Imagine that you suffer a serious injury at some point in your life; something so painful and life-altering that you need painkillers for an unknown amount of time to cope with the situation. When you're feeling better, you stop taking the painkillers; but you don't finish them.
Now, years later, you befriend someone who is in similar pain to you. You're a good person who has never committed a crime, and you just want to help this poor person who is suffering. So you sell the individual some of your leftover pills to ease his pain. Technically, you are doing something illegal. But in the grand scheme of things, should you be treated like a drug kingpin under the law?
That's the question many people are asking after this exact situation played out, involving a 46-year-old father who sold some of his pain medication to a police informant who claimed to be in pain. The father, who lost an eye in 2000, had some leftover pills and, being a good guy with no criminal past, he sold them to him. That 46-year-old is now subject to 25 years in prison -- minimum.
There are a few things to take away from this story. The first is that there could be an entrapment angle to the story -- though without more details it's tough to know. Entrapment occurs when an individual commits a criminal act that he or she normally wouldn't if it were not for the incentive provided by police (an informant, an undercover officer or otherwise).
The second aspect here is the cost to incarcerate a middle-aged father on serious drug charges. The case occurred in Florida, where it costs roughly $19,000 a year to house an inmate in the prison system. In other words, this 46-year-old first-time offender will cost taxpayers nearly $500,000 to keep in jail, let alone the wasted time and resources to hold him there.
Lastly, and the ultimate point here, is the use of minimum sentencing rules. Since they apply universally, you get silly situations like this, where a good guy is treated the same as someone who is a repeat or gross offender. These rules should be reconsidered -- but the reality of such a move is unlikely.
Source: The Atlantic, "A Heartbreaking Drug Sentence of Staggering Idiocy," Conor Friedersdorf, April 3, 2013
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