If you have a few moments, let's review four news stories that appeared in our Saturday and Sunday issues.
Story 1: Attorney General William French Smith thinks Congress should amend the Bail Reform Act of 1966. Washington Post staff writer Thomas O'Toole says Smith thinks judges should inquire into the source of bail money. If the judge has reason to believe the bail money comes from criminal sources, the judge should be empowered to reject it.
Why? Because about 2,900 drug dealers are already fugitives from justice. Most were able to post bail "ranging as high as $1 million."
Earlier this month, Jose Fernandez was arrested and charged with 13 counts of drug smuggling. Authorities estimated he had already stashed away more than $30 million in drug profits, so a judge set his bail at $21 million. But a magistrate reduced the bail to $10 million, and another judge cut it to half a million, which Fernandez quickly paid. He did not show up for trial, of course, and cannot be found now. The months of work that went into making the biggest drug bust in years was wasted.
Story 2: D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson came out in favor of mandatory jail sentences for drug traffickers. It is not likely that the chief's views will prevail because City Council member David A Clarke (D-Ward 1) generally opposes mandatory sentences. Clarke is the author of pending narcotics legislation that Chief Jefferson thinks will make matters worse, not better.
Washington Post staff writer Keith B. Richburg says the issue of drug legislation "has taken on both political and philosophical overtones."
Jefferson made his views known in a letter to council member John Ray (D-At Large), who is a principal proponent of mandatory jail terms for drug dealers. Richburg quoted Jefferson as saying:
"I have been disturbed by the fact that the sponsor of this bill and others have been 'touting' the bill as a 'get tough' measure based on the federal model, when in fact the bill weakens the laws on marijuana, differs from the federal law on several points and does not provide the U.S. attorney with any new weapons." Clarke's bill easily won preliminary council approval last week.
Story 3: Abdul Hamid was one of the Hanafi Muslims found guilty of taking over the District Building, Islamic Center and B'nai B'rith headquarters in 1977. He was sentenced to a prison term of from 38 to 108 years for armed kidnaping.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio released Hamid in January of this year. Nunzio said Hamid was repentant and had reformed.
Last week, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that when Nunzio released Hamid, his legal authority to do so had expired some six months earlier.
But when a prosecutor asked Nunzio to sign an arrest warrant for Hamid, Nunzio refused. He said that until the appeals court decision is officially transmitted to him in 21 days, he could take no action. It was pointed out that a 21-day delay would give Hamid an opportunity to flee, but Nunzio was firm. Washington Post staff writer Benjamin Weiser noted that Hamid's present whereabouts "are unknown."
Story 4: Yesterday, Washington Post staff writers Joe Pichirallo and Alfred E. Lewis told us about Johnny Ray Harris. When D.C. police arrested Harris during a bank robbery on May 8, he told them he had robbed five Washington banks "to support his heroin habit."
The next day, Judge Gladys Kessler of D.C. Superior Court released Harris on personal recognizance and ordered him to enter the city's drug abuse program.
Within a week, Harris had robbed another bank. Last Monday, on the day he was supposed to appear in court for another hearing, Harris was busy with another attempted holdup, police say.
Harris did not enroll in the drug abuse program. Police say he is a fugitive who must be considered armed and dangerous. Detective William E. Wagner of the D.C. police is quoted as asking, "Who is going to be responsible if he kills somebody?"
Do lawyers and judges and legislators really think they can deter crime when criminals are handled in this manner? There is a line in Oliver Twist that says, "If the law supposes that . . . the law is a ass, a idiot." It appears to me the law has not changed much since Charles Dickens' time.