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In March 2017, Nicole Smithfield received a letter from her ­former boyfriend, Derek Little. Derek proclaimed his love for Nicole, and said that he wanted to get back together with her. The letter came from the state’s maximum-security prison where Derek


Post the answers to the questions for the vignette you selected. Also, briefly explain whether you think the individual or society is more to blame for the crime portrayed and why.


In March 2017, Nicole Smithfield received a letter from her ­former boyfriend, Derek Little. Derek proclaimed his love for Nicole, and said that he wanted to get back together with her. The letter came from the state’s maximum-security prison where Derek was serving life without possibility of parole for the murder of his older brother, Hamilton. The brothers had grown up together and attended school in the same small town where Nicole lived. Derek began dealing drugs at age 13, bringing in a few dollars selling marijuana to some friends at school. By the time he was 24, Derek was operating one of the largest drug distribution networks in the county and bringing in thousands of dollars a week. He drove an expensive car, had the best clothes and high-tech gadgets, and carried a lot of cash with him wherever he went. People who knew him said that he also carried a nine-shot semiautomatic pistol strapped to his waist.

Hamilton took a different path and joined the army. He went to Afghanistan and then to Iraq for two tours of duty. One night, when he was home on leave, Hamilton stopped by his brother’s house and an argument ensued. Hamilton wanted Derek to get out of the drug business and to turn his life around. “It’s only a matter of time before you get arrested,” Hamilton told his brother. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison?”

“I’m too smart for that,” Derek responded. “I’ve got too many layers [of dealers] protecting me. They’ll never get anything on me.”

“Yeah—but what about all the lives you’re affecting? What about all the kids from our neighborhood who are getting strung out on drugs because of you? You’re preying on society,” Hamilton said, angry now. “And if you don’t quit, I’ll make you.”

“What do you mean by that?” Derek asked, jumping out of his chair.

“I just think you need to stop, and if I have to, then I’ll find a way to make you,” Hamilton said, and left, beginning the walk home to his mother’s mobile home less than a mile away.

According to evidence presented at his trial, that’s when Derek got into his pickup truck and started down the road, accelerating to 80 mph before swerving onto the shoulder and hitting his brother. Hamilton’s body flew 40 feet through the air before hitting the ground and then tumbled another 30 feet through the brush.

Prosecutors tried to present additional evidence showing that Derek was likely responsible for the deaths of three other people who had threatened him during the past two years, or who had said that they would turn him in to authorities—but the judge would not allow the jury to hear those claims. When the trial concluded, Derek was found guilty of killing his brother and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Nicole never replied to Derek’s letter.

Think about it

  1. How is it that two brothers raised in the same environment might choose such different paths? What might explain their choices?
  2. How would you explain the attraction that the drug trade seems to have for so many people in this country?
  3. If you were able to set crime-control policies for the nation, how would you address the drug problem? Would you consider the decriminalization of any substances? If so, which ones and why? (See

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