Friday, January 17, 2014
I'm very excited to be guest-blogging here--thanks so much, Doug, for the invitation! My start was delayed by travel and some administrative glitches but I've finally gotten everything sorted and I'm looking forward to being a part of the blog.
Although Friday night is a low-traffic time for my first contribution, I just came across a case decided earlier this week that I could not resist sharing.
As Colorado and Washington wrestle with marijuana legalization and even many prohibition supporters say they want to reduce reliance on the criminal justice system when it comes to marijuana, this decision (PDF) from a Louisiana appeals court is a reminder that people can still receive long sentences for minor marijuana offenses in parts of the United States.
As a legal matter, the case isn't exceptional. In a brief opinion, the court rejects Russell Jones's attempt to challenge his 14-year sentence following a plea deal. What's striking is what has landed Jones in prison for the next 14 years: selling $40 worth of marijuana.
The prosecutor recited the factual basis for the plea as follows
“Your Honor, if this matter were to go to trial, the State would present evidence, both audio and video, which would prove that Russell Jones, on or about the 28th day of February 2012, did knowingly and intentionally distribute a Schedule 1 controlled dangerous substance, namely, marijuana, to a confidential informant, while located here in Webster Parish on Milton Drive, which is in the City of Minden. We would present evidence which would show that at approximately 10:50 a.m., Mr. Jones came in contact with the confidential informant and did exchange with the confidential informant four bags of suspected marijuana for $40 from the confidential informant. The substance that the confidential informant received was sent to the North Louisiana Criminalistic Laboratory and in fact determined to be Schedule I, marijuana.”
The decision isn't long on detail but footnotes referencing Jones's "significant criminal history" indicate that recidivism played a role in the sentence.
Nevertheless, I think it's noteworthy (and, in my opinion, sad and depressing) that someone can end up with a 14-year sentence for selling $40 worth of a substance that roughly half of the country thinks ought to be legal.