This is not a war on drugs, this is unfair

DAN RODRICKS

June 24, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

As his girlfriend remembers it, Jason Eberhardt had been on the Boardwalk in Ocean City just a few minutes when a kid started asking questions.

The kid was about 17 years old.

"You from out of town?" the kid asked.

Jason Eberhardt said yes. He and his girlfriend, Tara Derby, had driven to Ocean City from Philadelphia with a couple of friends. Now they were standing on the Boardwalk, near Ninth Street, while one of the friends went into a store that carried the latest in skateboarder fashion. It was July 28, 1992.

"Can I score some weed or some acid?" Tara Derby remembers the kid asking.

Jason Eberhardt had some marijuana, about half an ounce.

"I got a little bit of weed" is what Tara Derby remembers her boyfriend saying. "I can only give you about an eighth of an ounce."

The kid left, returning minutes later with two young women. Then, the three of them, along with Eberhardt, stepped onto the beach.

Tara Derby, watching the transaction from the Boardwalk, soon noticed a short man with dark hair approaching. "He looked kind of out of place," she recalls. "He looked like a cop."

He was. And "the kid" was a police informant. The two young women were undercover cops.

Within a few minutes, Jason Eberhardt, a 21-year-old student in the honors program at Temple University, was face-down in the Ocean City sand, his hands cuffed behind him. He had sold two portions of marijuana, each portion one-eighth of an ounce, to the undercover cops for $55.

He was taken to jail, held on $15,000 bail. He was charged with possession and distribution of marijuana, as well as possession with intent to distribute it.

His girlfriend's mother bailed him out of jail. He returned to his home in Norristown, Pa. and then, in the fall, entered Temple.

Getting into the Philadelphia university was an important step in Eberhardt's life. Though he had dropped out of high school a few years earlier, he had managed to get back on track, working for his high school diploma and acceptance into a community college.

His good grades got him into Temple for his sophomore year. "He was very happy about that," says Tara Derby, also a Temple student.

Then the arrest came. Eberhardt managed to complete all his classes in the fall semester.

But, as his spring trial date in Worcester County Circuit Court approached, he paid less attention to school and took an "incomplete" for all courses. In May, he pleaded guilty to the distribution charge.

And Judge Thomas C. Groton III sentenced Jason Eberhardt to three years in jail, all but one year suspended.

"Absurd," says Arcangelo Tuminelli, the Baltimore attorney who has since stepped into the case to handle Eberhardt's appeal of the sentence.

"The state sentencing guidelines for that offense call for probation to 12 months, unless there are aggravating circumstances," he said. "The guidelines are, of course, discretionary, but the sentence he received goes well beyond them. If this had been federal court, if the judge had followed the federal sentencing guidelines, which are mandatory, the most [Eberhardt] would have got was 6 months."

Three years for selling a small amount of marijuana?

bTC His girlfriend thinks Jason Eberhardt's sentence had a lot to do with hair and skin. Eberhardt, now in jail, is black. He wears dreadlocks.

Standing among all the white faces on the Ocean City Boardwalk one summer evening, he was asked to sell some dope. He did. He got caught.

But three years in jail? For a first offense?

It makes you wonder if the defendant's girlfriend is right. I've seen men and women charged with the same offense walk away with probation dozens of times in the District Courts in and around Baltimore.

Out in Carroll County there has been another ridiculous sentence in a marijuana possession case -- two years for marijuana rights activist Pamela Snowhite Davis.

A recent study of sentencing trends in Carroll by WBAL-TV reporter Jayne Miller showed that Davis's sentence was wildly inconsistent with penalties in other marijuana-related cases.

This is not the war on drugs, folks. This is not what I call getting

the biggest bang for your tax buck.

5/8

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