Draconian Drug Laws Helped Kill A Missouri Man
Mar. 21, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — What do we do about our heroin epidemic? Looking at certain news headlines would make you think that the answer is to lock the door, pull the shades and hide under your covers. A sample.
Putting aside the lack of descriptive diversity, heroin is serious. What is also serious is how lawmakers take such dark warnings of a coming scourge of drug addiction that might touch their own suburbs or small towns, and they increase the punishment for possessing this particular poison.
Well, in Missouri, one man is dead because of that state’s disproportionately punitive drug sentencing laws.
Like too many other young men, James Victor Koberman Jr. died because of a heroin overdose. He made the “choice” to stick a needle in his arm, he overdosed and he never woke up. His death is unique, though, because his father, James Victor Koberman Sr., was recently sentenced to life in prison for murder in his son’s death.
A brief examination of the facts and circumstances makes it abundantly clear that Koberman Sr. deserves little sympathy. He purchased $140 worth of heroin for himself, his son and a friend. The three hung out at the father’s home shooting that heroin. At one point, the son went into “medical distress.” The father attempted CPR, but to no avail. The son was breathing but non-responsive. The friend wanted to get help, but Koberman Sr. stopped her. According to the Daily Journal,
Koberman Sr. said he told a woman who was also present not to call 911. Instead, Koberman Sr. monitored his son’s breathing overnight until he left for work early that morning.
Later that morning, the woman called an ambulance for Kobermann Jr. He was taken to Parkland North in Bonne Terre where he was pronounced dead.
Again, sympathy is not for James Victor Koberman Sr. There can be no absolution for him. He acted selfishly and his son paid the price with his life. And now, the father will spend the rest of his in prison.
But we should look deeper into the factors that potentially weighed on the mind of Kobermann Sr. when he made that fateful decision to deny his son proper medical attention. The St. Francois County Sherriff’s Department summed it up in a press release.
“Even though it was apparent to Kobermann Sr. and others that Kobermann Jr. had overdosed and was in distress, Kobermann Sr. would not allow medical assistance to be called for fear of a police investigation into the overdose.”
In the abstract, this does not add much to the story. It is still a coward who killed his son. But the specific “fear of a police investigation” in Kobermann Sr.’s circumstances may shed a bit of light. In addition to the life sentence for murder, Kobermann Sr. got “another 30 years in prison for distribution of a controlled substance as a prior and persistent offender.”
Obviously the aggravating factors of this particular case gave the sentencing judge every incentive to max Kobermann Sr. out on the charge of distribution of a controlled substance as a prior and persistent offender. But in what world does it make sense to allow someone who has possessed and shared (addicts don’t “distribute,” they share) a personal amount of heroin in his own home to get sentenced to 30 years in prison?
Kobermann Sr. told the police that he did not allow medical attention for his son because he was scared of getting arrested. Selfish? Certainly. But Missouri lawmakers who put laws on the books that would send an addict to prison for decades do not have clean hands in the death of Kobermann Jr.
In the overzealous attempt to deter drug use (or gain fodder for the next stump speech), lawmakers may have inadvertently deterred a father from making the right decision to save his son’s life.
There is no way to know whether Kobermann Sr. would have made the same horrible decision if he thought he might only be facing a few months in the county jail. But if you know that involving the authorities will land you in prison for the foreseeable future, it takes a great deal of moral fortitude to do what’s right in the face of such an opposing force. And drug addicts are not renowned for their moral fortitude or willpower.
Our drug laws do a terrible job of differentiating between users and dealers. Felony possession charges can often be based upon a miniscule amount of drugs. In New York, 3 ½ grams of heroin is a felony. The standard sugar packet contains around 4 grams of sugar. In New York, cocaine is a felony at half a gram. Why? There is no legitimate reason to make mere possession of such a small amount of drugs a felony.
And if you think that $140 worth of heroin is a lot, it isn’t. Heroin users typically buy in bulk ($100 up to $1000) and then hole up and get high until it’s gone. And that is exactly what the Kobermanns and their friend did. Unfortunately, as soon as Kobermann Jr. overdosed, Missouri law said Kobermann Sr. was going to prison for a very long time. It was just either going to be for murder or possession.