Should a father get 25 years in prison for selling a co-worker a handful of prescription pills?
If, as expected, he serves all 25 years, he will be 72 when he is released, and he will have spent more time in prison than the former Enron CEO who was convicted in one of the largest corporate fraud schemes in modern history. Last week, the Department of Justice said it is considering a deal to shorten Jeffrey Skilling’s sentence. But even if he serves every year, Skilling will still have fared better than Horner with a sentence of 24 years.
Horner’s punishment is, as Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic writes, a “heartbreaking drug sentence of staggering idiocy” and arguably a case of entrapment by police. But setting that aside, it’s not just our draconian drug laws that yield this result. Even in 2006, when Skilling was first sentenced, his legal defense was deemed one of the most expensive in history at $65 million, and in the years since has taken his case to the Supreme Court and back on appeal after appeal. Horner, on the other hand, had a court-appointed public defender and was persuaded to forgo trial entirely in favor of a plea deal. He was told he could mitigate his sentence by serving as an informant. But because Horner is not a professional drug dealer and has no connections to the drug trade, he couldn’t make any prosecutable cases against others. As a consequence, he will serve more time than kingpins who take down their friends in exchange for freedom. And why was Horner snagged in the first place? Because another guy trying to reduce his sentence had to implicate somebody else to shorten his own sentence in Florida’s perverse informant system.