An Oregon Congressman has proposed a federal "Clean Slate" act that would benefit many citizens by clearing their criminal records. The act targets federal pot violations that are no longer crimes under the laws of states like Oregon and Colorado. With more state likely to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, Congress may be willing to consider a law that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. The decades old practice of making penalties harsher and harsher, with no regard for fairness has never been under greater attack.
From the desk of Jonathan Sarre.
One of the popular arguments you hear against eliminating harsh sentencing guidelines is that crime rates will go up. This argument both defies reality and misses the point. Imprisoning someone is an effective way to deter a wide range of conduct. A person in prison is deterred from making a living. A person in prison is deterred from being an effective parent or supportive spouse. A person in prison is deterred from contributing much of anything to society. What long prison sentences do not deter is similar crime committed by other people. Studies are very clear on that.
Ignorance of the law is not a defense. That's a good thing for politicians and prosecutors, because federal and state criminal codes are so vague, duplicative, inconsistent and complicated that even experts have little chance of mastering them. While signs point to an increasing willingness to reform our criminal justice system, getting the key figures to agree to pare down criminal codes to workable levels remains a long-shot. As things stand, it is hard to argue that justice is being served.
An accusation related to exploitation or child pornography can be enough to destroy someone's life. Child pornography charges carry the potential of lengthy prison sentences and massive fines. For some, the worst part of being charged is not the possible penalties, it's the stigma of having your name attached to a sex offense for the rest of your life. Despite a growing understanding that police and prosecutors regularly make mistakes and innocent people do get convicted, just being charged with a sex offense is often enough for the public to conclude that you are guilty. If a person is tried and found innocent, they may still have to battle the perception that they are a sex offender. Anyone under investigation for such charges should respond aggressively to limit the damage.