Punishment May Not Fit The Crime 

Punishment May Not Fit The Crime 
Posted by FoM on January 11, 2000 at 18:36:06 PT
By Gordon Dillow
Source: Orange County Register
It's funny how society's attitudes have changed. For example, these days in Orange County you can get in more trouble for smoking a cigarette than for smoking marijuana.If you don't believe it, just ask Harold Wood.
This story began one afternoon last November, when Harold, 72, a retired electrician, was enjoying a drink and a cigarette at Godfather's, a dark, narrow neighborhood bar on First Street in Tustin. Like many, perhaps most, small bars in Orange County, Godfather's had treated the 1998 law against smoking in bars as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule; the vast majority of the customers continued to smoke, and nobody seemed to care.But on this afternoon three cops walked in and started hanging tickets on everyone who was smoking  which was just about everybody in the joint."The cops were nice about it," Harold says. "They said they didn't want to do it, but they'd gotten a complaint."Unfortunately  or fortunately, depending on your point of view  bar smoking citations are so rare (about 20 in Tustin in the past two years) that neither the police nor the courts seem sure how to handle them. For example, Harold's ticket initially was for a traffic violation  go figure  but then he got a letter saying it was a misdemeanor, then another letter saying it was a mere infraction. He was pretty confused.Now, you'd think that on such a minor beef he could have just mailed in his fine and not clogged up the court calendar. But no. Monday morning Harold had to appear at the county courthouse in Santa Ana, where he waited in line for an hour  not an easy task for a senior citizen with a bum hip  before he was sent upstairs to Department C-59. He waited for another hour, surrounded by fellow miscreants  marijuana users, an abusive husband, a park trespasser  before he finally was called before Judge Robert Keefe.Harold pleaded guilty  heck, he was guilty  and the judge set the fine at $103. Then Harold had to go back downstairs and wait in line again for more than an hour and a half to pay the fine. And justice was done.Harold wasn't happy; $103 isn't chump change on a fixed income, and his entire day was shot.But what really got his goat was this: As he waited in the courtroom, he noticed that the guys charged with simple marijuana possession were routinely allowed to pay $65 and sign up for a one-day drug diversion class, after which the offense would be erased from their records. Meanwhile he, Harold Wood, bar smoker, who'd never been in trouble with the law, had to pay a bigger fine and go down on record as a malefactor!"It's not fair," Harold says. "They were smoking drugs; all I smoked was a cigarette."Well, I don't know how you feel about marijuana, or bar smoking; personally, I don't think either one is any of the government's business. But to a guy of Harold's generation, it's astonishing that something that once was a felony is now less of a crime than something that until recently wasn't even a crime at all  and to a lot of people still doesn't feel like a crime.But like I said, society's attitudes change.And I'll leave it to you to decide if it's always for the better.Gordon Dillow may be reached at (714) 796-7953 or by e-mail at gldillow Newspaper in Orange County, CaliforniaPublished: January 4, 2000Copyright 1999 The Orange County RegisterPlease send comments to ocregister
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #2 posted by Alexandre Oeming on January 12, 2000 at 07:04:58 PT:
Grouse, grouse...
>"It's not fair," Harold says. "They were smoking drugs; all I smoked was a cigarette."Cry me a river, criminal-boy. As a pig i know from SoCal once told me, if you can't do the time (metaphorically-speaking), don't do the crime. I don't agree with the smoking law in CA, but for this guy to try to shirk his responsibilities onto the shoulders of others just because he doesn't want to obey the law is nothing short of completely reprehensible. He can take his lumps just like the rest of us. Too bad.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by Chris Campbell on January 11, 2000 at 22:29:08 PT:
Marijuana and Tobacco both contain drugs.
Nicotine is a drug, as is THC.
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: