Posted: 06/29/2008


Ganja Queen


by Keith Miller

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Indonesia does not play when it comes to the prosecution of drug offenses. There is no “three strikes, you’re out” criminal justice policy like in the United States. Legal distinctions like possession with intent to sell, personal use possession and distribution quantity. Each distinction carries with it its own measure of American justice, ranging from community service to prison time. These distinctions are questioned within the U.S. because African-Americans and Latinos tend to receive much harsher prison sentences as a result of drug convictions. The inequities are devastating.

Indonesia has a fair and balanced drug policy: simple possession of drugs or intent to sell drugs is a capital offense. The quick shorthand—smoke a joint, buy a joint, sell a joint in Indonesia and you’re eligible for the death penalty, yeah!

On October 8, 2005, Schapelle Corby took a flight from Sydney, Australia, to Bali, Indonesia. At the Bali airport, during a routine customs search, a large bag of marijuana was found in Schappelle’s boogie-board bag. She and her brother were promptly arrested and a media circus ensued.

Enter the players:

Mercedes Corby – the crusading Sister
Micheal Corby, Jr. – the sketch younger brother
Micheal Corby, Sr. – the Questionable Dad
James Sikina – Schappele’s other sketch half-brother
Lily Lubis – Schappelle’s Defense Attorney
Ron Bakir – Zealous Advocate and owner of Mad Ron’s Electronics
Linton Sirait – Indonesian Chief Judge
John Howard – the slow-to-respond Australian Prime Minister
I Gustini Nyoman Winata – the Biased Customs Agent

What ensued was a fierce media circus with everyone jockeying for position before the multiple lenses and questioning Indonesian drug policies while ignoring hardcore police investigative techniques or the lack thereof within this case.

Throughout the defense of this case, the simple defense was, “It’s not my drugs. I don’t know where it came from!” Ask anyone caught with a nickel-bag in the States—if you make that argument before a judge, chances are you’re looking some form of penalty, depending upon the circumstances of your possession. The problem arises when you’re placed in a legal system that does not make such legal distinctions.

Janine Hoskins captures the human drama within Schapplle’s story with objectivity and simplicity. She places the camera before the players and allows them to tell their story. The case unfolds and deteriorates before the camera lens. A case like this screams for subjectivity: the perceived unfairness of the criminal justice system; the lack of criminal procedure; the bias that sensationalism could cause to Schappelle; the weak investigations put forth by the Indonesian government and the share scope of judicial inequity—death for possession of drugs?!

Hoskins lets her subject raise these issues, the questions come from the players and so do answers, albeit implied.

After Schappelle is found guilty of possession of drugs and sentenced to 20 years (minus six months) for her incarceration, it was exposed that Micheal Corby was indicted in the past for drug possession. Micheal Corby’s neighbor, Tony Lewis, was the subject of an Australian police raid where they destroyed his plot of—you guessed it—marijuana.

Many questions remain and new ones arrive. Especially when Schappelle’s strongest campaigner asserted in an interview that she no one in her family or friends were ever charged with drug possession.

Again, Hoskins sits back and lets the players present their story.

On the legal technical side, I believe Indonesia should use criminal procedure techniques, better investigations and create further distinctions for prosecution of drug offenses. Schappelle is right in asking the direct question: “This about death, the death penalty, shouldn’t they have to show more proof?” And, yes, they should. But alas, Indonesia is a sovereign nation and their laws must be respected if not questioned.

I have my own feelings, and my own bias, on this case, but I’ll follow Hoskins’ example and let you decide.

The moral of the story, boys and girls: in Rome, do as the Romans. Save the pot for your somewhat liberal societies. When visiting places like Bali, stick to the drugs and sex market economy.

Keith Miller is a freelance writer and film critic in New York.

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