Paul Pozonsky is a former judge of the Courts of Common Pleas in Washington County, Pennsylvania. During his tenure as judge, he presided over criminal trials, drug court, summary appeals and juvenile treatment court. He resigned abruptly in 2012 after Washington County’s President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca suspended his drug treatment court as well as his criminal case load. He was ultimately charged with diverting cocaine evidence from cases by ordering it stored in his chambers, and then ordering the evidence destroyed- after replacing it with baking soda.
Judge Pozonsky, after initially challenging the search and seizure that occurred in his chambers, pled guilty to, among other things, diverting the cocaine evidence for his personal use. He was sentenced Monday, to 30 days in jail and two years of probation. It is ironic that a judge issuing lengthy and life-altering sentences (Pennsylvania used to have excessive guideline sentences for drug offenses) apparently did so while snorting the very cocaine evidence from the felony drug possession cases, right there in his chambers. But putting irony aside for a moment, this case is a textbook example that the War on Drugs that has been feeding America’s massive incarceration pipeline for the last several years (or more) is really a War on Some Drugs for Some People…But Not Others.
Judge Pozonsky admitted what he did, expressed remorse, and took responsibility for his crimes. “I’m not blaming anybody but myself,” he told the visiting judge from Bedford County. “There’s nobody else to blame,” he said. He self-described as a “broken man,” and he begged for mercy. Apparently, his wife has filed for a divorce, and he was most recently living with his elderly parents. He has lost his pension and his health benefits.
Judge Pozonsky may believe that he is “broken.” But he likely has no concept of what it means. A 30-day jail stay, more likely than not on work release is ludicrous in terms of the going incarceration rate for these crimes. It is not at all uncommon to see sentences of 5, 10, 20, 30 years…for crimes less serious that his. Most people who serve time for non-violent drug offenses in this country serve enough time for their lives to dissolve, one birthday and one holiday at a time, while family members on the outside marry, die, and celebrate milestones like graduations and births- and deaths. The inmates emerge, years later, with the thousand-yard stare, the career of a former life in ruins, disenfranchised and shunned, and with the stigma that will last forever- of being an ex-con who will never be employable.
The judge who imposed Judge Pozonsky’s sentence on Monday claimed that he issued the jail sentence not to “add salt in the wounds” but because Pozonsky “instead decided to use the evidence … to satisfy his drug use.” Salt in the wounds? Get real.
That said, I do not believe that lengthy incarceration is the answer for Judge Pozonsky or anyone else who has a drug problem. It’s not so much a matter of his sentence being so light. It’s a matter of everyone else’s sentences being such a horrendous and lengthy set up for a lifetime of ruin. Should he look in the mirror and say, “It’s amazing what an egregious hypocritical human being I am?” Maybe. But the bigger point is that America needs a change of heart and a deconstruction of the ‘War on Drugs.’