Farsighted justice: jail with de facto probation

The local court has sentenced a man with many previous convictions for growing and selling cannabis. However, even the judge doubts the sense of further imprisonment.

Georg K. had already served 22 years and seven months in prison – but he still remained a criminal. Picture: dpa

It could have gone quickly last week before the district court: In the apartment of Georg K., the police found nearly 200 cannabis plants, technical equipment for cultivation and packaging material for sale. In addition a clear confession of the accused: "A good Graschen" he had wanted to sell, says K. – only to adults. Guaranteed organically grown, to boot.

Although he is in favor of legalization, he does not expect any understanding from the court. "They will find me guilty here today," he says calmly. And that is what happens, but only hours later after a controversial discussion with the jurors. And with a big "but."

Until then, the defendant’s criminal history is being worked through: He has spent a total of 22 years and seven months behind bars for fraud, forgery and receiving stolen goods. The judge openly wonders what sense there could be in incarcerating K. a second time.

The defendant himself does not say much about it and lets his life story come out of his nose. He is here in court "and not on a psychiatrist’s couch," he says calmly. But he does tell his story, mostly about fraud and receiving stolen goods. For example, he says, he moved a fleet of cars to Gambia. After the coup, his name appeared in documents and K. was arrested for the first time. He was thirty years old at the time – a late entry into the criminal career, says the judge. Today he is 62.

In between, an unknown name is found in an old trial paper: the defendant can’t remember exactly, but suspects that he once used it. "I always made my own identity cards," he says. He also ran companies, he says. With six employees, all of whom were himself – "and all of them had overdrawn checking accounts," K. says.

That’s what it’s mostly about: 10,000-euro loans for the "jet-set life," says the defendant. That fascinated him. Short pleasures and then back to prison: "That was a neurotic life," says K. today. With the marijuana cultivation he wanted to get out of the fraud.

The last release from the Bremen prison came unexpectedly last year: K. had expected to serve his entire sentence, but was then released early on parole. He was only notified four weeks beforehand, and there was no relaxation of his sentence. With no possibility of finding a place to live, the only option left to him was emergency housing. This is not an unusual path for freedmen, the judge regretfully acknowledges.

K. was unable to find a small, affordable apartment in Bremen, he says. Together with an ex-colleague from the prison library, he then rented a larger apartment in Huchting and embarked on a new path: "With the job center and all that shit," as he says.

Then the friend died. Alone in the large apartment, K. came up with the idea of the cannabis business. The first harvest was not very profitable due to a lack of expertise. And before he could make the hoped-for profits with the second, K. was busted.

The prosecutor emphasizes the planning effort, the premeditation and the "criminal energy". The confession, on the other hand, is not to be valued very highly, the prosecutor says, because in view of the facts, "denial would have been pointless anyway.

The judge wants to know what he would do if he were free. And whether the constant stays in prison would not have made him rethink. "No, not at all," he says. He doesn’t have any prospects for life, and he doesn’t really have any wishes either.

And that is precisely what is decisive in the reasons for the verdict: in the view of the jury, a suspended sentence would not make sense as long as the defendant had not developed any prospects for the future. In the end, K. receives two years without probation.

The judge, of all people, then recommends that this sentence be challenged: If K. were to do so, it would take one and a half years for the next instance to come together. The judge speaks of a "de facto probationary period. K. should use this time to think about his future. He is a likeable person, the judge said, and, "It would be a shame if you gave up now."

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