Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Thursday, October 11, 2018

OPINION: Marijuana Found in Murder Victim's Apartment is Irrelevant

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 9.17.34 AMThe tragic murder of Botham Jean in Dallas, Texas attracted media attention from all over the nation. However, according to theroot.com, Texas’s own Fox4 news station focused its coverage of the murder on the marijuana that was found in the victim’s apartment after the fact. The article reports that Fox4 tweeted the "clickbait" above when the station shared its article on Twitter:

Fox4’s coverage reflects a misguided and inappropriate selection of newsworthy material.  It reflects a common technique used by the media to portray black victims of tragic incidents as being flawed, or as somehow deserving the tragedy that occurred. Here, marijuana is used as an attempt to smear the image of the victim.

As an opinion piece in the Observer points out, this is not uncommon: “In the aftermath of many shootings involving black men, reactions have fallen along partisan lines. When Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile were killed, conservative media painted them as criminal and ‘thugs.’” In the light of the tragic events that occurred, it is disappointing that the station found that a small amount of marijuana in a murder victim’s apartment want “breaking news.”

What we know about what  happened on the tragic evening of September 6th can be summarized from a report from Vox:

Botham Shem Jean, a black man, was in his own apartment in Dallas [on September 6] when Amber Guyger, his downstairs neighbor and an off-duty police officer, shot him inside his own apartment.

. . .

Jean was not accused or suspected of any crime. Guyger, a four-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, says the shooting was an accident — the tragic culmination of a series of missed warning signs that revolve around a mistaken belief that she was in her own apartment.

According to Guyger's account, when she arrived home to the South Side Flats apartments on September 6, she didn’t realize she had gotten out on the wrong floor of her building and that the apartment she was in was not, in fact, hers. Seeing a “large silhouette” in the dark apartment, she said she thought she was being burglarized. So she shot, hitting Jean in the chest. When she turned on the lights in the apartment, she realized her mistake.

However, there are varying accounts of the stories, as “Witness accounts, however, contradict that narrative: Neighbors say they heard Guyger knocking on Jean’s door and demanding to be let in before the shooting.” 

Amid the swirl of questions, I find it extremely problematic that Fox4 news chose to focus its attention on the small amount of marijuana in Jean’s apartment. Instead of using its investigatory resources on the flurry of issues in this case, the news station chose to post an article that focused primarily on the discovery of illicit drugs. As if that is relevant at all to the tragedy that occurred in the apartment, as if marijuana makes Jean a “criminal,” and as if his “criminality” lends credence to Guyger’s account of events. It doesn’t.

As The Observer noted, many outraged Tweeters voiced their disappointment, so much so that the station changed its headline “to reflect that Jean’s family attorneys were outraged the marijuana search warrant became public. The offending tweet is still up, however.” 

To be fair, it could be said that the news station was just sharing publicly available information regarding a development in an ongoing murder investigation. That’s the job of a news station, right? While news stations have the duty to share information with the public, Fox4’s clickbait line goes too far. This was not simply sharing information with the public, it was sharing the information in a way that attempted to change the public perception of the victim. Taglines such as the one used by Fox4 distract us from the uncomfortable, but sad truth: an unarmed, black man was murdered in his own apartment by a police officer who perceived him as a threat. Did subsequently finding marijuana make him suddenly more threatening?

--Ashleigh Morgan Williams 

October 11, 2018 in Law Enforcement, Legal Ethics, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Cannabis Law Institute program set for September in DC

Cannabis Law Institute
The National Cannabis Bar Association's "Cannabis Law Institute" is just two weeks off. 
The two-day event features more than 70 speakers from the legal, business ,and political worlds, and looks to have some terrific programming.  Check out the conference web site for schedules, registration, and other information.

I'll be seeing you there!

--Frank Snyder

August 23, 2018 in Banking, Business, Commercial Law, Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legal Education, Legal Ethics, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How to Become a Cannabis Attorney

AaYou know that cannabis is getting legitimate when the American Bar Association starts touting it as a great practice field for new lawyers.  The new edition of the ABA's Law Practice Today has an introduction to the topic by Neil Juneja, a founder of GleamLaw, one of the nation's first cannabis-focused law firms.  It's a pretty good place to start.

    Cannabis is the new hot topic of conversation, moving from the smoky dorm to the board room. The green rush is on, and, and as any gold rush of the past, there is good business in selling the picks and shovels to those seeking their fortunes. Coupled with the most difficult legal market for aspiring and new attorneys in the nation’s history, marijuana law is also a hot topic in law schools and in CLEs.

    Marijuana is now legal for consenting adults in four states and Washington DC. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states at the time this article was published. The international community is following suit, with an increasing number of nations decriminalizing or outright legalizing cannabis. Colorado now brings in more tax dollars from marijuana than from liquor. The momentum is clear; no matter which party conquers the 2016 presidential election, cannabis is here to stay.

    While this nascent industry is growing at a pace unparalleled since the dot-com era, many large law firms refuse to service the clientele because the federal government considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

January 17, 2016 in Legal Education, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kamin & Wald: "Public Lawyers and Marijuana Regulation"

Sam Kamin and Eli Wald of the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law are two of the top thinkers on issues relating to marijuana legalization and the issues it raises for lawyers.  A year or two ago they published "Marijuana Lawyers: Outlaws or Crusaders?" in the Oregon Law Review.  (If you're a lawyer and haven't read it, be sure to do so.)

Now they've published a brief follow-up on the issues  public lawyers (those who work for governmental agencies, in particular) face, and how those can be evaluated differently from those of private lawyers.  I'm not entirely convinced that the differences is as clear as they suggest, but by all means check out "Public Lawyers and Marijuana Regulation," in the Winter 2015 issue of The Public Lawyer.

Unfortunately, I've just got a PDF; the article starts on page 14.    [Public Lawyer PDF]

January 22, 2015 in Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Michigan Prosecutor's "Diatribe" Against Medical Marijuana Dooms Pot Conviction

A Michigan court of appeals has reversed the conviction of a man convicted for growing 22 marijuana plants because of a "personal diatribe" against medical marijuana that the prosecutor made to the jury

Alger County Prosecuting Attorney Karen Bahrman is a career prosecutor with more than 30 years of experience, and her public website suggests that she's competent, caring, and level-headed.  But she's battled a lot of drunk driving in the "U.P." (the frozen north end of Michigan where abusing booze is as popular as ice fishing) and she's on record as being against marijuana legalization:

    From where I’m sitting, a place with a panoramic view of crimes fueled by alcohol, lives ruined by alcohol and lives lost to alcohol, its hard to understand why anyone would want to add another intoxicating and addictive substance to the legal table on the theory that its no worse than what’s already there.

    The argument that surrender is warranted by the cost/benefit analysis I do understand, in fact I would prefer almost anything to the current de facto legalization of marihuana, meaning that our medical marihuana act is so broad that virtually anyone can obtain a medical marihuana card by saying the right things to the right physician; its hard to listen to long time recreational users who are otherwise perfectly healthy talk about being patients, having caregivers and taking medicine, and I’m sure its equally hard for the tiny group of seriously ill people for whom this law was supposedly intended to endure our skepticism.

That's a subject on which reasonable people can differ.  But it appears that Ms. Bahrman went a little over the top in making her views known to a jury:

    During her closing argument, Alger County prosecutor Karen Bahrman criticized the medical marijuana law and attacked the credibility of a local group, the Alger Hemp Coalition, which she said has a "vision for the country where everybody can walk around stoned."

    "They do nothing to support the government services they want, and have nothing but criticism for the government services they don't want," Bahrman told the jury. "We're trespassers and tramplers of their rights right up until they need us to protect them from the violence that they attract to the community."

    Heminger had a medical marijuana card, but there was evidence that he was growing an excessive amount, possibly to sell or use, the appeals court said.

    Nonetheless, his right to a fair trial last year was violated by the prosecutor's "unfounded, irrelevant and inflammatory statements," the court said in an opinion released Friday.

    "The prosecutor's closing argument was clearly and thoroughly improper," the court said. "The prosecutor embarks on a political commentary, and a personal diatribe discrediting the (law) as a whole. … She calls the act 'meaningless,' and suggests that those suffering from chronic pain are simply cheating the system."

I started life as a litigator and I sympathize with how easy it is to get carried away.  Sounds like the court of appeals got it right.  Whether jurors are entitled to disregard the law is an interesting question (which we call "jury nullification") but there's no doubt prosecutors aren't supposed to tell jurors to ignore the law.  [State v Heminger opinion PDF here.]

H/T Chris Lindsey

 

November 24, 2014 in Law Enforcement, Legal Ethics, Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (1)