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.