Remember the movie "The French Connection"? Gene Hackman and the New York City P.D. break up an international heroin ring.
Well, listen. Those guys in the Big Apple have got nothing on us. Why, right here in Westminster, Maryland, the mighty Carroll County drug task force has just smashed a narcotics empire headed by the notorious "Snow White." I hear Hollywood's going to make a movie about the raid. It'll be called "The Disneyland Connection."
Here's the plot. A crack team of investigators got this tip from the narcs in California that a big load of dope would arrive at a farm outside Westminster. They intercepted the package. Then a county police officer posed as a UPS driver and delivered it. Clever, huh? Someone at the farm signed for the package. The task force leaped into action. They seized the entire load. A bonanza! One and a half ounces of marijuana.
Then they served a warrant and searched the entire 21-room farmhouse. They seized all the drug ring's equipment: one water pipe, one indoor grow light and some pro-marijuana magazines. In the ringleader's bedside table they found the real stash -- another whole ounce of the dread weed.
Imagine! Two and a half ounces in one bust! Hey, this is the big time.
The cops arrested the ringleader. Her mug shots identified her as Pamela Snowhite Davis, a self-described aging hippie who runs "Liberation," a counterculture clothing store in Westminster.
The prosecutor's office charged her with possession with intent to distribute, simple possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a common nuisance.
Ms. Davis was tried in March. Somehow the jury went haywire and acquitted her of distribution. (Law-school exam question: How would you "distribute" an ounce?)
Ms. Davis, however, didn't get away scot-free. She was convicted of the other three charges. Sentencing took place before Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. The court's own pretrial-services experts, hoodwinked by the fact that Ms. Davis had no prior criminal record of any kind, followed the state's sentencing guidelines and recommended probation. But, thank God, Judge Beck knows how to deal with a real threat to the community.
Two years! In prison. And a fine of $2,500. Five years on supervised probation with required narcotics rehabilitation and random urinalysis.
I know that doesn't sound like enough for a hardened drug dealer like Ms. Davis. But don't worry. There's a sequel: The Carroll County task force strikes again!
The day before her trial began, they arrested Ms. Davis a second time -- for allegedly selling marijuana seeds in her store window. The cops seized several pounds of them.
We're not talking ounces here. This is pounds! Several of them!
On June 10, she'll be tried for possessing the marijuana seeds. The fearless Carroll County prosecutor says that if she's convicted, he will seek a sentence under Maryland's two-time loser law. It mandates a jail term of at least two more years.
But is this enough? Who's going to protect our children when this monster gets out of prison in four years?! My God! Snow White on the loose again.
What went wrong here?
The problem is that some people find Ms. Davis obnoxious. Her life style has offended the citizens of Westminster. After her first arrest, she founded Americans Against Marijuana Prohibition. She's put signs in her store window ridiculing the police. She's brassy, noisy, blatant. She smokes pot and refuses to act repentant. So the police, the prosecutor and the judge all decided to teach her a lesson.
Those of us who have watched this sorry spectacle, however, have learned something rather different than they intended.
Power can be dangerous. Even decent government officials sometimes use it arbitrarily. Thinking they do good, they go too far. They act unfairly. Instead of dispensing justice, they commit an injustice.
As Justice Brandeis once wrote, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding."
Carroll County's law enforcement and its courts have overreacted to Ms. Davis' provocations. They didn't send her to prison for what she did. Instead they punished her because of how she lives, what she says and what she believes. In the process, they have threatened all of us.
And they have made themselves look petty and ridiculous.
Tim Baker's column appears on alternate Mondays.