Puzzle for the Governor: Is Life in Prison Excessive for Smoking Pot?

The Drug War Chronicle reports that pressure is building for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to commute the sentence of Tyrone Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison for smoking pot. In 1990, when he was 17, Brown took part in a $2 robbery in which the victim was not physically injured, a crime for which he received 10 years of probation. A few weeks later, he tested positive for marijuana, and the judge not only revoked his probation but inexplicably resentenced him to a life term. Now, after local and national media attention triggered by the November Coalition, Perry has been urged to commute Brown's sentence not only by outraged citizens but by Dallas District Attorney Bill Hill, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, and even the sentencing judge, Keith Dean, who is no longer in office. In addition to the sheer insanity of the sentence, there's a racial angle (which proved important in Perry's decision to release the Tulia residents nabbed for allegedly selling cocaine to discredited undercover cop Tom Coleman): The Dallas Morning News contrasted Dean's ridiculously harsh treatment of Brown, a poor black teenager, with the lenience he showed a wealthy white guy, John Alexander Wood, who received a 10-year suspended sentence for killing a prostitute. When Wood repeatedly tested positive for cocaine, Dean did not send him to jail, let alone give him a life sentence. Instead he arranged things so Wood didn't have to take drug tests anymore. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Jonathan C. Hohensee||

    Don't blame me, I voted for Kinky bumper stickers must be selling like hot cakes.

  • biologist||

    Brown should have killed a prostitute. Let that be a lesson!

  • Dan T.||

    I'm surprised then-Gov. Bush didn't try to execute him.

  • ||

    Ah, Inspector Javert is alive and well. Six months for the dead prostitute!

    The more he examined the deed of this woman, the more shocked he felt. It was evident that he had just witnessed the commission of a crime. He had just beheld, yonder, in the street, society, in the person of a freeholder and an elector, insulted and attacked by a creature who was outside all pales.

  • ||

    Not by way of excuse, but by way of example, this sort of crap should make people consider their level of incredulity when things like the LA riots occur.

  • ||

    You breaks the law you does the time, period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    The world is better off with one less prostitute.

  • ||

    Okay, first off, while I disagree with the war on drugs, the guy DID break his probation, so maybe a little jail was appropriate (legally anyway), but life? The hell??

    And as to that disparity: WHAT THE FUCK?????!!!!!

    And Jane, fuck you you fucking bitch.

  • ||

    Ahh, my home state. And people wonder why I refused a chance to being a criminal prosecutor.

    In all seriousness, I don't know how the judge managed to redo the sentence after the original deferred adjudication. There's just not a mechanism for that kind of thing. What should have happened is that the kid has a dirty drug test, the prosecution files a motion to revoke community supervision based on the original plea and THAT sentence becomes final and effective. There's no place for a new sentence.

    That said, good luck getting Governor Breck Boy to let an EVVVIIIIILLLLLL drug offender go.

  • ||

    Sadly, cases like this don't astound me anymore. They still horrify me though.

  • Miggs||

    Jane = Juanita

  • ||

    Juanita's been anglicized, eh?

  • Bill F.||

    "You breaks the law you does the time, period, end of discussion."

    Why don't we just up the sentence to death for any crime whatsoever, then? Seems like we're being a little lenient, letting all those thieves and pot-smokers live after their transgressions against society. Of course, such a law would create perverse economic incentives that encourage petty criminals to murder innocents, but I guess that's just the price you pay for justice.

    While we're at it, we can repeal the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments, and bring back the guillotine.

  • ||

    Entertaining watching a troll throw some chum in the water and always some gullible commenter is off to the races before it dawns on them they are be toyed with by a troll bot

  • ||

    Would you call Jane/Juanita a straw-troll? in that she's putting evil shit on our blog that anti-libertarians can quote as evidence of libertarian evil, with an added bonus that she'll provoke anti-troll ire?

  • ||

    Karen,

    Rick Perry, great hair, bad republican, poor excuse for a conservative. His tax and economic policy is another real fiasco.

  • ||

    How does Texas's execution rate compare with the rest of the world? My guess is that this one State executes more people than China and Russia combined.

  • Miggs||

    "Jane" is probably over on DailyKos right now pointing out the evil libertarian comments over here. Good times.

  • Eagle||

    "How does Texas's execution rate compare with the rest of the world? My guess is that this one State executes more people than China and Russia combined."

    Your guess is so far off it boggles the mind:
    "According to Amnesty International, at least 3,400 people were executed in 2004. This is 90% of the reported world total. A senior Chinese legislator suggested in March 2004 that China executes "nearly 10,000" people each year " -Wikipedia

  • Rhywun||

    Here we go again. Guys, Jane/Juanita/(Dan?) is not a troll. S/he is merely gracing us with some light Friday humor.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Texas is really no different than anywhere else. Texas paroled a guy who murdered his own kid in the most reprehensible way you can imagine (good behavior, model prisoner). He came to my home town and murdered about 50 of those prostitutes that Jane thinks we're better off without.

    The real problem is the justice system itself. There is no consistent rational justice, civil or criminal. There is no desire to get at the truth, only gamesmanship designed to see who can find the most obscure technicality and make it stick.

  • scandalrag||

    Adam W, the correct epithet is:

    Jane, you ignorant slut.

  • Rhywun||

    China executes "nearly 10,000" people each year

    And gets just about ZERO condemnation for it, at least from elected figures. You just know that number includes about 9,999 political prisoners.

  • M||

    Why don't we just up the sentence to death for any crime whatsoever, then?

    Been there, done that:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draco_%28lawgiver%29

  • Rhywun||

    Bob had bitch tits.

  • Rhywun||

    Heh, oops. A hazard of tabbed browsing is I don't know which thread I'm posting at half the time.

  • ||

    scandalrag-well played. You are correct.

  • ||

    Eagle:

    I stand corrected.

  • ||

    Now wait a minute...just the other day there were commenters all over reason explaining how affirmative action is not needed because in these modern times, racism and disparate treatment based on skin color is no longer a problem in our society?

    Something doesn't compute. Why would race be playing a part in his stricter sentencing when I've been assured, repeatedly, by many knowledgeable reason commenters that we don't have race problems in the US anymore other than a few aberrations here and there.

    Or is it only the law enforcement/criminal justice system has a race problem but no one else?

  • ||

    Huh, so Juanita finally forded the river, hopped the fence and changed her name to avoid detection. Lonewacko would be proud.

  • ||

    BRECK-boy, Karen? LOL. I called Sphinctorum helmet-head, but hopefully I won't be seeing any more of him. Maybe Perry can be my new source of hair amusement.

    John Roberts has suspiciously stiff hair as well.

  • ||

    How's this; set Tyrone Brown free, and let Judge Dean serve out the remainder of the sentence.

  • ChicagoDan T.||

    I'm a troll AND a dumb ass. lol

  • ||

    P Brooks, I wouldn't frown on giving some jail time to the fucker. If his behavior isn't criminal, it oughta be.

  • ||

    I'm a troll AND a dumb ass. lol

    Yeah because pointing out the absurdity of the beliefs of many commenters that racism is not much of a problem these days is trolling.

    You were half right...you are a dumb ass.

  • ||

    Karen, you turned down a prosecutor job?

    I am wondering if you couldn't have done many good deeds as a libertarian prosecutor. By refusing to try cases that like drug cases.

    I mean it is your life and you have no obligation to do anything. But I am thinking that by refusing to be a prosecutor as a kind of concientous objector, you are leaving an opening for some naziesque prosecutor to take your place and carry on with the prosecution of people who are not criminals.

    Although maybe as a prosecutor you don't have a choice to not prosecute. I don't really know the law, I am just speculating.

    If I was offered the job as drug czar, I would take it.
    If I was offered the job as head of the IRS I would take it.
    If I was offered the job as federal prosecutor I would take it.
    Only to do my best to torpedo all the un libertarian stuff they do.

  • ||

    The headline is misleading, he was not sentenced to life for smoking pot, he was sentenced to life for robbing someone. As insane as the drug war is, I have no sympathy for a scumbag thief. Also, what difference does it make that it was only $2 and nobody was hurt, he used force to take property from someone, it is not like he politely asked for the money. I say let him rot.

  • grylliade||

    Now wait a minute...just the other day there were commenters all over reason explaining how affirmative action is not needed because in these modern times, racism and disparate treatment based on skin color is no longer a problem in our society?

    Maybe the problem of racism is not going to be solved by affirmative action? Maybe affirmative action has done what it could, and another solution needs to be applied now? I can tell you that most of the racists I've met aren't going to be swayed by affirmative action; at this point, the problem isn't one of institutional racism, which affirmative action can solve, but of individual racism (in this case that of one judge), which affirmative action cannot solve, and indeed in many cases exacerbates. Seriously, racists I've met cite affirmative action as an example of how the "inferior races" are taking jobs away from deserving whites, and are evidence of a conspiracy in their favor. At this point, affirmative action is doing more harm than good, and needs to be abolished.

  • ||

    "The world is better off with one less prostitute."

    How sad to learn your mother was killed.

  • ||

    Also, what difference does it make that it was only $2 and nobody was hurt, he used force to take property from someone, it is not like he politely asked for the money. I say let him rot.

    The law is about more than just dispensing the punishment that somebody deserves. The law is also about incentives. If every thief is at risk of a life sentence then where's the disincentive to escalate the activity? If the armed robber and the unarmed robber face the same risks, then where is the disincentive to use violence and get rid of witnesses? Where is the disincentive against using violence to evade capture? Where is the incentive to limit the scope of the activity?

  • ||

    One thing that I know for sure, if every thief received a life sentence, there would be no repeat offenders.

    Fuck this guy, life in prison is the right kind of justice, IMO.

  • ||

    So what, lif is not fair.

    Everyone allways gets what they deserve.

  • ||

    One thing that I know for sure, if every thief received a life sentence, there would be no repeat offenders.
    Umm, if every thief recieved the same sentence as a murderer (life) then why would a thief not murder his target? Leave no witness if the punishment is the same.

  • ||

    In that same vein, are you advocating that the taxpayers spend 1.5 million dollars (30k a year for say 50yrs) to lock up a guy who stole $2? Good cost benefit ratio that one is.

  • Dan T.||

    Since when do libertarians care about a cost/benefit ratio?

  • ||

    release him now Governor. End the Drug War and ramp up the War on Islamism. The real threat to Western Civilization.

  • ||

    Some of the people commenting on this thread make Jane/Juanita seem downright pleasant.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Chi-Tom, are you proposing affirmative action in sentencing? Or are you suggesting that letting making 13% of Berkley students black will resolve sentencing difficulties in Texas.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Thowrow, agreed with your point except that all the death penalty opponents always claim that it isn't a deterrent. If the death penalty isn't a deterrent than why would any other degree of punishment be a deterrent or an incentive? What say you?

    I'm a law and order kind of guy and I detest the parole system. It should be abolished. Forget about time off for good behavior as well. We need reasonable sentencing that is proportional to the circumstances of the crime.

    Looking to the old west, justice was quick and certain. Yet, if you look at the sentencing records of the notorious Yuma Territorial Prison, the sentences were short by today's standards. And when you served your time you were done.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    One thing that I know for sure, if every thief received a life sentence, there would be no repeat offenders.

    Or we could just cut off the thief's hand so he is forced to eat with his butt wiping hand.

    I'm crackin' wise here..........

  • GILMORE||

    One thing that I know for sure, if every thief received a life sentence, there would be no repeat offenders. Fuck this guy, life in prison is the right kind of justice, IMO.

    Jesus Christ almighty in a goddamn peanut butter sandwich, you need to lighten the fuck up homie. Or at least read a little of Foucault's "Discipline and Punish". Or both. If you "scratch a Green and find a Fascist", what does that make you? Scratch a Libertoid, find a screaming lunatic?

  • ||

    except that all the death penalty opponents always claim that it isn't a deterrent. If the death penalty isn't a deterrent than why would any other degree of punishment be a deterrent or an incentive? What say you?

    Well, I would say that the relevant question to ask is whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent when compared with a life sentence. I don't know the answer there. But even if there is little difference in deterrent effect between the death penalty and a life sentence (that's a question which will require more data than any of us have) that doesn't necessary mean that a longer sentence isn't a deterrent relative to a shorter sentence.

    Of course, not every criminal responds to incentives (if they did there'd be far less crime) but the fact remains that you set up an incentive structure to have an effect on the margins. If the starting sentence is life, the only other sentence is death, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for detail when setting up your incentive structure.

  • ||

    Gawd damn! How times have a changed.

    I remember back when Tulia and the free lance lawman were an issue (and the only real info you could get was in non-american papers), I was called a "progressive" more than once by (L)libertarians for believing that the race of the victims (the black residents of Tulia) actually played a part.

    My goodness, have (L)libertarians discovered that citizens some citizens who's ancestry does not include a great deal of caucasiod blood might be treated different?

    Naw can't be, I specifically remember CATO repeatedly saying such things as liberty for all across racial lines was not a libertarian concern.

    But now that the greatest Libertarians President's drug war (Reagan) is turning against us all, suddenly everyone notices them again? How terribly interesting.

    Who knows, (L)libertarians may actually be discovering liberty.

    Naw...that would be ridicolous.

  • ||

    Wasn't this in 60 Minutes or something? I know I saw this story on TV awhile back.

  • ||

    GILMORE,

    I was just going to tell him to go smoke a bowl, but your comment will work too.

  • Miggs||

    Johnny, you're a (D)douchebag. Nice try at wit, btw. Keep working at it.

  • ||

    Also on the show they interviewed the victim of the robbery and he certainly didn't think the guy should be in jail. That's good enough for me.

  • Sara||

    The most important issue here is - how did the actor who protrayed black Zoolander manage to film while in prison?

  • Sara||

    portrayed

  • ||

    A 20-year-old member of my white family, almost certainly stoned (he always is), crashed his car, reaking of pot, into a family of illegal Mexican immigrants -- the Mexicans got the blame for the accident and were deported.

  • ||

    Black Zoolander! Ha!
    I am rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off!

  • lunchstealer||

    Don't blame me. I did, in fact, vote for Kinky.

    Troy, don't feel bad, a large portion of Texans would make the same claim, and be bragging about it.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Thow-row, thanks. Just for the record: I wasn't siding with life in prison as the only alternative to death. Just mentioning the rest.

    Essentially, you agree that some criminals respond to some incentives/discentives. I think there is some truth to that. I also think the death penalty is a deterrent for some people. I know a guy who lives today because while my buddy Wayne was chasing him down an alley cranking off 30/30 shots at him, Wayne suddenly had a vision of the old gas chamber at San Quentin. So there is at least one murder that wasn't committed. Course I would have called it a crime of passion rather than an outright murder since Wayne woke up and found his wife naked on the couch with this guy.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Johnny don't be a butthead.

  • ||

    Don't blame me, I voted for Kinky bumper stickers must be selling like hot cakes.

    That strikes me as a bad excuse - if Kinky voters had voted for Perry's biggest competitor, Perry wouldn't be in office right now.

  • biologist||

    oh, come on, Eric, by that logic, if I had voted for Gore instead of the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2000, we, uh...

    never mind.




    seriously, though, I wish the voting public at large would vote for whomever they think is best, not the lesser of the two evils who are most likely to win.

  • ||

    biologist,

    I'd be happy if just libertarians voted the way you suggest. For some reason, it seems that nuts like Perot and Nader can get votes from their loony base, but loonies like us can't band together to support our nut candidates.

  • Ray G||

    If Pinochet were governor, he would sentence Dean to a life sentence, which would give NRO a good reason to write a glowing review of. . . wait,. . . what thread am I on now?

    Hold on. . .

  • ||

    Don't forget the prosecutor's creed:

    Hey, just because they're fish, and just because they're in a barrel, doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot 'em.

  • ||

    http://www.newsvine.com/_news/2006/12/13/480679-miami-chiefs-son-sentenced-in-drug-case

    This is a fucking outrage.

  • ||

    Fuck USA, luckily I live in Europe which in most part is not a barbaric police state.

  • ||

    "Also on the show they interviewed the victim of the robbery and he certainly didn't think the guy should be in jail. That's good enough for me."

    That's one of the important considerations to me -- with many of these celebrity prisoners, there's an attitude of brushing off the victim.

    "Fuck USA, luckily I live in Europe which in most part is not a barbaric police state."

    Yes, and the Europeans aren't as hung up on free speech and the right to bear arms as us cowboy-hat-wearing, large-penis-having, Europe's-chestnuts-out-of-the-fire-pulling Yankees.

  • ||

    White Guy-are you fucking serious? What the fuck??

  • ||

    "Fuck USA, luckily I live in Europe which in most part is not a barbaric police state."

    "Yes, and the Europeans aren't as hung up on free speech and the right to bear arms as us cowboy-hat-wearing, large-penis-having, Europe's-chestnuts-out-of-the-fire-pulling Yankees."

    It recently occured to me that the USA may be the most libertarian nation on the planet. You know how every election for the last few years (except '06) Democrats have mumbled about moving to Canada, or western Europe, or some other perceived progressive utopia? Libertarians got nowhere to run.

  • ||

    OT I know.

  • sundayreader.com||

    This reminds me of that commercial where the guys are sitting around a table while one of them is choking and merely intellectualizing about what to do when someone is choking, while someone from another table gets up and comes over to the guy choking at their table and performs the heimlich manuever on him.

  • Dave||

    let 'em hang. pot smokers kill more people than any other type of criminal cause they are all violent and such...

    drinking and driving should be legal though, as long as you aren't "above the limit"

  • ||

    It recently occured to me that the USA may be the most libertarian nation on the planet. You know how every election for the last few years (except '06) Democrats have mumbled about moving to Canada, or western Europe, or some other perceived progressive utopia?

    Have you also noticed that none of them actually ever leave, though?

  • ||

    "While we're at it, we can repeal the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments, and bring back the guillotine."

    There are plenty of potheads trying to fuck over the Second Amendment as it is. As long as they're getting their precious weed, the Constitution doesn't seem to matter.

  • ||

    Isaac

    Yeah, but my point is libertarians don't even have a good empty threat.

  • ||

    citizengnat-too bad there's not a country that combines Hong Kong's free-marketism with the (relative) social liberalism of the Netherlands (along w/ Switzerland's gun policy?).

  • ||

    New Zealand was looking pretty good for a while.

    It has an excellent rating on economic freedom. It is also a highly tolerant society with a very high level of individual liberty.

    Those and the fact that you don't have to learn a new language (outside of a few different spelling rules and some unfamiliar slang) are the upsides. There are unfortunately some downsides.

    While their gun laws do seem to be the most permissive in the British Commonwealth they are more restrictive than libertarians find acceptable.

    The current government also seems to have many of the same nannystate ideas that are popular elsewhere.

  • KoWT||

    It's not race

    it's class

    the race thing is a red herring

  • admin||

    "You breaks the law you does the time, period, end of discussion."

    Jane: Your just a bitch that obviously isnt getting good sex.....or have ever smoked a joint!

    http://www.pixelfactor.org

  • ||

    hmmmmm

    thanks for the tip Isaac.

  • ||

    seriously, though, I wish the voting public at large would vote for whomever they think is best, not the lesser of the two evils who are most likely to win.

    So Kinky-voters doubly deserve a whap on the back of the head...

  • ||

    Mr. Wine: My father, who was a prosecutor for 18 years, believes that the certainty of apprehension and punishment is a greater deterrent than the severity of the punishment itself. Your friend would probably have decided that the prospect of 10 years in prison for killing his wife's visitor would be enough of a downside to deter him, if he felt he was certain to be caught. All this is a generalization, of course.

  • ||

    this is an test

  • Bankruptcy help||

    When the debtor completes payments pursuant to the terms of the plan, the court will formally grant the debtor a discharge of the debts provided for in the plan. bankruptcy guide

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement