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Wed Nov 20, 2013, 11:57 AM

Florida Republican Radel benefits from D.C.'s saner drug-crime stance

Here's the particular issue I have concerning news that Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) was caught with and pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in a District of Columbia court:

Yes, it's sleazy; yes, it's dumb. Yes, it's another conservative, man-of-god, law 'n order, Republican hypocrite. But it's more than that. So far, I haven't found a single news outlet that compares the penalty for Radel's crime in D.C. to the penalty for the same crime in Florida, home of his House district.

And there's a big difference, as far as I can tell.

The D.C. court sentenced the freshman Republican to one year of probation on a misdemeanor charge of possession. He also had to pay a $260 court fee or fine. But if he successfully completes probation, he won't even have a conviction listed on his record. The worst thing that still could happen to Radel in this case: If he violates probation, the judge could make him serve 180 days in jail. Gee, if that happened, he probably could almost get back to Congress and not even miss any scheduled working sessions <snark>.

Now, what if Radel instead had bought this cocaine on a street in his Florida district and was busted by cops there?

Well, I'm no lawyer, but here's what FindLaw.com and other web sites say about the Florida law that seemingly would apply: Mere possession of cocaine is a third degree felony in the sunshine state. Depending on the amount of cocaine, a suspect found guilty of a similar crime apparently could be sentenced up to a maximum of five years in Florida prison. Drug rehabilitation is offered to first-time convicts with no prior felony record. However, the possession is still, in every case, a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

Moreover, the severity of punishment for the crime in Florida ramps up fast depending upon whether you simply bought or also sold and used, and upon how much was involved -- all the way up to life imprisonment, which is why Florida's jails and prisons, like so many others in this country, are stuffed with poor people who were caught possessing relatively little of the illicit drug.

Radel was arrested after buying 3.5 ounces from an undercover agent outside a restaurant last month. He reportedly took cops back to his apartment in D.C. to "discuss" the case right after he was busted and they found more cocaine there. How much? The cops or at least news media aren't saying. In Florida, that extra amount might make a huge difference.

The immediate lesson here: If you're a Florida congressman who secretly craves cocaine, you're smart (well, relatively less dumb) if you opt to buy and use the stuff in D.C., and not back home. Because, what happens in D.C. ought to stay in D.C., apparently.

Now, all Radel has to do is successfully complete probation, meanwhile apologizing to his constituents and blaming it all on a drinking problem. God will forgive him, which event he and his supporters will be sure to share, and then there's that relatively compassionate, presumably soft-on-crime, ultra-liberal judge in lawless, drug-crazed Washington, D.C. letting him off easy. Convenient, huh.

You see where this is going: Some (perhaps even the congressman himself) will tell us Radel's constituents should forgive him, too. Yes, it's really OK if you're a Repub, even a cocaine-infused one. Because, hey, you're just human and you make mistakes. Like, you know, that mayor up in Canada, for instance.

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