Federal Judge Blasts Lenient Treatment of Blogger Andrew M. Sullivan in Drug Case

225px-Andrew_Sullivan_croppedmarijuana-leafIn a rare rebuke to prosecutors, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings has criticized the decision of the United States Attorneys office to drop charges against well-known blogger Andrew M. Sullivan, who was arrested by park rangers on a Cape Cod national beach for possession of marijuana on July 13th. A conviction would have caused problems for Sullivan — a British citizen — in remaining in the United States.

Collings wrote “fidelity to the law requires that the Court grant leave to the United States Attorney to dismiss the Violation Notice against Mr. Sullivan. That the Court must so act does not require the Court to believe that the end result is a just one.”

U.S. Attorney James F. Lang insisted that prosecution of the writer was “contrary to public interest.” Collings clearly did not like that argument a wee bit.

Collings noted that the facts were “straightforward” and that “[i]t is quite apparent Mr. Sullivan is being treated differently from others. In fact, there were other persons who were required to appear who were charged with the same offense and who were being prosecuted.”

Collings accused the prosecutors of discarding the principle that “all persons stand equal before the law.” Of course, given this Administration’s effort to protect Bush officials from war crimes and torture prosecutions, this is pretty small potatoes.

I, of course, favor total immunity of bloggers from any crime as a reflection of our social standing and importance to the continuation of civilization as we know it.

Sullivan’s arrest is not unique and, in terms of bad press, pales in comparison to the charges against CNN personality Richard Quest who was able to rejoin CNN and appears to have struck a deal with prosecutors.

The fact is that pot possession is one of the lowest priorities for law enforcement in most jurisdictions. While this does not alter the claim of special treatment, many would like to see a day where we treat everyone equally by not prosecuting people for possession — bloggers or non-bloggers alike.

For the full story, click here.

25 thoughts on “Federal Judge Blasts Lenient Treatment of Blogger Andrew M. Sullivan in Drug Case”

  1. “You should have put some sort of “do not read while drinking or eating” warning on that comment. Now I’ve got Sprite and ham-sandwich all over my monitor.”

    tmaxPA,

    Fair warning. I’ve gone through 5 monitors since starting to blog here. As bad as Dredd can be, be wary of that rascal seamus too. He’ll sneak up on ya. The guys at my local MicroCenter love him.

  2. Jailing non-violent pot possessors is wasting taxpayer
    dollars. They should be given TARP money instead.

    You should have put some sort of “do not read while drinking or eating” warning on that comment. Now I’ve got Sprite and ham-sandwich all over my monitor.

  3. While this does not alter the claim of special treatment, many would like to see a day where we treat everyone equally by not prosecuting people for possession — bloggers or non-bloggers alike.

    From my read, we might count Judge Collings among them. The strongest case against our drug laws is the stark reality of how unevenly they are enforced. When the rich go free and the poor go to jail, that is not a “justice” system, no matter what you call it.

  4. Looking forward when retribution in order only gets you stabbed in the back. Perhaps our President should take heed of this truism in his dealing with less than honorable men.

  5. Now is a time for reflection, not retribution. It is a time to look forward, not backwards.

  6. Notwithstanding Sullivan’s recent discovery that conservatives tend to be bigots on gay issues, he’s a blowhard and clearly not worthy of exceptional treatment. For his destruction of The New Republic alone, he probably should have been deported.

  7. @Mespo:

    I’m inclined to agree with you that this would have been proper prosecutorial discretion had the US Attorney shown the same leniency to other people in Sullivan’s shoes. But the judge noted that this was not the case generally, and that immigration considerations were seldom taken into account by the US Attorney’s office. That crucial bit was left out the Herald article that the good prof linked to, but it’s in the Globe:

    “What vexed him, he wrote, was that Loucks’s prosecutors routinely pursue such offenders but were making an exception for Sullivan. If convictions of other people for the same offense jeopardized their immigration applications, he wrote, ‘then why should Mr. Sullivan, who is in the same position, not have to deal with the same consequences?'”

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/09/12/dismissed_marijuana_charge_raises_judges_ire/

  8. Isn’t this the guy that said of the Chris Wallace interview of Dick Cheney: “like a teenage girl interviewing the Jonas’ Brothers.”

    All this time I thought Organ Pipe National Park was about Cactus.

  9. I agree with the Prof on this one. The Federal Law law started out purely for political reasons. I have had case where basically 2-14 year olds and a 17 year old got busted for MJ. The 17 year old was the only one charged. It was one of the 14 year olds. The parents were called for the 14 year olds.

  10. rcampbell:

    “It stirikes me as more appropriate that everyone else should receive the same treatment as Mr Sullivan for so trivial an issue, not the reverse.”
    ***********************

    Agreed, but the law is still on the books and I suspect no one would accept a policy by the US Attorney to forgo all prosecutions. Half a loaf….

  11. Aren’t national parks one of the best places to “possess” pot?

    Jailing non-violent pot possessors is wasting taxpayer dollars. They should be given TARP money instead.

  12. It stirikes me as more appropriate that everyone else should receive the same treatment as Mr Sullivan for so trivial an issue, not the reverse.

  13. “While this does not alter the claim of special treatment, many would like to see a day where we treat everyone equally by not prosecuting people for possession — bloggers or non-bloggers alike.”

    ***************

    It is certainly a valid consideration by the US Attorney that Mr. Sullivan’s immigration status would be severely affected by such a petit crime. I am certain this factor was not hidden from the Court. My assessment is that this is a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion and an improper exercise in grand standing by the Court. The decision to prosecute differed from the other defendants because the impact of the conviction was radically different than for the charged citizens. That is not bias, merely the recognition of a manifest fact–something the Court had problems doing.

  14. While this does not alter the claim of special treatment, many would like to see a day where we treat everyone equally by not prosecuting people for possession — bloggers or non-bloggers alike.

    Amen.

  15. I agree with Professor T. that all bloggers should be dealt with kid gloves at all times by the legal authorities. Mr. Sullivan’s high position insulates him from the government looking into the past. This US attorney recognized that the proper outlook is to look forward and to forget about all past crimes. Especially for a blogger from England.

  16. Although Massachusetts has decriminalized marijuana possession, Sullivan was on federal land and was issued a citation by a park ranger.

    The effective cost to a citizen for such a charge would be a small fine. The cost to Sullivan could be citizenship itself.

    Some have noted that Sullivan would already be a citizen if the federal government recognized the jurisdiction of states over marriage, as Sullivan is legally married in Massachusetts.

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