Beck's Heavy-Handed Sentence

May 04, 1993

Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.'s two-year sentence of Pamela Snowhite Davis for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana can best be described as malicious. An outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana, Davis is clearly being punished for espousing views that Judge Beck finds offensive.

A trial jury in Westminster convicted Davis of possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a common nuisance. The court's pre-sentencing report determined an appropriate punishment for the woman, a first-time offender, would be a minimum sentence of probation up to a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment.

True, Judge Beck isn't bound by that report and has discretion to impose the sentence he deems appropriate. But his five-year sentence -- with three years suspended -- does not fit the crime by any fair measure.

Relative to other recent drug sentences that Judge Beck has imposed in his Carroll County courtroom, Davis' punishment is unquestionably harsh.

On April 27, the day before he sentenced Davis, Judge Beck imposed a three-year prison term, with all but 18 months suspended, on Stacy Lynn Walker, who was convicted of possession with the intent to distribute 3 1/2 grams of cocaine -- a much more serious crime than possession of marijuana.

Davis, a self-described "old hippie," seems less of a danger to society than is a habitual drinking driver. And yet in Carroll County courts, convicted drunk drivers routinely receive wrist-slaps of probation before judgment.

Although Judge Beck denies that the woman's well-known views did not color her sentence, his comment to her that "your march is under false colors" indicated otherwise.

Davis did not say anything about legalizing drugs during her trial.

Judge Beck is using statements against her that she made outside his courtroom to news media. He employed the heavy hand of the state to punish her for devoting her talents to legalizing marijuana rather than dedicating herself to positive purposes, such as becoming "a trial attorney or a leader in the community."

Advocating unpopular causes is not a crime in the United States, and justice would have been better served had Judge Beck focused on Davis' crime rather than her speech.

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