U.S. Attorney’s Office Doubles Down on Intimidation

by Terrie Best – San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator

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Crispin Price and Family

SAN DIEGO, CA – In October of 2013 I went to a federal court hearing here in San Diego to witness another medical cannabis patient stand before a judge and attempt to navigate a means to fair treatment from a court that does not recognize his lawfulness as a patient and collective operator under California state law.

I wrote a short update that day about this defendant, Crispin Price, which was published on Americans for Safe Access website as well as our local chapter’s site.  The post, titled Another Medical Marijuana Defendant Being Bullied to Plead Guilty by Department of Justice, called out the typical treatment of cannabis patients such as Crispin from prosecutors at the US Attorney’s Office under Laura Duffy.

We’ve had our share of federal medical cannabis defendants in San Diego and anybody who advocates the cannabis issue knows all defendants are pressured into plea bargains in these cases – in all cases for that matter, it being the nature of the prosecutorial process. When defendants don’t have a chance of telling the truth about their state lawfulness in federal court, this process of intimidation can be down-right brutal.

Of particular note is the case of Ronnie Chang who lingered in federal custody for over a year while his elderly, very frail mother barely survived without him. The entire community felt Ronnie’s helpless despair brought on by the incongruence between state and federal marijuana laws.  It seems no matter how diligently you adhere to California medical marijuana laws, if Laura Duffy finds you she will treat you as a drug trafficker in federal court, scare you and then offer you a plea that will harm you.

BULLYING

I learned from argument during Crispin’s sentencing hearing that the U.S. Attorney’s office had attempted to use my write-up to further threaten and terrorize Crispin just one day before he was to sign a plea deal. The offer from the prosecution, as I also learned in court, was a crushing concession that would keep him out of custody but in a home confinement program for eight months, further he would have to forfeit his family home to the government.

Arguing at the hearing, Bridget Kennedy, Crispin’s federal defender, said the U.S. Attorney’s office phoned her the night before and seemed to want to yank the plea bargain the parties had been working on for months.  The reason: an activist from Americans for Safe Access had called the U.S. Attorney a bully in her blog post.  Ms. Kennedy reminded the court and the prosecutor, Marietta Geckos, that Crispin is not responsible for what activists may say about the tactics of the federal government.

If the U.S. Attorney’s office is so concerned about being called a bully they should stop using threatening tactics against medical cannabis patients who already have no standing in federal court. Instead, it appears they are doubling down and widening the circle of intimidation to include the voice of cannabis patient advocates.  It is such a glaring injustice, we all write. For more of the U.S. Attorney’s antics in court, please read a post by Marcus Boyd, and watch the accompanying embarrassing video which caused a reversal of conviction in a marijuana case titled United States v. Maloney.

NON-PROFIT IS ILL-DEFINED UNDER STATE LAW

At the sentencing in Judge Dana M. Sabraw’s courtroom, Crispin’s family and friends filled the seats and watched as Ms. Kennedy fought to keep her client out of custody in adherence to the plea agreement between the two parties. The judge would have to approve the no custody plea and to her credit Ms Geckos did not object to the defense request for eight months home confinement. The U.S. Prosecutor even vehemently objected to the much more cruel two years in federal prison that the probation report had recommended.

Crispin gave a heart-felt statement pleading to remain free, tearfully telling Judge Sabraw that his twin babies had been sick and still remained in the hospital as of that morning.  We also heard his wife could not be in court to support her husband because she was also bedside at the pediatric intensive care unit.

As the judge meted out Crispin Price’s sentence, many of his statements astounded me and I’m sure they will vex the U.S. Attorney’s office for years.  His honor started by saying the chaotic state of law is to Crispin’s benefit in this case and that he “deserved all considerations” because of it.  He found the term “non-profit” so ill-defined in state law that it did not account for expense and salaries – and he questioned Ms. Kennedy on certain portions of state legislation regarding the subject.  He also praised the U.S. Defender’s “remarkable presentation”, and said he would honor the plea agreement.

The sentence imposed  on Crispin is: 10 months home confinement (the only departure from the original plea agreement of eight months), the forfeiture of his family home, three years supervised release, and full disclosure of all financial records and vehicle registrations to the U.S. Probation Department.

Crispin and his young family are not responsible or concerned with activism.  From what I can tell they are fighting for their survival in an unfair court and penal system.  Nobody deserves what they got – and now I hope they will be left alone to comply with the courts and probation without influence from the chaos.

Want to help? Here’s how…

  1. Visit www.FIJA.org to learn about jury nullification – thenserve as a juror as often as possible!
  2. Join or renew your ASA membership today and you’ll have a chance to win a free trip to our national conference in Washington, D.C.!
  3. Report-a-case to SDASA here

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