Two ways to deal with drug offenders

Whatever your stance on U.S. drug policy, I think few people could disagree that courts deal with infractions very differently depending on who is breaking the law, as two recent news items painfully illustrate.

Way #1:  Throwing the Book at Them

This American Life has a podcast this week telling

the story of Lindsey Dills, who forges two checks on her parents’ checking account when she’s 17, one for $40 and one for $60, and ends up in drug court for five and a half years, including 14 months behind bars, and then she serves another five years after that—six months of it in [Georgia’s] Arrendale State Prison, the other four and a half on probation.

Listening to the hour-long program, I thought I had mistakenly swapped the podcast out for a Dickens and/or Kafka audiobook.

Ms. Dills is, needless to say, not particularly wealthy or well-connected…

Way #2:  Making Them Sing

…unlike the subject of today’s Daily Mail article:

Singer-songwriter and marijuana enthusiast Willie Nelson could have faced a lengthy jail term after he was arrested for possession in November.

But perhaps the Texas prosecutor has been smoking some of Willie’s special cigarettes, because he has agreed to let the 77-year-old legend avoid prison but only if he gives the court a song.

Hudspeth County Attorney Kit Bramblett said: ‘I’m gonna let him plead, pay a small fine and he’s gotta sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” with his guitar right there in the courtroom.’

In addition to the injustice implicit in the wildly divergent outcome faced by Mr. Nelson, I have the same question for the prosecutor and judge as a commenter over at the ABA Journal website:

Isn’t there some personal benefit in the “command performance”?  Charges should be settled for the state, not the personal benefit of court officers.

Updated 3/30/2011: The Associated Press is now reporting that Willie won’t have to sing after all.  The prosecutor was just “joking”.