty slap on the wrist. If the defendant completes the period of supervision without getting arrested, the charge is dismissed. In other words, "Soup" is a non-conviction.

But possession with intent to deliver 10-30 grams is a Class 4 felony. Bring this within 1000ft of a school and it's bumped up to a Class 3. The State must have offered a plea deal and dropped the 1000ft from a school portion of the charge. How do I know this?

Because he got 1 year. The minimum on a Class 3 is 2 years.

Possession is proven by fact, but the intent to deliver is proven by circumstantial evidence. How was it packaged? Was there any money recovered? There are more factors. Our criminal code enhances several crimes if committed within 1000ft of schools...and churches, truck stops, parks, etc.

I think this makes sense. We want to keep drugs and guns away from schools. Absolutely. That's a no-brainer. The problem with this in Chicago it's often hard not to be within a 1000 ft of one the above at all times.

While the legislative intent is clear and makes sense, what typically happens is something else. Usually someone is unlucky enough to get caught walking down the street with something they shouldn't have. And they happen to be within 1000ft of a school or other protected area.

I have yet to have, or even hear of, a case of someone that got caught selling drugs to children near a school. Or to people leaving church. The parks get hit a lot. And there are no truck stops in Chicago.

On the same day I had a case where my client allegedly possessed about 2 grams of crack. I submit crack is more nefarious than weed. The State also alleged intent to deliver. His arrest was within 1000ft of a school.

As charged this was a Class X felony and not eligible for probation. Class X. Armed Robbery is a Class X felony. Home Invasion is a Class X felony. Attempt murder is punished as a Class X felony. Hmmm. Anyway....

I negotiated a plea deal. The within 1000 ft of a school was dropped. My client plead guilty to a lesser charge and received probation. A week later almost the same thing happened with a different client. This time it was within 1000 ft of a park. This client also plead to a lesser charge in exchange for probation.

And I had a client last week that got caught within a 1000ft of 2 schools. That was a first. Some schools are right in the middle of the seediest neighborhoods in the city. And 1000ft is almost 1/4 of a mile. That's a long way.

The 1000ft rule was put into the law for a reason. Why is the local State's Attorney regularly not enforcing it? I am not complaining. I think criminalizing someone caught with some rocks on a corner that's too close to a school the same as an armed robber doesn't make sense.

Someone actually caught selling to a school student should be penalized sharply. In our state, selling drugs to someone under 18 raises the level of the offense. It should. The 1000ft law was designed to keep drug dealing away from historically clean areas.

We don't want school kids using. I have never seen anyone getting high in church. And we don't want junkies hanging out in parks. Children go to parks. What about protecting areas where drug use is the highest?

Does the 1000ft law seem to say it's ok (or at least less wrong) to sell in bad neighborhoods? How about the projects? No, property ran by the Chicago Housing Authority is also protected. So are senior citizen homes.

It appears the charge enhancements are in place to punish certain crimes in vulnerable areas more sharply.  Drugs and guns bring violence for several reasons. Answer why they are being possessed and who is possessing them. The inquiry need not go any further.

To write in generalities, drug dealing is more problematic than the act itself. It brings a lot of baggage. The gangs control much of the drug business in the city. And with gangs come guns and rival gangs. This exact scenario is how a lot of young men end up getting shot here in Chicago.

Drugs bring in money from the users. The gangs fight over drug revenue. It's all about the money.

How do we end it? As long as there is a market for dope, there will be dope on the streets. And the people selling the dope will be armed and willing to fight to the death to protect their financial interests.

Have harsher drug laws worked? Nope. When Pablo Escobar was killed, did cocaine stop making it here? Nope. Would a naval blockade of South Florida have stopped cocaine from being shipped here? Nope. The cartels just move it through Mexico.

Did all of the special task force operations against clandestine meth labs stop meth use? Nope. It's now being made in Mexico. And it's purer and more addictive.

Something the law makers and lawmen don't understand, is that the demand is where the problem lies. People want to get high. Folks who have terrible lives want to get high to escape reality. That unchecked desire to escape life is the cause of so many problems.

When you're high there is no worrying about bills or career advancement. Drug use can turn off the part of the brain that makes most of us get up and go to work everyday. I am not talking about recreational marijuana use. I am referring to junkies. People that do nothing but use everyday.

Continuing to imprison the street level dealers isn't helping. Why? Because someone else is willing to step up and be the next dealer. This is easy money. And most people see the stretch worth the risk. 

Heroin and crack-cocaine are the two biggest plaques infecting Chicago streets. Crack and heroin are everywhere. And it's big business for everyone involved: dealers, the cops that make the arrests, the county jail that houses them, and the court system that administers justice. I am also guilty of making money from the drug trade. Wow. That is so true.

If we want to make our streets safer, reduce the drug demand. If no one wants to get high, the drugs will disappear. And the gun violence will go with it. But this problem of reducing drug demand is beyond me in scope. I don't have a solution. But I have ideas. 

A while ago I suggested paying cash to people who turned in guns. No questions asked. We recently did that here in Chicago. I wrote about it. People need an incentive to stay clean. Pay them. Give them something worth the effort.


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