Sadly, we are too late to help Mr. Hudson, but his case exemplifies many of the problems with our criminal justice system. A harmless older man locked up on a drug charge with incredibly thin evidence, unable to bond out of jail while waiting for an indictment, unable to get medical care while in jail, dead and leaving his mother without support. A casualty of our big government drug war – and there will be more and more until we effect serious criminal justice reform.
The following is by Spartacus Legal founder Catherine Bernard, from a short-lived blog she kept as a public defender in Dublin, Georgia: Obstructing Injustice
Ronald D. Hudson, 1948-2010
On the afternoon of August 4th, 2009, several drug task force officers arrived at a quiet apartment complex. That morning, they had received an anonymous tip that someone in the complex was growing marijuana. The officers found a two-inch marijuana plant in a small pot on an outdoor landing between several apartments, one of which belonged to 60-year-old Ronald Hudson. Through the closed screen door, the officers could see Mr. Hudson sweeping his kitchen floor. They entered the apartment, asked him a few questions, then arrested him for manufacturing marijuana. That’s a felony only bailable by a superior court, so Mr. Hudson spent fifteen days in jail before he was able to see a judge. His 84-year-old mother attended the hearing and testified that Ronald, a handyman, worked hard and helped take care of her. Bail was set at $40,000, which is on the low side of standard for this kind of offense. Neither Mr. Hudson nor his mother had sufficient assets to make bond (property bonds require twice the bond amount in equity), so he stayed in jail.
There was nothing we could do on Mr. Hudson’s case until the district attorney’s office decided to formally charge him, and they had four years to do that. The indictment was issued six months later, on February 8th, 2010. Ronald Hudson died on February 2nd. To the court’s credit, the bond was modified on January 26th to permit Mr. Hudson to be transferred to a hospital for treatment. The charges against him were formally dismissed on April 12th, 2010, after the district attorney’s office received a copy of the death certificate.
The biggest problem with this story is that it’s not only unexceptional, it’s not even error or abuse. A man was found in constructive possession of a growing marijuana plant, and the law is clear that that should result in five to thirty years of imprisonment. Everyone involved was following valid laws and widely accepted law enforcement practices. Mr. Hudson’s story is exactly what we should expect to happen when we arbitrarily criminalize peaceful activities: armed men will go after people who aren’t bothering anyone, and those people will suffer greatly.
Drug arrests, most of them under circumstances very similar to Mr. Hudson’s (anonymous tips, warrantless arrests after entry onto private property) make up a tremendous proportion of actual law enforcement activity. It’s not only legal to drag people like Mr. Hudson out of their kitchens, it’s encouraged and celebrated as a primary goal of our criminal justice system. That’s why there are literally millions and millions of Americans incarcerated solely for drug offenses, and even the ones who don’t die in jail have their lives altered in terrible, permanent ways. And some, like Otto Zehm – the mentally handicapped janitor beaten and choked to death by the police while he was buying candy and soda – don’t even make it to jail.
This is a blog to talk about the millions of Ronald Hudsons out there and whether what we’re doing to them is a good idea. Thanks for reading.