Alabama Football, Air Conditioning & Prosecutorial Discretion
June 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Because they are tasked with seeking justice rather than convictions, prosecutors are given complete discretion when it comes to deciding who will face charges and who will not. This week, Ouachita Parish District Attorney Jerry D. Jones decided two Alabama football players would not be prosecuted on drug and weapons charges.
Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones were on break before summer classes resumed. Back home in Monroe, Louisiana, officers smelled marijuana as they approached the two in a local park. According to the police report:
[O]fficers pulled up to Robinson’s car at 2:33 a.m. smelling marijuana. When approaching the vehicle, officers spotted a handgun on the lap of the passenger [Jones]. A bag of marijuana was also observed on the driver’s side floorboard. The stolen handgun was located under Robinson’s seat.
Jones and Robinson were also charged with possessing a handgun in the presence of narcotics.
Ultimately, Robinson and Jones were charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana as well as possessing a handgun in the presence of narcotics. Robinson further faced a felony charge for possession of the stolen handgun.
As a small aside, it was later revealed there were actually four people in the car, two of whom were not arrested or charged.
If you spend any appreciable amount of time around the courthouse, or even a police station, you come to learn that this scenario is par for the course. Young people meet up in parks or parking lots to buy, sell, or use drugs. It should come as no surprise that police happen upon them at all hours of the night and discover the smell of burnt marijuana. Of course the police investigate; the smell of burnt marijuana is usually sufficient probable cause to search the occupants and the vehicle. During the search, marijuana is often found and arrests are made. The kicker in this case happens to be a couple of firearms alongside the marijuana.
What you wouldn’t expect, hanging around the courthouse, is to have these charges dismissed by the prosecutor. No appreciable search issues. No apparent confession violations. Just a simple case where the arresting officers could testify to possession. But, out of the blue, Jerry Jones announced the charges were dismissed:
I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I’m doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning.
Sure, he also cited “insufficient evidence,” but let’s be real, what was insufficient about that evidence scenario? Well, maybe it might be difficult to prove knowledge regarding the firearm being stolen, but that doesn’t address the marijuana or the guns in the presence of narcotics.
Though he mentioned insufficient evidence, he went on to publicly state the main reason for his dismissal was to avoid ruining their lives. Presumably, the two young men had no criminal history and perhaps provided him with some perspective of the lives they had led. Working and sweating while many of us had the blessing of being in the air-conditioned comfort of our homes or offices.
Jerry Jones is the longest-serving district attorney in his district’s modern history and a former criminal defense attorney. Perhaps it is his tenure as both a former defense attorney as well as a district attorney that provides him the insight and, frankly, guts to speak out and seek justice rather than convictions.
Reading the public comments from various sights, it appears many believe his decision is absurd. They find in unpalatable that “’Bama football” players would be given special treatment in their Louisiana law and order society, where we would rather lock everyone up, damn the consequences. Interestingly, Jones didn’t cite football as the reason for the use of his discretion. Instead he appeared sincere as he looked past the arrest and decided to dismiss the charges.
Jones began his tenure as district attorney in 1990. Since then, he has earned a reputation for a light touch with nonviolent criminals and an iron first with violent ones. Obviously, these two players fell on nonviolent spectrum and worthy of his prosecutorial discretion.
Perhaps he has seen the results of our war on drugs first hand. Arrests, jail, and convictions do little to help beat addictions or obtain meaningful employment. Perhaps he doesn’t believe saddling young men with drug convictions is the best use of law.
Punishments are meant to deter future conduct. Punishment doesn’t always mean a conviction. Going through the process can sometimes be punishment enough. In a nice change of pace, Jones displays a welcomed compassionate attitude focused on not ruining young lives.