Charging Phelps

Like Jacob Sullum, I agree with most of Kathleen Parker's column on Michael Phelps and marijuana prohibition. But this part, about Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff Leon Lott I think comes up a bit short:

Lott, meanwhile, is threatening action against Phelps because ... he has to. Widely respected and admired as a "good guy" who came up through the ranks, Lott is in a jam. Not one to sweat the small stuff, he nevertheless has said that he'll charge Phelps with a crime if he determines that the 14-time gold-medal winner did, in fact, smoke pot in his county.

The sheriff's job will be made both easier and tougher by evidence that includes a photograph of Phelps with his face buried in a smoke-filled tube and what Lott has called a "partial confession." Phelps has said that the photo is legit. The only missing link, apparently, is the exact location of the party.

What's tough is that Lott probably doesn't want to press charges because it's a waste of time and resources. He's got much bigger fish to fry, but several recent drug-related crimes -- including at least two high-profile murders -- have captured community attention.

And the law is the law.

Parker gives Lott too much credit. It's easy to say "the law is the law," but that ignores the reality that there are far more lawbreakers than there are resources to arrest and charge them all. 

So law enforcement officials have all sorts of discretion. It's precisely because Lott has limited resources and more important crimes to investigate that he could have blown this thing off. The county would likely spend thousands just providing security and logistics for Phelps' court appearances. 

Perhaps I overlooked something, but I've followed the case pretty closely, and I haven't sensed any public pressure in the direction of arresting and charging Phelps. In fact, the first I heard of the idea came yesterday, when Lott himself volunteered the possibility. Even if Lott does arrest Phelps, the local prosecutor would still have the discretion to turn down the case and spend his resources prosecuting crimes that actually affect the public safety.

On the other hand, the spectacle of seeing a world class athlete like Phelps frog-marched in handcuffs, tried, and given a few days in the county jail might do wonders toward enlightening the public to the fact that the most dangerous thing about marijuana doesn't come from smoking it, but from what the government will to you if it catches you.

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  • ev||

    Let's put on a show!

  • ||

    No cost is too great to protect Teh Childruns!!!!

  • dhex||

    this may be a watershed moment. or it may just be another wasted celebrity redemption narrative.

  • KT||

    I hope they do. Not because I want to see Phelps in trouble but because it will force a conversation and it will become obvious how farcical this shit is. Then maybe there'll be a push to stop wasting money on the drug war and waste it on fiscal stimulus instead.

  • kinnath||

    The local sherif is behind schedule. He still needs to set up a time so he can come by and shoot Phelp's dog.

  • JW Gacy||

    Indeed. The injustice will be obvious to everybody.

    Hoho. No, not really. The ignorami that compose a solid majority on both the right and the left will continue to ignore the evidence, just as they have for decades.

  • Abdul||

    The Richland County Jail swim team is going to kick a lot of ass at the South Carolina Penal Games this summer.

  • JW Gacy||

    And if Phelps doesn't own a dog, the townsfolk shall present him with one. Before shooting it.

  • kilroy||

    The only missing link, apparently, is the exact location of the party.

    Where was it again that Obama smoked his hash?

  • ||

    I think Phelps owns an English Bulldog.

  • ||

    There could only be a couple of potential locations, it's not like it's a college town or anything.

  • ||

    why isn't michael phelps in jail? i'd say it would be worth the personal sacrifice to phelps if his legion of teen girl supporters wrote to their representatives to change marijuana laws.

  • Tyler||

    People's reactions to this are seemingly different than other drug-related incidents.

    Maybe it's Phelps' hero status. Maybe people are starting to come around.

    Maybe this could be the start of a sensible public discussion.

    But I feel like this is just going to be a situation where he will be to stick to "the script" and nothing changes.

  • ||

    """And the law is the law.""""

    Unless you're a cop. Then it's the law is the law execpt...

  • kilroy||

    "When I was in England South Carolina, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again." -Bill Clinton Michael Phelps

    There you go Michael. Problem solved.

  • Billy!||

    People still care about Michael Phelps?

    The Olympics was, like, what, months ago! Time for swimming to return to the dank world it came from. Only 8 more months 'til football season after all.

  • ||

    Thank you Radley, this needed to be said.

    As my main man Bunny Colvin said in the 3rd season of The Wire, the worst thing about the drug war is that it has ruined the job of being a policeman.

    The words "to protect and serve" are just a motto now, with no connection to reality or fact. The drug war has turned us from a society based on protection to a society based on punishment. And, with people like Sheriff Lott toeing the company line, I don't see that changing any time soon.

  • The Extispicator||

    Average American: What's the big deal? I mean, he's not black or poor; therefore, let's just chalk it up to "boys will be boys."

    Now, if he pulls up silver at the next Olympics, we'll have his ass on a platter.

  • kinnath||

    Perhaps they can get Michael to do some undercover work for them. I doubt there's much chance he'll be murdered by any drug dealer that recognizes him.

  • ||

    I still don't know if holding a bong belonging to someone else for a minute or two counts as criminal "possession" of paraphernalia in South Carolina, or if holding a pinch of pot belonging to someone else before burning it counts as criminal "possession" of marijuana.

    Because I don't think its against the law to use paraphernalia or marijuana in South Carolina, only against the law to possess them.

  • Geoff||

    If they are going to arrest Phelps, would they also arrest other party-goers who partook in the same shenanigans? More than one photograph had to be taken at that party. Could Phelps's defense subpoena more photos from the photographer? If they are going to try to take Phelps down, why not take down the whole damn party?

  • ||

    And, with people like Sheriff Lott toeing the company line

    Kudos for the all too rare correct use of the phrase "toeing (not towing) the line".

  • Skallagrim||

    "The only missing link, apparently, is the exact location of the party. "

    Ah, not so. How can the Sheriff (and the prosecutor) prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the green vegitative matter seen in the bong was actually "marijuana" ?

    They cant without the (now long gone) actual weed.

    Case dismissed.

  • ||

    The case would be impossible for the prosecutor to win. Arresting him would merely be to show that celebrities are not above the law.

    I'd say do it, but I think that most people would be thinking gleefully that a celebrity was brought low and not about the injustice of the drug war. Just look at when other celebrities get busted...for almost anything.

  • SpongePaul||

    I do not think a charge will stick, a picture is just that, it is not proof, it could have been spice, zohai tobacco other herbal blends, not just mj. so the cops would have to prove without one shred of evidence that he was in possesion, with not even a roach!

  • ||

    And, with people like Sheriff Lott toeing the company line

    Kudos for the all too rare correct use of the phrase "toeing (not towing) the line".


    Actually, in this case, the correct construction is "towing the company lion".

  • ||

    On the other hand, the spectacle of seeing a world class athlete like Phelps frog-marched in handcuffs, tried, and given a few days in the county jail might do wonders toward enlightening the public to the fact that the most dangerous thing about marijuana doesn't come from smoking it, but from what the government will to you if it catches you.

    You think? I seriously doubt it. From what I've seen over the past 30 years, what the public will take away from such a spectacle is, "It doesn't matter what you achieve or how high you rise (npi), one puff of marijuana and you throw it all away."

  • ||

    Do they have the original photo and know who took it? Otherwise, good luck getting it admitted as evidence.

  • Reinmoose||

    Schadenfreude

  • ||

    You think? I seriously doubt it. From what I've seen over the past 30 years, what the public will take away from such a spectacle is, "It doesn't matter what you achieve or how high you rise (npi), one puff of marijuana and you throw it all away."

    Yeah, I see what you mean, but Phelps' position as a "true American patriot" may be making people think twice. Usually when a celebrity gets busted with weed all I read are jokes about munchies and forgetfulness. This time around, there seems to be at least a modicum of reasonable discussion in the mainstream media.

    Do I think Michael Phelps has started a significant push toward change in drug policy? No, I'm not deluded. But I do think that people might think twice before writing him off as a worthless "doper", which can't be a bad thing.

  • ||

    I think people are going to have a tougher time swallowing the drug warriors' "mother knows best" shtick when the person they're talking down to is Michael phucking Phelps. The guy seems to know what's up as far as taking care of himself is concerned.

  • Inspector Javert||

    And the law is the law.

    Hey, that's my line!

  • ||

    Skallagrim, I agree. It's like Kate Moss. I doubt that she was snorting baking soda in that recording studio, but how do you prove it?

  • ||

    Even if Lott does arrest Phelps, the local prosecutor would still have the discretion to turn down the case and spend his resources prosecuting crimes that actually affect the public safety.

    And this doesn't?

  • ||

    They ought to put that Phelps asshole in jail.

    Protesting soldiers' funerals - I don't care what you think of gay people, that's no way to behave.

  • ||

    I am 50 and I along with many others hope that I live to see the day when marijuana becomes legal again. It wasn't illegal until the 1970's and since then it has been lumped together with every other illegal drug. When will the FACTS about marijuana vs. alchahol FINALLY be brought to the uninformed public's attention?? If pot is immoral, then on what grounds isn't alchahol immoral as well? For those of you who have never smoked it, it's like a buzz that you get from 2 glasses of good wine. That's it!! It isn't addicting, it isn't a depressant like alchahol and does not incite aggression.(like alchahol) Ask a cop how many fights he has broken up where people were sitting around smoking pot? For those of you who are against it because it seems to sap a person's motivation, the lazy people would be lazy whether they smoke it or not. Millions of professional adults smoke and function very normally all their lives. The only worry is getting caught by the law and being treated like a criminal when you're not. Just because something is illegal because the law is wrong, doesn't make it immoral. Abortion is legal. Does that make it right?? That being said, until the laws do change, people need to use common sense when smoking pot so as not to bring attention to themselves. What Michael Phelps did wrong was his lack of discretion. There are people out there who will jump at the chance to take an American hero down a few notches, especially over something this silly.

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