Arrest of Stephen Hale
In this regard, one friend of mine (who is becoming increasingly "anti-government") challenged me recently in light of last week's arrest of Stephen Hale for allegedly delivering marijuana. More about his opinion in a moment, but first some background.
Hale, as most of you know, served as the Wise County Attorney from 1993 through 1996, a position which is primarily responsible for the prosecution of misdemeanor offenses. While holding the office, Hale managed to receive a great deal of media coverage due to his opposition to the criminalization of marijuana. This position put him on the cover of the Dallas Morning News, prompted an interview on the Mark Davis' WBAP radio show, and gave rise to a feature article in the alternative Dallas Observor. One would think that the arrest will cause equal coverage.
Let me also point out that I have no idea whether he is guilty of the offense. The crime allegedly occurred in Denton County and will be prosecuted by the Denton County D.A's Office through an attorney pro tem. The specific facts of the alleged offense have yet to be released, but it is generally believed that Hale allegedly sold an amount of marijuana, over 4 ounces but less than 5 pounds, to an individual working with and for law enforcement.
As noted above, my friend was quick to express his opinion on the Hale situation. He argued to me that it was widely known that law enforcement personnel, in general, were not pleased with Hale's position on marijuana when he served as a prosecutor with Wise County. This being known, my friend said, it seems that Hale might have been "targeted" by law enforcement because of his past opinions and beliefs.
"If he was an average Joe on the street," he said, "they would have never dedicated the time and energy it took to build the case against him."
My friend didn't condone Hale's alleged illegal act - quite the contrary. He was simply disturbed by the fact that Hale had become the focus of an investigation because of who he was.
Of course, the counter argument is certainly compelling: if law enforcement officials become aware of facts that lead them to the conclusion that someone is involved in a crime, those facts can't be ignored simply because law enforcement personnel might not personally "like" the potential defendant.
But my friend was persistent. "Is that legal?" he asked. "Can the cops target an individual even if their motivation is premised on ill will?"
I told him I didn't know of any reason that would prohibit such conduct (assuming that his premise was true). Although there are cases on the books that forbid "selective prosecution" (United States v. Armstrong (1996)), they primarily concern the prosecution of one class of people (i.e. categorized by race or religion) for crimes that are ignored by police or prosecutors when committed by those belonging to a different class. I do not believe such a law has ever been applied to an individual, as opposed to a class, and even if it were, it would seem that the defendant would have to show that a particular criminal law was never enforced against anyone else except him. Good luck.
Nevertheless, it is always interesting to hear differing viewpoints of society. Just as fans of Molly Ivins might read George Will (and visa-versa), exposure to differing ideas can only help to define and redefine what each of us believes. As I said earlier, I have no opinion as to whether Stephen Hale is guilty or not. Nevertheless, the arrest may bring forth a veritable cornucopia of opinions that are worthy of consideration and reflection.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.