What If Criminal Justice Reform

What if we actually enact criminal justice reform?

Would we have a system that didn’t ruin lives for relatively minor mistakes?  Would we spend less tax dollars caging fewer humans “to make them better?”  Would we be better of?

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Politicians seem to think so. Or at least they’ve said as much through the last election cycle.  Whether it be genuine belief or riding the rising tide of the concerns of their constituents, everybody from former prosecutors who did nothing to change the criminal justice problem from the inside to born-billionaires who took on the cause prior to election (despite not having previously used any of their billions to make a difference in the past) are trying (or at least pretending) to make the criminal justice system a little more hospitable.

The politicians are throwing out all sorts of neither new nor novel reform. “We need to overhaul the bond system.”  “We can decriminalize cannabis possession.” “We should eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing.”

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This right here explains why you people are so angry.

In a few days the good people over at Excessivebail are going to post a little thing I wrote about plea bargains (Edit: It’s now up here).  It’s not really so much about plea bargains as it is about how the public and victims (you people) react when somebody you “know” is guilty gets “too good” of a deal.  It was inspired by Billy Curl recently getting a “good” deal for murdering that NIU student.

I won’t spoil it for you. Rather, I’ll allow it to underwhelm and disappoint you when it’s posted.

In light of that, though, I came across something I had to mention.  This case in the Northwest Herald is one you have to keep your eye on: “Former Private School Principal Arrested in Johnsburg.”  Why do you have to keep your eye on it?  It’s exactly the kind of case that the public (you people) is going to react to when it’s resolved in the Woodstock Courthouse.

To save you actually having to click over, here’s the main gist of the article:

JOHNSBURG – A former private school principal in Johnsburg has been arrested after she sent “offensive” letters to parents of students, according to the Johnsburg Police Department.

Pamela Dvonch, 63, was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct on Sunday in connection with at least 16 letters recently sent to parents of students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School.

The letters — a sheet of paper in an envelope with a few words on it — forced authorities to post officers at the school April 2 as a precautionary measure.

The cards were sent to parents on the school’s parent advisory board and fundraising committee, as well as the pastor at the church and a separate parishioner, Johnsburg police Chief Keith Von Allmen said. The cards were homemade.

An investigation later linked Dvonch to the letters, and she turned herself into police on Sunday. She previously worked at the school for more than 20 years.

“Inside the cards, there were offensive statements directed at the parent,” Von Allmen previously told the Northwest Herald. “I want to make it clear that it was not a threatening comment.”

Dvonch was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct due to the disruption the letters caused at the school, Von Allmen said Monday.

“Disorderly conduct is a breach of the peace,” he said. “The disruption that occurred at the school was caused by these letters.”

Folks, this is a bad case.  How do I know?  First clue is the description of what she wrote.  Look how vague it is.  Were the letters threatening? No.  They were offensive? Yeah?  How so?  Would you have been offended by those words?  Would I have? Offensive to whom?

Go ahead and Tell me what the words were. I’m a big boy. I can handle it.  What were they?

Oh.  You‘re not going to do that?

And when I say “you” I mean the cops who charged the case (and who are the source of the report).  There’s a reason they’re not telling us.  That reason probably isn’t because it makes it look like this is an awesome case for them.

How else do you know it’s a bad case?  Well, those same cops who charged the case and gave this information to the newspaper don’t know what they’re talking about.  Disorderly conduct isn’t a breach of the peace.  A breach of the peace can be disorderly conduct.  It can be only if several other elements of the offense were met (like the defendant’s actions must be unreasonable).

Oh and, by the way, even if all those other elements are met and there was a breach of the peace, it’s still not disorderly conduct if it’s based on words and those words are what is called “protected speech.”  Were they?  Maybe that’s why they aren’t telling us what the words were.

Did the cop know all this?  Maybe he just didn’t have time to go into that much detail with the reporter. Or, maybe he doesn’t really know all those other pesky details. I guess we’ll find out.

Either way, this article is one of those things that looks scary.  I’m sure members of the public are alarmed.  Keep an eye on the reaction when this case gets resolved.  If you’re angry when it gets resolved, don’t be mad at the prosecutor.  Don’t be mad at the defense attorney. Be mad at the guys who charged the case and left out all of the minor details when they told you about it.

Drunk driving laws increase drunk driving. Yeah, I said it.

If hit T.V. show Diff’rent Strokes could once have had a “very special” episode about bullies, consider this a “very special” episode of matthaiduk.com/blog.

I wake up in cold sweats from this silly web page. It’s not really the web page. It’s the thought of things I write here coming up at the hearings for my confirmation to the Supreme Court.  Somebody is bound to not read everything I write in a post and take it all out of context.  “Isn’t it true, Mr. Haiduk, that you are for crime?”  I suppose having to deal with that on my way to the Supreme Court is just the “chance” I take.  Besides, it’s not like I’ll have to answer questions about bad pornography and sexual harassment.

Regardless of what people might take out of context, I believe the law should not encourage the “evil” it is trying to eliminateMy take, coincidentally, is not popular.  If it were, the drug laws would be different.  So would other laws. Like DUI.  In my world, DUI laws wouldn’t encourage impaired drivers to drive while impaired.

In your world (or, the “real” world, anyway) they do. In virtually every state.

I’m not nuts. No, I’m not.

Just hang with me for a minute.  Despite the strong “suggestions” of others in the legal profession (including the ABA), I try to keep this little slice of the digital world completely practical.  They want me to talk about “supreme court” precedent, stare decisis and other awesome latin sounding things.  I want to talk about brushing your hair before a mugshot, what to do when you’re being interrogated, and wearing incredible shirts.

For a brief minute, the “boring legal blog people” win.  I’m about to mention a case.  I apologize.  If hit T.V. show Diff’rent Strokes could once have had a “very special” episode about bullies, consider this a “very special” episode of matthaiduk.com/blog.  Hopefully it won’t happen again.

In 1989 a state trooper found a guy sleeping in a car on the shoulder of a frontage rode.  The guy was fast asleep in a sleeping bag, in the back seat of the car.  The keys were in the ignition but the car was not running.  The guy was drunk when the police showed up.  We’re not really sure if he was drunk before he stopped the car- he had been sleeping for several hours.  This all happened in a case called People v. Davis.

As far as the law is concerned, by the way, it doesn’t matter if he was stopped on the shoulder of the road, in the Wal-Mart parking lot, or even in the driveway of a party he never really left.  There are cases that cover all of those.

Now, ask yourself what you should do if you are on the road and it occurs to you that you may have had too much to drink?  Pull over and stop immediately, right?  Who doesn’t know that?  In my world, the defendant in the Davis case might get some sort of a ticket (parking, perhaps).  He shouldn’t get a DUI, though.  Sleeping was a better option than driving drunk.

In your world the court found that it was o.k. to charge him with DUI.  In the “real” world, pulling over and sleeping it off only prolongs the time you are outside of your house and subject to arrest for DUI.  For every minute you are sleeping in the back seat of your car, you are more likely to get arrested.  Does that encourage people to sleep, or keep driving in hopes of not getting seen?  I know, for sure, it doesn’t encourage people to stop immediately and sleep it off.

Did I just tell you to drive home drunk? Absolutely not.  I told you one way that the law may encourage that over absolute safety, though.  I can’t help but wonder why the law would ever do such a thing.

Maybe it’s because America doesn’t vote for anybody who isn’t “tough on crime” and “letting people off” of DUI isn’t tough enough?  Maybe it’s because there’s money to be made on arresting people (that bond fee is nothing, by the way… court costs alone for a single DUI can be in the thousands of dollars per case)?  Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we know that AAIM is watching and ranking the “top” DUI cops.  Maybe.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that the law should encourage drunk people to get off the road immediately.  It doesn’t.  That’s actually what keeps me up at night in a cold sweat.