20 Years for $40 of Crack, 10 Years for 2 Oz. of Pot? It Happens in St. Louis, Not Just Out West

Categories: Crime, Drugs

These types of lengthy sentences handed out under the Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute are not always about punishment, but because of a prosecutor's desire to have more control over the sentence, according to St. Louis public defender Rick Kroeger.

"They will charge someone as prior or persistent knowing that they can get without probation or parole and they use that to force our hand to agree to something that they want," Kroeger tells Daily RFT.

In order to avoid a blind plea -- in which a defendant will plead guilty and then have a judge sentence them -- a prosecutor will hang the prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute over the defendant's head to scare them into pleading guilty and accepting the prosecutor's desired sentence, which is usually more years, but with the possibility of parole.

"Prosecutors know our hands are tied if our client wants to avoid a [without parole] sentence," Kroeger says. "So basically I think it's their way of trying to avoid open pleas knowing that a judge would more likely than not give a better sentence than the state would agree to."

An example of how that works is a prosecutor offers a defendant twenty years with parole, which means they will be eligible (though no guaranteed) for release after 15 percent of their sentence -- about three years.

See also: 45 Guns Ex-Judge Mike Cook Will Surrender After Pleading Guilty to Heroin Charges

Or the defendant can go to trial and take his or her chances of either being found not guilty and going home or being found guilty and getting a minimum of ten years without parole -- and that's only if the judge decides to give them the most lenient sentence.
Many times it's not worth the risk, even if the defendant is innocent, because the judge can always decide to increase the punishment if he or she feels like doing so.

However, Kroeger says, although lengthy punishments do happen, they are still rare.

"I think more often than not, what we have seen here in the city is that judges realize ten years minimum [without parole] is extreme and to go above that would be unnecessary or unfair compared to other sentences for other crimes," he says.

But that hasn't stopped the Prior and Persistent Drug Offender charge from being used. Instead, it has become more common in St. Louis, according to Kroeger, as well as a few "tough on crime" counties in the rest of the state, according to Greg Mermelstein, a division director with the Missouri State Public Defenders' Office.

That is despite rhetoric from politicians that long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders are too costly and ineffective.

"[The Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute] has definitely been on the rise," Mermelstein says.

Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:

E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.


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35 comments
crashtest
crashtest

"land of the free", only if you can afford it.


Kill four people while speeding and drunk, but be the son of wealthy parents = probation


Get caught with pot and not be the son of wealthy parents = years of jail time


No too surprising that the so-called "land of the free" has the highest incarceration percentage of any country in the world.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

If judges found strict sentences on the first two convictions, maybe there would not be a third.


Prosecutors do overcharge to get a plea bargain. That should end, and prosecutors should be placed on trial for unprovable charges. It is a miscarriage of justice. Charge them for the crimes actually committed with fairness in mind, not a conviction rate or saving money settling out of court.

Jeff Fortner
Jeff Fortner

here's an idea, dont do crack then you'll be ok!! hows that for advice lol

Warren Davis
Warren Davis

Ya and it's fine to drink yourself silly....or worse, dead.

Duddley Dewright
Duddley Dewright

And the kid who blew a .28 and killed some people while driving drunk got 10 years probation because he suffers from "affluenza". What do you bet the people that get stuck with long prison sentences don't suffer from the same "disease"?

JJ O'Brand
JJ O'Brand

Don't waste your time explaining anything to Steve Mincer turd extraordinaire. Waste of oxygen, does that need an explanation?

Ryan Paluczak
Ryan Paluczak

Well goddddddamn, you get three strikes. Learn how to deal drugs properly and avoid jail? Either way, I've had too many friends fuck up their lives from heroin, so that doesn't bother me. Coke and crack are highly addicting. The weed is the ridiculous thing...

Ricky Holloway
Ricky Holloway

You have a problem with that word when applied correctly, Steve? Why don't you use your brain and figure it out.

Laura Dee
Laura Dee

Well, coke and weed are on two different levels, but I think it should all be legalized. Put them in jail if they hurt someone other than themselves. Make sure our kids get a real, honest education about drugs starting in middle school. (Not the current system that tells kids to turn in their parents if they smell funny smoke in their house.) Offer government funded rehab and education to those that ask. Many people don't want to get help because they are scared to go to jail. That needs to end.

Blake Harris
Blake Harris

The fact that they're all repeat offender felons makes me less sympathetic , but its still messed up

Blake Harris
Blake Harris

Better watch out, if you kill someone you might get 7 years

Marisela Rivas
Marisela Rivas

move to Canada, it's totally ok to smoke crack there.

Brian Brown
Brian Brown

A drug in pot that is far less dangerous than alcohol will get you 10yrs is (insane in the brain. Think about the money that would be saved by legalizing . No more housing non violent offenders over nothing

Jerry-Deana Van Fleet
Jerry-Deana Van Fleet

Taking it out on the small boys because they can't catch the big boys. I don't believe in drugs but this is crazy!

Kevin Griffin
Kevin Griffin

Stop prohibition. Stop the senseless WAR on Drugs. Billions of $ are being wasted, Billions of lives are being ruined. You cant WIN the WAR on Drugs.

Knut Rønning
Knut Rønning

"ten years for attempting to buy $30 of heroin, which was a setup done by a female cop who asked the man to buy her some junk because she was "afraid" to do it herself" How is legal? Crazy....

Daniel Puricelli
Daniel Puricelli

Ten years for just over a quarter pound of pot. What's that like 1 plant worth? And we have to foot the bill for 3 hots and a cot.. for 10 years? And ruin some stupid kid's life?

Lance Lingle
Lance Lingle

Yeah no personal responsibility for a prior and persistent offender, you know doing it more than once and all. If you continue to light the mattress on fire you may burn the house down...you may not, but it is a risk you willingly taking and you can't blame the matches or the manufacturer or the supplier etc... I agree the sentences may be stiff but you don't have to buy crack for an undercover officer. I was asked the other day to but liquor for a minor outside a gas station...novel idea..I said "No", now he relied " man fuck you" and walked away so I guess I have no street cred anymore.

JJ O'Brand
JJ O'Brand

Guess the affluenza virus hasn't spread to MO yet? Who am I kidding, it's been here forever.

Derek Puleo
Derek Puleo

Well I do not condone the use of drugs, this is crazy.

Abbey Allred Wharton
Abbey Allred Wharton

Drug addicts don't belong in prison; they belong in rehab. Which is exactly what happens as long as you're upper middle class or above. Mandatory minimums for crack is as racist a policy as any that exists in this country.

jori.anne
jori.anne

It's a class issue. Those who are wealthy will go to rehab or pay fines. Those who are poor will go to jail.

Mike Luden
Mike Luden

It's always been like that. This is not a new problem. Been going on forever. They really should just legalize the weed. Crack and heroin should not even share the same news story. The latter 2 will make you sell your momma to get a fix!

Lanie Dattilo
Lanie Dattilo

The punishments here are too severe but crack and heroin are awful drugs. They should have some punishment, but RFT sounds like they are glorifying this. "off a groupie's thigh". REALLY? Those two drugs kill many people.

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