9. December 2010 14:30
During a motor vehicle court session today, I witnessed an interesting spectacle. The prosecutor greeted everyone in the room (at least 100 people) and stated that they were having a toy drive to benefit Toys for Tots.
So far, so good, right? A great charity for sure.
The problem comes in that the prosecutor announces that everyone in the room is going to be given a choice to have their charges dropped if they agree to donate a toy to the charity for a price he decides.
Immediately, this raises some serious issues in my mind:
- The state is in a very serious financial crisis. We could use all the legitimate income we can get, and we should not be turning away any funds. Essentially, by allowing people to donate to the charity instead of paying their fines to our state's general fund, that is like donating money from the general fund into the charity. I love Toys for Tots, and I love the idea of donating to them, but who is authorizing state employees to donate the tax payer's money to the charity with seemingly no oversight?
- Otherwise guilty people are being allowed 'off the hook' when the prosecutor drops the charges. I witnessed $380 fines and multiple charges of driving without a license and driving under suspension (driving without a license because your license is suspended is two separate charges) dropped because the accused agreed to donate a toy worth 75 dollars. Our state has been consistently ramping up these laws. They can carry upwards of 90 days in jail. These are people that most of us don't want to drive anywhere in the vicinity of. They are the people drinking and driving, fleeing the scene in hit and runs and engaging in road rage. The state has deemed them unsuitable to drive and has suspended their driving privileges. They disobey but go free for a 75 mandatory 'donation'.
- Innocent people that should otherwise be getting their charges dropped either by a prosecutor reviewing the case for probable cause are being extorted. The prosecutors on hand didn't even have any police reports or evidence on hand to review whether they should even be pursuing the charges. So essentially these people were all being given a choice of "Donate a toy at the value specified, or we will prosecute you.". The prosecutors were pushy about it. Many people were confused by what they should do. If they feel they don't deserve the charge, should they take the risk and go to trial? Should they risk losing their job or additional income by going to court to stand up against the charge? I don't know of a better definition of extortion really.
More to come on this, this is far from over...