19 June 2006

Letter to the Editor

In your article on Mr. Mukuria you seem to lay the blame for his actions at the feet of the Judge Rockwell in Chesterfield County. This is unfair.

Judge Rockwell was faced with a young man who had apparent family support, was already serving a year in jail, and had an obvious drug problem. He could have ignored these facts and just rubber-stamped a prison sentence. Anyone with familiarity with the system can tell you how that turns out: after serving a couple years in prison Mr. Mukuria would have returned to the streets and resumed his addiction driven crimes.

Instead, Judge Rockwell tried to stop this addiction driven merry-go-round by ordering Mukuria into an intensive drug treatment program which lasts at least a year. With daily counseling and drug tests the Day Reporting Center isn't some month long program which can be scammed; it is an intensive probation and treatment program. If Mukuria had succeeded in this it would not only have benefited him it would have saved us untold taxpayer dollars because we would not be convicting and imprisoning him over and over again. The judge also reserved to himself a massive punishment which he could impose as an incentive for Mukuria to adhere to the law.

The failure here lies squarely and solely at the feet of Peter Mukuria and he shall surely pay dearly for this failure. Of the many thousands of cases Judge Rockwell has decided it is misleading to focus in on the one where the defendant has metaphorically spat in the judge's face. Judge Rockwell tried to fashion a result which benefited the long term interests of both the Commonwealth and the convicted; such a judge is someone to be treasured - not taken to task.


L-Moe-Lester said...

Ken you are wrong. Although Judge Rockwell is not to totally blame. He should have locked the man up. The man was a numerous time felon with a terible drug habit. He needed time in jail to dry out, instead of getting involved in his second high speed chase.

Ken Lammers said...

1) The man was already serving a year. Assuming he couldn't get drugs inside, that's plenty of time to dry out.

2) Sadly, from what I can tell, there's nothing here that distinguishes this man's use of drugs from that a great number of people who come to court. In fact, a marijuana habit with intermitent cocaine use would indicate that intervention is appropriate before cocaine becomes the primary use drug or changes into even more serious drugs like heoin.

3) Judges have been told by the General Assembly that jail or drug treatment programs are an either-or proposition. Prior to last July there were any number of judges who would sentence defendants to 12 months in jail to be followed by Detention and Diversion programs (lock-in drug treatment run by probation). Last July the General Assembly forbade judges to do this. By implication, the GA was telling judges not to do this with any program. A judge is supposed to apply the law in the manner which the GA tells him to apply it. Judge Rockwell did.

4) Yes, Mukuria is a multiple felon. These are the people we deal with in court. Would earlier intervention have been better? Most certainly. It would have been wonderful if Mukuria had been ordered into treatment before his drug problems had taken him over the line from misdemeanors to felonies. However, there isn't really enough incentive (probable punishment) to put that choice upon defendants until they commit a felony. There usually isn't enough to incentive to put that choice upon defendants even when they commit their first felony and are facing the typical six months or less. I can tell you that the Word passed around the jail from inmate to inmate is not to take the program the judge assigned Mukuria because it is easier to do time than to live under this program for a year.

Anonymous said...

This sad case points out vividly the fallacy of believing the courts should act as counselling brokers instead of dispensers of justice.

If the judge had been more concerned for the safety of the community and for the recommendation of the guidelines, tragedy would have been avoided.

Whoever has been involved in the "system" knows that these programs have a very high failure rate. Weighed against the concerns of public safety and the good old-fashioned notion of punishment, one must wonder why our judges continue trying to be therapists instead of the hand of justice.

Ken Lammers said...

You know, I never see the newspapers inferring that a judge has failed to do his job when he ignores the guidelines by sentencing above them - something I see far more often then sentencing below them. I never read the paper complaining forcefully that jurors are purposefully kept ignorant of the guidelines so that they will sentence innappropriately. To read complaints in a rare case when the judge has departed downward is hypocritical.

This program is much like a drug court program (everything except the weekly trip to see the judge). These programs have a proven track record.A Utah study showed that 7% of those who completed a drug court would re-offend while 45% of those who didn't take the program would re-offend.

Why are judges cast in this "counseling" role? Well, they're not. They only require the convict to take counseling - they are the punishment for failure. However, I guess this could be seen as splitting hairs. Why do they assign people to these programs?

Two reasons: First, they are trying to keep the convict from turning into something worse by "fixing" him. If he has a $20 a day coke habit today which he is supporting by shoplifting it's better to try to fix him at that point rather than having him come in constant contact with the system until he's a heroin addict robbing quick-marts at gun point or a homeless guy mugging some yuppie so he can get the money for his fix.

Second, it saves money. Don't kid yourself, our General Assembly isn't looking at long term recidivism rates all that closely. Arresting this guy 20 times in the next 20 years is not a big concern to them (the public safety angle is a little esoteric). However, if he and 38% of others of his ilk are fixed and doesn't come back again the government will save all sorts of money. And money is something the legislature understands very well.

Personally, I think the system worked fairly well when judges could order both punishment and treatment programs. Of course, that also cost money and the General Assembly cut that option off.