Newsbrief: Leading Georgia Prosecutor Slams Drug War, But Only as He Retires 1/30/04

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As DeKalb County District Attorney for 21 years, J. Tom Morgan played his part to perfection, operating the criminal justice machinery that sent thousands of drug law violators to prison from the Atlanta suburbs. But as he prepared for his retirement on Saturday, Morgan had some harsh words to say about the war on drugs.

In an interview published in last Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the award-winning prosecutor had some blunt warnings to a drug prohibition machine running on autopilot. People don't trust the cops as much any more, leading to juries that won't convict, he told the newspaper, and that could lead to vigilante justice from victims who don't see offenders punished. Much of the problem lies with the drug war, he said.

"I think our whole war on drugs needs to be looked at," Morgan said. There is a perception of unequal justice and a scent of hypocrisy when, on one hand, poor crack users get sent to prison, "and on the other hand you've got Rush Limbaugh getting thousands of [prescription pills] and he's making millions of dollars and he's out on the street," he added.

As a result, Morgan said, "juries will no longer hold individuals accountable in drug cases... Juries are telling us that prosecution is not the answer." Jurors no longer blindly believe police testimony, Morgan said, adding that some jurors seemed to mistrust all officers when "99.9% of our police officers are good people."

Morgan, a Democrat, was widely respected by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, and was appointed by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue as a special prosecutor in the corruption case against former parole board member and corrections commissioner Bobby Whitworth. Morgan won a conviction. Last year, he became the first American district attorney to win a Special Achievement award from the International Association of Prosecutors. That award came for his successful prosecution of then-Dekalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey for the murder of the man who defeated him in the 2000 election, Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown.

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