Judge Says From Bench He Believes Seriously Ill Medical Marijuana Patients Were Not Selling Their Medical Marijuana but Binds Them Over for Trial Anyway

Little court hearing 3By Terrie Best, San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator

San Diego, CA – Dennis and Deborah Little are a retired couple in their mid-sixties who decided to obtain doctor recommendations to grow and use their own medical cannabis to fight symptoms of arthritis, neuropathy, cancer and AIDS.

But, in the fall of 2012, San Diego Sheriff’s Department helicopters patrolling the rural part of San Diego County where the Littles live, spotted Mr. Little’s cannabis garden from the air and immediately filed for a search warrant to raid the property. No law enforcement ever contacted the Littles to check if they were medical cannabis patients.

Instead, on October 17, 2012 at 5:30 in the morning, a small army of DEA agents descended on the Littles to execute the warrant. Despite their poor health, the Littles were handcuffed and subjected to police interrogation techniques. After several hours of investigation, the police dug up and destroyed all of the cannabis plants found on the Littles’ property.

On November 27, 2012, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed felony criminal charges against Mr. and Mrs. Little. Denied the medicine that provides them relief, the Littles are now fighting a criminal prosecution for exercising their rights under California State law.

The Littles were in court Yesterday along with their attorneys and supporters for a preliminary examination before Judge Richard E. Miller in Department 21 of the Vista Courthouse.  The exam began at about 10:00 AM with Judge Miller denying the prosecution’s request to remove video cameras and reporters from the courtroom. In his denial the judge said “If you will be testifying as a witness, you will be subject to having your picture taken.”  However, before the investigating detective and a witness for the prosecution, Matt Stevens, took the stand Stevens approached Fox News’ cameraman asking that his face not be filmed.

Stevens is a detective with the San Diego Sheriffs Department and is an agent of the cross sworn Narcotics Task Force in which the DEA incentivizes local law enforcement to aid in their federal marijuana eradication effort. Taking the stand in jeans and a beer tee shirt with a cartoon depiction of a scantly clad woman on the back, Stevens testified to having many hours of drug enforcement training but could not recall any training in how marijuana is legally used under state law for medical purposes or how to investigate medical marijuana cases so as not to victimize ill people.

In his examination of the narcotics officer, prosecutor, George Lloyd questioned him on the quantity of medical cannabis plants and dried flowers found on the Littles’ eight acre property and about statements he got from the Littles during the raid on their home.

In defense counsel Lance Rogers cross examination of Stevens it became clear that of the medical cannabis the officer said he found, very little of it was actually available as evidence, having already been destroyed by NTF agents.  Rogers questioned whether video was taken of the weighing of the cannabis allegedly destroyed and questioned whether recordings had been made of the statements the Littles made at the raid.
Stevens maintained that destroying evidence was common practice and DEA policy. Although admitting recording the Littles’ statements would have been helpful, he testified he did not make this effort.

Dennis Little also took the stand in his defense and we heard testimony about how cannabis helps him, how he and his wife, Deborah use it in cooking and he also told of the various impediments to a successful medical cannabis garden yield.

The sticking point with the judge and why he found for the prosecution in the preliminary exam was that the Littles’ doctor recommendations were a month out-of-date.  In defense, Lance Rogers argued that the Littles’ health problems are on-going and surely the doctor had not intended for the Littles to discontinue using medical cannabis on the very date the recommendations expired. But, the judge said though he believed the Littles were not selling cannabis, he bound them over for trial to face charges of possession of marijuana for sale – although there was no indication of sales – and cultivation of marijuana.

Judge Miller told the Littles he did not believe they were entitled to a medical defense because of their expired recommendations.  He gave the defense a few minutes to discuss a misdemeanor plea bargain offered earlier by the prosecution and encouraged Dennis and Deborah to take it.  After a brief discussion, the Littles opted to take their case to trail.

Clearly, the Littles are just sick people growing medical cannabis for their health issues. In a conversation outside the courtroom, Deborah told supporters she had re-gained thirty-five pounds since she began using cannabis to increase her appetite, a common challenge for AIDS patients.  Since Deborah’s ordeal she can not use the medicine that helped her reach a healthy weight and she is now losing weight again, nearly twenty pounds.

The Littles have garnered a lot of support in the medical cannabis community.  Kim Twolan, of San Diego Americans for Safe Access, although in the end not allowed to testify, spent her day on the bench outside the courtroom waiting to tell the judge her expert testimony on cannabis yields and therapies.  Canvass for a Cause staffers were outside the courthouse holding signs of support, engaging citizens in persuasion conversations about medical cannabis and providing a cell phone to call the DA’s office asking for compassion for the Littles. Canvassers tallied nearly one hundred calls made to George Lloyd’s office yesterday.

Dennis and Deborah Little are very ill and they are protected under the medical marijuana laws of the state of California. Yet, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis prosecutes them anyway.   If our most vulnerable citizens are not protected under the Compassionate Use Act passed in 1996, the will of the voters of California is therefore being ignored.  We must get behind Dennis and Deborah Little and all defendants victimized by the DA’s office.

Pretrial motions, beginning with an opportunity to dispute the search warrant before the judge who wrote it, will begin after arraignment in mid-April.

For more information please contact Terrie Best, San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator at ilegalsmile@hotmail.com

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