In West Texas, Hudspeth County prosecutor has recommended an unusual set of penalties for country music legend Willie Nelson, who has been arrested for possession of marijuana as he has been many times in the past. County Attorney Kit Bramblett has recommended to the judge in the case that she allow Bramblett to drop possession charges if Nelson pleads guilty, pays a fine…
…. and sings “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for in court.
His recommendation is ethically offensive on many levels, though it is probably not a violation of any Texas rule of legal ethics, for the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct does not directly address Ethics Dunces. However…
- His recommendation holds the justice system and the court system up to ridicule. This isn’t a game of “Truth or Dare.”
- Bramblett’s trivialization of the penalties for drug possession violates the spirit, though not the letter, of his pledge to enforce and uphold the law. He is officially undermining the legitimate state policy of condemning and criminalizing marijuana use, and that is a breach of hid duties to Texas. If the citizens of Texas don’t want laws against marijuana use, they should have their legislators change them. Bramblett’s duty is to enforce the law, not to mock it.
- Treating a scofflaw like Nelson as a special guest of the law enforcement system reinforces the corrosive (and justified) public belief, bolstered regularly by the outrageous tolerance shown to public figures like Eliot Spitzer, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, that there are two systems of justice—one for the rich and famous, where the most common punishment is a slap on the wrist, and another for everyone else. Nelson’s position with pot has always been that he’ll keep using, and the law be damned. A fair and serious prosecutor would throw the book at him.
- Making Willie perform for the court like a hurdy-gurdy monkey is demeaning to his talent, and an abuse of power. The law doesn’t exist to provide a means for law enforcement officials to force command performances for their own entertainment. How does the public benefit from Willie’s making the judge and prosecutor smile and tap their toes? Indeed, as commenter Tim LeVier pointed out below, this is very similar to asking Nelson for a bribe in exchange for lenient treatment. What would Willie charge for a private performance of one song? $10,000? $50,000? Whatever the going rate is, the court will be getting that value.
Meanwhile, I don’t hold much out much hope that the judge in the case will give the prosecutor’s recommendation that quick rejection it deserves. Bramblett says the judge specifically demanded that Nelson appear in court instead of pleading by mail, a common procedure in these cases because “she wants to meet Willie.”
There’s nothing like a judge fawning over a criminal defendant to give the public faith in the justice system.