[Note: since this issue was printed last month, the prosecutor in this case has decided that Daniel Billingsly should -- not -- be tried as an adult. Any letters you send should reflect this.]
All over the country, we see signs informing us of "Drug-Free-School Zones", tough laws reflecting our government's commitment to keeping drugs out of the schools. Surely no one would argue with trying to keep kids away from drugs?
Unfortunately, like so much of the "get tough" Drug War legislation, "Drug- Free-School-Zones" misses the boat. The Billingsly case illustrates how Drug Free School Zones are not so much a way of fighting drugs as a tool for prosecutors to further their own political ambitions, at the expense of justice.
Daniel Billingsly is a fourteen-year old from northern Idaho. Billingsly is accused of selling a small amount of marijuana, about $40 worth, to another student in his school. Next month, Billingsly will stand trial -- as an adult -- and if convicted could face up to five years in an adult prison with adult felons.
How can our justice system have gone so far wrong that such a nightmare is even possible?
The answer is simple, and all too typical: the Idaho legislature, caught up in the hysteria over crime and drugs, chose the easy but misguided way out: enacting longer and longer sentences for ever more minor offenses. Billingsly, when he made his small sale, was in a "Drug-Free-School-Zone", and Idaho law requires that this young boy, for this minor offense, stand trial as an adult. If he is convicted and sent to jail, someone else, perhaps a truly dangerous criminal, will have to be freed early to make room for him. And when Daniel gets out, at age nineteen, he will have spent five of the most important formative years of his life in the close company of hoodlums.
The District Attorney who will prosecute Daniel says that this trial will "send a message" to our children. It's time that we sent him a message. Tell Prosecutor Douglas just what you think of his ideas about "justice". If Daniel is convicted, Judge Judd, said to be a fair man, will still have the option of sentencing him as a minor. Urge Judge Judd to do so. Write to them at the following addresses:
Judge James F. Judd
Kootenai County Court House
324 Garden Ave
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
William J. Douglas
315 W. Garden, C-9000
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814-1791
Financial assistance for the Billingsly family can be sent to:
Tim Gresback Lawyer Trust
On behalf of Daniel Billingsly
PO Box 1560
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816-1560
Write to the media! Send letters to your local papers, pointing out the tragic reality of "Drug-Free-School-Zones". Urge your legislators to work for their reform. The following are the addresses for two newspapers in the Coeur d'Alene area:
The Spokesman Review
PO Box 2160
Spokane, WA 99210
The Coeur d'Alene Press
201 2nd Ave
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Some points for your letters:
Thanks to Brian Julin of the U-Mass Cannabis Reform Coalition for researching this case.