Justice delayed, but not denied

We have a rather unusual legal case going on here in New Hampshire. It’s the case of Sonny Harris, a convicted drug dealer, and his ongoing struggle with our legal system.

Back in the early 90’s, Sonny was busted for dealing some hard drugs. Some people even died from his products. He went to prison for ten years, and was released on parole. But according to his parole officer, Sonny was hardly a good parolee.

Sonny was repeatedly seen hanging around with other convicted felons, frequenting places he shouldn’t have been, and overheard trying to put his drug operation back together. He blew off meetings with his parole officer, often not even bothering to make up an excuse. He always managed to talk his way out of getting sent back to prison, though.

Finally, an informant told police that Sonny had a good-sized stash of drugs in his home. The cops showed up, and Sonny refused to let them in without a warrant. They didn’t need one, since he was on parole, so they broke in, arrested Sonny, and searched his house anyway.

They didn’t find a big stash of drugs — it turned out Sonny was all talk, no action. But they did find, tucked away in a hidden spot under some floorboards, some drugs from before his first arrest. Sonny insisted he’d forgotten about them, and even accused the cops of planting the drugs, but he still went back to jail, and is going to be tried for possession on that old stash.

I kinda feel a smidgen of sympathy for Sonny; it’s pretty obvious, now, that he wasn’t getting his drug operation back together. It was all just talk, trying to make himself seem like he was still a big man. But the facts are simple: he did have the drugs in his house, they were his, and he did refuse the cops entry and had to be forcibly subdued when they showed up. And the cops did act in good faith; the tip they got (from a normally-reliable informant), combined with Sonny’s own actions before and during the search, all screamed “guilty” to them.

But the fact remains: Sonny was on parole, and therefore had no legal presumption of innocence. The burden was on him to cooperate with the authorities, to demonstrate that he was worthy of the trust in being placed on parole. He repeatedly told people he was going to get back in business, better than ever. He was renewing his contacts with the people in the drug trade. And he had repeatedly violated the terms of his probation without consequences.

Prosecutors say they’ve had enough of Sonny, and intend to use the “three strikes” law on him and send him away for life. His attorney says it’s nuts, because the drugs found were old and hardly proof that he was planning on returning to crime.

Sorry, Sonny. You shoulda thought of that before and either turned in or flushed the drugs in the first place. Or not mouthed off so much about how you were gonna be a big man again. Or maybe not been such a jerk when the cops showed up to search your house. You had dozens of chances to go straight, and you chose to ignore them all.

My only regret is how much you cost the state putting you where you belong.

(For some of the most recent developments in Sonny’s case, read this excellent piece.)

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