Equality Before the Law

September 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm (By Randy)

Andrew Sullivan was busted for possession of pot at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Normally, Sullivan would have to pay a $125 fine like everyone else. But Sullivan has an application for change in his immigration status pending and such a conviction would probably result in his automatic disqualification.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office refused to explain to Robert B. Collings, the judge handling the case, why they sought to dismiss the charges. The many other defendants in court facing the same charges that day were not so “lucky.”

Moral: It pays to have friends in high places.


  1. amba12 said,

    I have a Canadian brother-in-law who had two minor cannabis convictions at the age of 18. As a result, absurdly, he can never become a permanent resident of the United States.

    Sullivan should pay the fine like anyone else, but the consequences should not be so draconian.

  2. Randy said,

    I agree it is absurd. IMO, the law should be changed, but it is the law. Your brother-in-law is one of thousands denied equal treatment.

  3. Peter Hoh said,

    I’m not certain that one can leap to the conclusion that anyone in hte upper reaches of the Justice Department intervened. I suppose I shouldn’t blame anyone for pulling what levers they can, but it still smells.

  4. PatHMV said,

    Still too early to tell. In my own career, one or two discretionary decisions have been made differently than they would have been otherwise, because of the drastic effect the normal decision would have had on a person’s immigration status. It’s not entirely inappropriate for a prosecutor to decide that, because of some particular circumstances with an individual defendant, prosecution would have a result far out of proportion to the actual offense, and significantly higher than is contemptlated by the statute.

    My bet is that the AUSA is a Sullivan reader, and got mildly excited to have some sort of “celebrity” in his court, and he went out of his way to look for an excuse to dismiss the case.

    But questions should continue to be asked, to get to the bottom of it, just to be sure. The U.S. Attorney for the district should go on public record justifying the decision and stating clearly and directly that (one hopes) nobody from DoJ exerted any pressure or attempted to influence the handling of the case.

  5. trooper york said,

    I blame the beagles.

    Nothing has been the same since those long haired freaks started that rock and roll nonsense.


    The Beatles not the beagles.


  6. Randy said,

    Peter: I imagine you right. Pat’s comment lays out a likely scenario. Thanks, Pat!

  7. Rod said,

    If you get a speeding ticket in my city you can fight the ticket and probably lose, paying the fine and getting points on your license, higher insurance rates, etc. You can pay the ticket and, if it is your first, avoid getting points (and letting your insurance company know) by attending a farce called “traffic school.” Or, if you have an attorney (or are one) you can schedule an “attorney conference” with the court, by which the ticket is “written down” to a parking ticket, the fine cut about in half, and you get no points on your license. You probably won’t know about the last option, available only to attorneys or people represented by them, unless you know or consult a lawyer.

    We have a law which prescribes one penalty, and a system which mitigates it for those in the know. A friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident in Italy. Red tape was delaying the return of his body. His wife called me and I knew a U.S. Senator. Very soon I was on the phone with very helpful staff at the U.S. Embassy. Things were expedited. Was she wrong to call me for help in the midst of her grief? Was I wrong to try to move her grief ahead of other matters on a government employee’s agenda?

    Favoritism suffuses society. We have laws for everybody and exceptions for some. And it doesn’t stop there. You can pay for tickets to the concert, or maybe you can get in for free and meet the star backstage to boot – if you know the promoter.

    Life works that way, and most of the people who are upset about Mr. Sullivan’s treatment have asked someone to “pull strings” on their behalf at some point.

    One last corollary: The more life is regulated, the more “who you know” makes a difference. To paraphrase from Animal Farm, “All of the animals are equal. Its just that some are more equal than others.”

  8. PatHMV said,

    Rod… right on with your corollary. I fight that battle all the time with Republicans who promote government-sponsored “economic development,” of the sort which involves special grants, infrastructure funds, targeted tax breaks, etc. It means that everybody that wants to move to your state has to hire a lawyer to help maneuver through the maze of regulations and get whatever approvals and contracts are necessary. And if you’re going to hire a lawyer, you might as well hire a lawyer who is friendly with the powers-that-be. Very nasty.

    The lower-level stuff is going to happen. That’s part of human nature. You can limit it some, but you’ll never get rid of it. The key is to try to keep it out, as much as possible, of the high-dollar and high-consequence decisions. Keep the ticket off your record, whatever. Extra tickets, back-stage pass, fine. But a D.A. who grants such favors to someone who has committed a real crime, something violent or serious amounts of drugs, or otherwise indicative of serious problems, that’s wrong.

    I once had a defendant, a college student, who was charged with crapping on a car (literally; the guy was drunk off his ass outside a big football game, and he dropped trou and defecated on somebody else’s car). Now that’s just embarrassing. When his dad called me to try to get me to cut the kid some slack, I was willing to consider it, just so the poor bastard wouldn’t have that following him around the rest of his life. Then I found out that was his second arrest for doing the same thing. Boom, no more mercy for him; he clearly needed to learn a serious lesson.

    It doesn’t always take pulling strings; being nice and polite and talking to the relevant official can often work wonders. I had a case once, relatively poor young black man, a student at a local historically black university. He and his buddies were pulling an old-fashioned panty-raid or some such nonsense. But a door was locked, and this guy was the dumb-ass who tried to kick it in. Alas, it was a glass door, and when he went to the student infirmary to get treated, he was busted by the cops, who had spotted the blood at the scene. Anyway, the case came up during the summer. His mother drove his ass back (I think those were her words) from Georgia for the court date. I found that impressive right there. He freely accepted responsibility for being stupid, also impressive. He got pre-trial diversion and no criminal record, no lawyer needed.

  9. Rod said,

    Pat: Even the well intentioned efforts create a morass. A case in point is Sarbanes-Oxley. Every major economic regulation creates a compliance cottage industry. Meanwhile, we have lawyers going though 10 or 12 hours a year of CLE; much of it worthless. I am in the process of buying a new house and looking at 50 pages of mandated disclosures to me, all of which I must initial. What a monumental waste.

  10. wj said,

    Let me second Pat’s comment on the benefits of being nice and polite. I once had occasion to contest a traffic ticket. Which meant that I got to spend a morning in traffic court, listening to those ahead of me on the docket. The things people were presenting as excuses for their actions were simply mind-boggling. It was enough to convince me that “the dog ate my homework” was probably a real-life school example, rather than the massive overstatement that I had always assumed it must be.

    All of which may simple indicate that there are several things which can have a disproportionate impact on your experience with the justice system. Yes, who you know is one. But how you behave is another. As, I suspect, is whether you appear to the judge, the DA, etc. like “one of them” — not on race or ethnicity or profession, but simply on intelligence and class. After all, a person like them would behave like they behave, and so will be presumed to have done so. Someone who acts like they are barely bright enough to come in out of the rain will have a very different presumption made about their probable behavior.

    (In the event, I just stood up and pleaded a straight Not Guilty. And, since I had not been obnoxious to the office who wrote the ticket, he obviously had no particular memory of me or the event — and so recommended that the ticket be dismissed “in the interests of justice.” I have the distinct impression that in the same situation, except that I actually had been driving 45 in a 30 mile zone, I would have gotten the same result. Except that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to contest the ticket in that case.)

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