Elderly Pottstown Woman Nabbed After Fleeing Pot Conviction 30 Years Ago

The amount of marijuana in question? Less than two grams. But it doesn't matter, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan tells us.

Pottstown fugitive Janet Harden in her new mugshot photo.

Pottstown fugitive Janet Harden in her new mugshot photo.

1.7 grams of marijuana is not a lot of pot. If you’re a conservative roller, you might get two decent-sized joints out of such a paltry stash, but one Pottstown woman finds herself in a heap of trouble 30 years after she fled a conviction for smuggling that amount of the drug into a local jail.

On the morning of December 10, 1983, way back when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Bill Green was our mayor, Janet Harden was a 43-year-old woman from Norristown who traveled to Delaware County Prison to visit an inmate. When Harden was searched, a female corrections officer discovered a balloon containing the marijuana.

A few months later, in March 1984, Harden appeared in court and was found guilty. The judge released her on bail pending sentencing, which was delayed while Harden’s attorney tried to get her a new trial. She didn’t get her new day in court, and sentencing was set for February 1986, nearly two years after her conviction. Trouble is, Harden never showed up.

Now 76, Harden managed remain at-large as a fugitive for three decades until earlier this month, when someone at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey checked her identification and ran it through the system. And voila! The bench warrant appeared right away, and Harden was taken into custody.

After authorities in New Jersey turned Harden over to Delaware County officials, Judge Frank Hazel set her free on $50,000 unsecured bail, meaning she didn’t actually have to put up any money or collateral. If she doesn’t show up for sentencing, then she’d owe the court $50,000. The judge’s decision has the Delaware County District Attorney shaking his head.

“Why would it be unsecured bail?” wonders DA Jack Whelan, whose office argued against the bail conditions. “She’s already absconded once. She’s obviously a flight risk.”

Whelan got defensive when we asked him why his office doesn’t just say, Hey, she’s old. It’s a tiny amount of pot. It’s been thirty years. Let’s let this one go.

“If this was just smoking pot, it would be a whole different thing,” rebuts Whelan. “But this is a whole different scenario. She smuggled drugs into a prison, she absconded, and then she eluded authorities for many years. This is very serious.”

But Harden, whose current address is in Pottstown, does have one thing going in her favor. When she committed her crime, it was a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in jail and no mandatory minimum sentence. Since then, the offense has been upgraded to a felony, and anyone convicted of smuggling a couple of grams of pot into a prison would face a minimum of two years behind bars. Fortunately for Harden, the judge will sentence her based on the sentencing guidelines in 1983, the year of her crime.

Harden’s attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.