Criminal Justice

He Sold $20 Worth of Drugs. Prosecutors Want Him in Jail for Almost 10 Years—and More if He Refuses the Plea Deal.

That's illegal, says a new lawsuit.

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Michael Calhoun is a 61-year-old man who is facing almost a decade behind bars. Over the course of his life, he has never been arrested on any violent charge. His offense: He sold about $20 worth of drugs.

Yet to be caged for those nine years and change is a privilege, says the Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO), which offered Calhoun that sentence in the form of a plea deal. Should he exercise his legal right to a trial, it has threatened him with a "substantially harsher" punishment—a tactic used to bully alleged offenders into giving up their shot at justice.

That's illegal, says a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against Allister Adel, the Maricopa County Attorney.

Calhoun, a plaintiff living in Phoenix, was referred to the Early Disposition Court (EDC), a subset of the judiciary designed to help expedite low-level offenders off the docket. Established in the late 1990s, it is supposed to be an "innovative approach in processing cases to alleviate the backlog of trials in the Criminal Division and to respond to the community's desire to offer treatment to drug offenders," according to the local government. [Emphasis mine.] 

Maricopa County offers them a whole lot more than treatment, says the suit, pushing stratospheric prison terms on suspects without a preliminary hearing and without the alleged offender having the chance to review the evidence against them. Calhoun's deal, and related deals, are accompanied by a warning: 

For anyone who has had the displeasure of watching today's onslaught of true crime television shows, the tactic probably doesn't land as a surprise. But the MCAO, in being more brazen than most local governments, has laid bare the potential illegality of the approach, which amounts to blackmailing people into giving up their constitutional rights at no benefit to the community. If prosecutors believed Calhoun needed to spend more time behind bars to protect society, then they would have pursued that at the outset. But that's not what's going on here.

"The Constitution provides that everybody has a right to a jury trial in any criminal prosecution," says Clark Neily, senior vice president for legal studies at the Cato Institute. "For the government, this is a problem, because a prosecution that culminates in a trial is expensive and inconvenient and uncertain….The ability to induce a defendant to waive the right to a trial is a very attractive option, both because it saves money and time, but because it eliminates the uncertainty of a jury trial."

The result: Prosecutors start by offering a prison term that's already disproportionately high—often piling on multiple charges for the same offense—effectively pressuring people into acquiescence at the fear of receiving a sentence even more grotesque. People like Calhoun thus end up staring down years upon years in prison for victimless crimes—something that Maricopa County itself acknowledges should be "diverted into a drug treatment program." The ACLU suit notes that, according to records obtained from Maricopa County Court in October of 2018, only 8 percent of cases were diverted.

Also a plaintiff in the suit is Levonta Barker, a man who was charged with two counts each of aggravated assault and kidnapping and offered seven and a half years in prison. The problem: He was innocent, and was given that plea deal before MCAO bothered to do any investigation, much less before allowing Barker to attend a probable cause hearing or parse through the evidence with his attorney. His lawyer ultimately pointed out that when Barker was arrested, he was wearing a different outfit from the one the perpetrator was described as wearing in police reports. The MCAO had not verified those basics, and Barker spent a month in jail because of it.

Jury trials are indeed expensive affairs, sometimes climbing up into six figures. Plea deals are thus seen as a cost-saver. Apply that logic in reverse, and the government would only pursue trials for the offenders it actually thinks pose a real threat to the community. By its own admission, Calhoun wouldn't qualify.

It might also help remind the government what is and is not worth its time. In October 2019, New Orleans prosecutors sought to impanel a jury to consider a felony marijuana charge. They couldn't find six people who would even indulge them. As it stands today, maybe Maricopa County could find those jurors. Perhaps it won't always be that way.

NEXT: How Much Scientific Research Is Actually Fraudulent?

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  1. Thank God he didnt protest at the Capitol building or he would already be on 23 hour a day solitary confinement.

    1. Traitor

      1. How are we traitors? You use that word, but don’t you don’t appear to k ow what it means. I want to destroy the marxists and preserve our constitutional republic. I am a patriot. You are an avowed leftist, who worships Marx. Therefore you are a traitor.

        How do you not understand that?

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  2. Now do solitary confinement for 6 months without bail on a tresspassing in a public building charge

    1. Or getting shot in the face for tresspassing in a public building.

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  3. “respond to the community’s desire to offer treatment to drug offenders,” according to the local government.”

    I understand the treatment for drug users but how do you give treatment to drug sellers? (None insulting replies appreciated)

    1. (None insulting replies appreciated)

      Oh, you poor, sorry bastard! That’s like covering yourself in steak and telling a pack of wolves to sit!

    2. Seems like this seller is getting “the treatment “.

    3. 1) Send them to a Marxist school to teach them that the voluntary buying and selling of goods is evil?

      2) Selling that small amount doesn’t exclude they are also a user, selling to supplement their habit.

      3) Fuck your cunt mouth. (Sorry couldn’t resist)

  4. So while Joe Arpaio is gone, his co-conspirators in the attorney’s office, continue on.

  5. Maricopa County has problems like this, but their elections are above reproach!

    1. Sorry your Senile Orange boyfriend lost.

  6. If we outlaw plea bargains, I wonder how many people would never be charged?

    1. Good point. The system couldn’t possible handle all cases going to trial. The plea bargain system acts as a relief valve for the overall system. If that relief valve was plugged, there would have to be a relief somewhere else, and it mostly like would be made in prosecutorial decisions. This would place the pressure on prosecutors to prosecute only the most worthwhile cases, rather than on pre-trial defendants to plea or else ruin their lives entirely.

      Unfortunately it will never ever happen. Prosecutors have the power to complain about that sort of pressure. Pre-trial defendants mostly don’t.

      1. Getting rid of plea bargains would probably accelerate the use of AI in the criminal justice system.

  7. “Michael Calhoun is a 61-year-old man who is facing almost a decade behind bars. Over the course of his life, he has never been arrested on any violent charge. His offense: He sold about $20 worth of drugs.”

    This simply stinks of the usual Billy Binnion propaganda.

    Calhoun is likely a felon multiple times over and was facing escalated punishment because of his *pattern* of crime.

    Binnion is the Lying Press. Reason is a sewer.

    1. Do you have evidence of that?

      1. Reason said mean things about Trump. What other evidence do you need?

        1. Hitting the bottle hard today?

      2. From the ACLU filing:

        Plaintiff Michael Calhoun. Michael Calhoun is a 61-year-old Black man with substance use disorder. He has a long history of drug convictions, mostly for possession of drugs and paraphernalia.

        I think plea bargains are wrong and should be abolished entirely. But he would likely face significant prison time given his priors and given that he was selling drugs near a school.

    2. His non-violent criminal history is comprised mostly of “simple possession” convictions;

      61-year-old Michael Calhoun, was offered “a plea of 9.25 years in prison for allegedly selling $20 worth of drugs,” according to the complaint, which states Calhoun “has a history of drug convictions, most for simple possession” but “has never been arrested for” a violent crime.

      https://archive.is/PCdkL

      I’m guessing that you’re a libertarian that approves of the war on drugs?

      1. “I’m guessing that you’re a libertarian that approves of the war on drugs?”

        Isn’t that a convoluted way of saying ‘you’re not a libertarian’? Some things are fundamental. The right of adults to do what they want to their own body is a core libertarian principle – you simply can’t be a libertarian without believing that.

      2. I’m guess he has seen enough of Binion’s shit and is tired of it.

        Serial dishonesty does nothing to advance liberty.

      3. I’m guessing you’re a totalitarian who loves the Lying Press?

        You verify that Billy engaged in exactly the kind of propaganda I sniffed out, and you sanction the propaganda by attacking me.

        I’m against drug prohibition, *including* for medicine, which Reason has yet to come out against.

        I’m also against the Lying Press, which you sanction when you feel the lies serve your political purposes.

      4. I’m guessing that you’re a libertarian that approves of the war on drugs?

        I disapprove of the war on drugs.

        But I do approve of the rule of law, which means that I want laws to be enforced as written until changed by case law or the legislature.

        So, as long as we have drug laws on the books, they should be enforced uniformly and as written.

        1. “So, as long as we have drug laws on the books, they should be enforced uniformly and as written.”

          This.

          Selective enforcement is anathema to liberty. If a law is not being enforced, or only enforced some time it is a bad law and should be eliminated.

          1. There will always be selective enforcement. Prioritization of enforcement will always be required.

            It’s no accident that the resources for pretextual traffic stops and drug-alerting dogs have been integrated into the system. Or that Humphreys County, Mississippi (median income $26k) is the most heavily audited county in the U.S.

            It’s not because that’s where there is a high rate of serious crime. It’s because it is easy pickings, and the targets will be unlikely to put up much of a legal fight. As a bonus, maybe some property can be seized through civil forfeiture, again, from people who won’t be able to put up much of a legal fight.

            If you’re for the non-selective universal enforcement of all laws as written, then you should also, for example, be for funding the IRS to pursue high value tax cheats (who are likely to pay for a long legal battle). At least you should be as much for that as you are for a decade long sentence for a $20 drug offense.

            Because you are against selective enforcement, right? That also necessarily means being for funding of universal enforcement, not just cheap low level enforcement.

            1. Man you sure like using straw.

              ” Prioritization of enforcement will always be required.”

              Nope. As I clearly stated “If a law is not being enforced, or only enforced some time it is a bad law and should be eliminated.”

              What part of that did you not understand the first time.

              “Because you are against selective enforcement, right? That also necessarily means being for funding of universal enforcement, not just cheap low level enforcement.”

              Necessarily? No. You really should look up what that word means. Because I’m again going to refer you to my italicized quote.

              You are the one who seems to be in favor of retaining laws, even though you freely admit they will not be equally enforced. I, on the other hand, want those laws gone.

        2. Nazis were “law abiding citizens”.

    3. I had that thought as well. The problem is that Binion, and many other writers here pull that kind of shit. So I too a, skeptical we’re getting the full picture here.

      1. Every article from Billy on crime follows this same formula. Just look at how he qualifies his “facts” and you’ll find the qualification was a way of avoiding the exact opposite of what serves his Narrative.

        “He twitched his finger, and the police attacked him and caged him!”

        Of course, that twitchy finger was on the trigger of a gun, with which the perp shot someone, but that didn’t fit The Narrative, so Billy leaves it out.

        Reason is a sewer.

        The pomo libertarianism has spread to the Comments section, where in true Lefty fashion, more and more commenters don’t give a damn about facts or honesty, as long as The Narrative is served.

    4. Note to foreign readers. Christian National Socialists spew venom at anyone who questions the superstitious initiation of deadly force. The Mute User button allows readers to nullify these noisome intruders. Enjoy it!

      1. The Christian hating Marxists in love with the Lying Press are getting plentiful at Reason. Postmodernist Jacobin loving Nick must be pleased.

  8. Legal procedures are complicating especially when you have to show documents but nowadays people are hiring freelancers to write their files

    https://www.4dollaressay.com/

  9. How much drugs can you even get for $20 anyway?

    1. I heard the prices of drugs on the news/movies when I was younger and I wondered how anyone could afford them. Still don’t care.

    2. Maybe GoodRX should consider entering the market?

      1. You may have something there. In a place with legal you could set up a company negotiating discounts with retailers the way GoodRx does with pharmacies.

        1. GoodRx does not exactly “negotiate” with pharmacies for the discounts. It’s more a matter of ‘take it or leave it’ pricing set by GoodRX

          https://nowrx.com/how-does-goodrx-work/#:~:text=When%20a%20customer%20uses%20a%20GoodRx%20coupon%2C%20the,of%20that%20transaction%20and%20splits%20it%20with%20GoodRx.

          1. “It’s more a matter of ‘take it or leave it’ pricing set by GoodRX”

            Isn’t that the final step in all negotiation? “Here’s my highest offer, take it or leave it.”

            1. “…final step…”

              If there is zero opportunity for a counter offer is that a negotiation?

              1. Because, in that sense, armed robbery is also a form of negotiation.

  10. I had that thought as well. The problem is that Binion, and many other writers here pull that kind of shit. So I too a

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  11. Clueless dupes who have never read a law, much less a political party platform shrieking for the enactment of cruel and vicious laws are shocked, SHOCKED to discover that “felony marijuana” specifically includes roots, twigs and seeds. Then they find out that passing a joint is “selling” so that practically everyone is branded a dope-pushing assassin of youth by 9th grade by subsidized Kleptocracy politicians. These laws are at best the work of insane fanatics and their brainwashed thralls, and deserve the respect due Kristallnacht and Nacht und Nebel usurpations. Libertarian spoiler votes are what’s repealing them.

    1. You don’t need to hold back here; tell us how you really feel.

    2. I thought it was all the fault of ‘mystical bigots’.

    3. Technically passing a joint is illegal under WA’s recreational marijuana law, as is having an “open container” of marijuana or smoking it in public. Regardless of that I’m unaware of police actually enforcing those laws. Every state has stupid laws on the books, but there is a huge variation in whether those laws are enforced.

  12. Good to see Sheriff Joe’s legacy of government overreach and waste lives on. Maybe another $50 million in judgements against the county will get them to follow the law, unlike the last $50 million they paid out without learning anything.

  13. Wait. I don’t believe this. This is a government agency and can do no wrong. Perhaps it just needs MORE MONEY.

  14. What does the victim of his alleged “crime” want?

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