City Desk

What A Drug Sentence Looks Like

Just before 3 p.m., Judge Harold Cushenberry Jr. sentences Dante Dickens. The judge had found him guilty of the PCP charge (aka holding a dipper while asleep at the wheel of an idling car on Alabama Avenue). Before the judge could issue his penalty, he had to hear from the prosecutor and defense attorney.

The prosecutor wanted jail time. Not serious jail time, but still. Ninety-days most of which would be suspended plus probation. Dickens was smoking PCP while in an idling car. People could have been hurt, the prosecutor argues. He was behind the wheel. He also has a history of charges including domestic violence, a child neglect/abuse charge, a gun charge from long ago. And old positive drug tests.

The defense attorney notes that Dickens has a job and has tested clean since getting this charge. He asks for probation. Then Dickens takes up his own boilerplate defense.

"I have improved a lot as far as the community and myself," Dickens says. "I do extra. I do things for the youth....I'm a human being."

Judge Cushenberry takes it all in and issues his sentence. There's no going back to judges' chambers. No consulting the great law books. The circumstances of the PCP charge may have been unusual but the actual nuts and bolts are not. It's still a possession charge. It's simple and petty and heard-it-all-before stuff.

Cushenberry gives Dickens: one-year probation, 150-day suspended sentence, 50 hours of community service, and fines him $50 to be paid into the victims of crime fund.

Dickens gets a break.

While Dickens fills out paper work, the prosecutor goes and tells the officers who are waiting in a witness room. Officer Harris is pleased enough with the result. "I'm glad he's found guilty," Harris says. "Let's me know I did a good job."

Within a few minutes, Dickens walks out with a female friend. "I feel OK," he says. "It could have been worse."

Dickens still can't explain the dipper and why it was in his hand. "I don't know," he says. "They found it on me." Outside D.C. Superior Court's main entrance, Dickens pulls out a Newport ready to forget the whole damn day.

So what did he learn? "Stay in the house."

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