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May 20, 2014

Texas teen facing 5-to-life for selling pot brownies(!) highlights prosecutorial sentencing powers

A drug war and severe sentencing story making the media rounds today emerged via this recent local report headlined "Texas man facing possible life sentence for pot brownies." Here are the basics (which have already been sensationalized a bit in some media accounts I have seen):

A Texas man accused of making and selling marijuana brownies is facing up to life in prison if convicted.  That’s because officials in Round Rock have charged him with a first-degree felony.

It’s a move that the man’s family and attorney outraged. “It’s outrageous. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it,” Joe Lavoro, the man’s father said. Like many familiar with the case, Joe does not understand why his son is in so much legal trouble....

The 19-year-old is accused of making and selling pot brownies.  He’s charged with a first degree felony.  “Five years to life? I’m sorry.  I’m a law abiding citizen.  I’m a conservative. I love my country.  I’m a Vietnam veteran, but I’ll be ****ed.  This is wrong. This is ***n wrong!” the father said.

Lavoro’s lawyer agrees. “I was outraged. I’ve been doing this 22 years as a lawyer and I’ve got 10 years as a police officer and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Jack Holmes, Lavoro’s attorney said.

The former high school football player has a clean record.  The charge is so severe because the recipe includes hash oil.  That allows the state to use the sugar, cocoa, butter and other ingredients to determine the weight of the drugs.  “They’ve weighed baked goods in this case. It ought to be a misdemeanor,” Holmes said.

KEYE reached out to the district attorney to ask how they’re going to prosecute the case.  Our call has not yet been returned....

Jacob’s father wants what’s right. “If he did something wrong, he should be punished but to the extent that makes sense. This is illogical. I’m really upset, and I’m frightened, I’m frightened for my son,” Joe said.

Jacob Lavoro's father is right to be frightened, in large part because it would seem that his son's fate is now almost entirely in the hands of local prosecutors. Though I do not know all the ins and outs of Texas drug laws, I assume that the local prosecutors can (and probably will) ultimately allow Lavoro to plead to some less charge rather than go to trial on a first-degree felony charge carrying a 5 to life sentence. But the fact that such a severe charge with a big-time sentence is even on the table all but ensures that the local prosecutor can extract a plea on whatever terms strikes his fancy.

May 20, 2014 at 06:16 PM | Permalink


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I'm with the Dad, this is just sickeningly over the top. These prosecutors are sorely in need of being held accoutable for their serious lack of common sensibility also.

Posted by: Randy | May 20, 2014 6:35:37 PM

I have supported the pretextual (false) use of the law to get rid of major nuisances. So a life sentence for tax evasion for Al Capone, is justified as a stand in for the St. Valentines' Day Massacre. A drug kingpin and mass murderer is caught shoplifting, give him the death penalty for shoplifting a pack of gum in 123D. The utilitarian arithmetic fully supports such. The problem is the person, not the specific crime. The remedy is incapacitation, not proportionality. Such elegant remedies would not be allowed in retributionist regime.

So is this kid a major social nuisance to get rid of?

If not, there is a problem for the prosecutor. He is not a mere advocate, but a "minister of justice." He must not bring opprobrium on the justice system, his office, nor on the judge, because opprobrium generates contempt and more crime, a harsh consequence to the public.

If he is deemed stupid, he will not be re-elected, or will be fired. The label, "stupid" will stick if tries to join the defense bar. I would go trial, and act on the prosecutor, such as getting e-discovery, asking for disqualification for racism or any other -ism possible. I would file a long sequence of ethics complaints to keep him under investigation for the foreseeable future. I would approach church, family, neighborhood and start a campaign of vilification to get him driven from the state. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 20, 2014 6:53:22 PM

Round rock is in Williamson County, not the best county in Texas when it comes to prosecutorial fairness.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | May 20, 2014 7:17:43 PM

If it weren't for his Dad, would anyone care about this kid? OK. Maybe Doug B. but the only reason this is in the news is because white conservative Republicans don't believe the law applies to them. Through the book at him, I say. Might go a little way towards balancing out the hippies and the black people who have suffered the same fate,

Posted by: Daniel | May 20, 2014 8:16:33 PM

Rick: Leave aside foreign low crime rates in high lead level countries, but low bastardy rates (e.g. as China increases its lawyer supply, its crime rate is shooting up). Your correlations are quite robust for the US. Your point is further supported by longitudinal studies of individual birth cohorts in national health surveys. In a simple declarative sentence, can you quantify the strength of the effect. Drops in blood lead levels explain ____% of the drop in crime rates.

Competing with the drop in lead level? Mass incarceration, and the resulting reduction of the fecundity of prisoners, producing fewer offspring because of incarceration. The number of children of high crime risk population also fell during this time. Their potential fathers were in prison. While the pro-life movement gets agitated about white abortions, and they dropped, no one cares about black abortions, and they increased.

This longitudinal study supports Rick's argument. Although by, again, an economist, it employs health survey longitudinal data.

Amherst College and NBER
It is well known that exposure to lead has numerous adverse effects on
behavior and development. Using data on two cohorts of children from
the NLSY, this paper investigates the effect of early childhood lead
exposure on behavior problems from childhood through early adulthood.
I find large negative consequences of early childhood lead exposure, in
the form of an unfolding series of adverse behavioral outcomes: behavior
problems as a child, pregnancy and aggression as a teen, and criminal
behavior as a young adult. At the levels of lead that were the norm in
United States until the late 1980s, estimated elasticities of these
behaviors with respect to lead range between 0.2 and 1.0.

(Once again, this effect shows the lesser impact of the criminal law when compared to technological progress. The $trillion taken by the lawyer profession and its constituencies should be transferred to science and technology, in, yea, industrial planning policy.)

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 21, 2014 6:08:31 AM

I'd also point out that Texas is a jury sentencing state. I wouldn't be surprised that there's an incentive to plea because a 5 to life sentence would be resolved on the low end for a plea, but who the hell knows what a jury would give. They could just pick a halfway point and give him 30-40 years and call it fair.

Posted by: Erik M | May 21, 2014 8:16:11 AM

Mixed opinion here, what if the drug caused a fatal reaction in a person, although it wasn't poison so life sentence is far from warranted, the problem in the criminal justice system is discretion, depending on the prosecutor's emotions or feelings you are allowing a single person or group of people rather than the crime itself, determine whether your life is ruined or not. This is wrong, punishment should fit the crime, but it should not be prosecutors with so much discretion.

Posted by: Alex | May 21, 2014 9:58:32 AM

Yes, Daniel, punish the son for the beliefs of conservative Republicans. Sounds fair.

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2014 11:14:26 AM

I'm with Daniel. In Alabama, weight really wouldn't matter as this is a straight distribution charge. Distribution of a controlled substance gets you many years in prison. Whether you sell a brownie or bring a joint to a party and pass it around, its the same charge. Luckily for this young man, I suspect that the judge will see that he is not well-suited for prison and he won't share the fate of many others who apparently are well-suited for prison.

Posted by: AlaJD | May 21, 2014 12:04:27 PM

Simple solution to this type of criminal stupidity on the part of the Prosecutor. Remove them! If anyone who takes the job disappears. Eventually nobody will be dumb enough to take it.

They might also realize people are fed up with this shit and stop.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 22, 2014 1:39:07 AM

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