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April 27, 2011

Rhode Island legislator making notable claims after bust for DUI and pot possession

There is a telling and somewhat comical story developing in the Northeast after a leading Rhode Island state legislator got in trouble with the Connecticut cops.  First the basics from this New York Daily News piece, which is headlined "Robert Watson, Rhode Island lawmaker who ripped pot smokers, busted for marijuana possession":

A Rhode Island lawmaker, who recently slammed his colleagues by invoking the image of pot-smoking immigrants, has been busted for alleged marijuana possession.

Republican House Minority Leader Robert Watson was arrested in East Haven, Conn., on Friday at a police checkpoint and was also charged with driving under the influence. "Trace evidence of marijuana was discovered and I was charged with operating under the influence, a charge I vehemently deny," Watson told the Providence Journal.

The 50-year-old smelled like alcohol and pot, he slurred his words, and his eyes "were extremely glassy and bloodshot," according to the police report.  Authorities found a "small plastic sandwich bag containing a green leafy plantlike substance and a small wooden marijuana pipe."  His blood-alcohol level was 0.05%, which is below the state's 0.08 limit.

And now for some interesting spin from this high-profile DUI and drud defendant, as reported in this Providence Journal piece headlined "Watson presents his version of arrest in Connecticut":

In a televised speech on the House floor about his arrest in Connecticut last Friday on driving-under-the-influence and marijuana-possession charges, House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson admitted to using marijuana to treat flare-ups of the pancreatitis that landed him in the hospital last November....

“I confess I did treat with marijuana on one of those rare occasions where I had that debilitating pain that literally had me flat on my back and wondering at what point do I decide an ambulance comes and takes me away. And I’ve got to confess it worked.  It provided relief.  And it alleviated the pain.”

“I didn’t smoke marijuana that day because I didn’t suffer a relapse,” he said of the Friday of his arrest.  But he acknowledged that he is not among the 3,428 Rhode Islanders legally authorized to use marijuana under the state’s medical-marijuana program because he feared his personal medical information would somehow leak out of the state Department of Health.

A Health Department spokeswoman said: “We have been running the program for almost four years now and we have not released any patient’s names.”

“Now I know that the Department of Health prides itself on the confidentiality of that program. But let’s face it,” Watson said. “I am a public official, as we all are. We’re a small state, and I am not certain that my privacy wouldn’t be compromised were I to do this medical-marijuana treatment in the proper form and fashion.”

In his speech, Watson also raised questions about how he was treated by the police in East Haven, Conn., after one of the officers saw his General Assembly ID in his wallet, asked what it was and learned that he was a state legislator in Rhode Island. “I wish there had been cameras there. I wish it wasn’t just my word against the police,” he said. But “I deny that I failed any of the sobriety tests.”

The East Haven police did not respond to a request for comment, but a dispatcher confirmed that none of the community’s police cruisers are equipped with cameras....

A Pawtucket police lieutenant, DaSilva took some offense to Watson’s characterization of what the Connecticut police did that night. “I was not there. But there are two sides to every story,” he said in an interview after Watson’s speech....

Watson, 50, is due back in Connecticut on May 11 to face charges in a New Haven court of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia....

Watson said the depiction of him, in the police report, as someone “incapable of standing and incapable of speaking” is “belied by the fact that I was processed and released in an hour… Police do not release intoxicated individuals. They detain them for [their] own personal safety and the safety of the public.”

Questions remained about how Watson obtained the marijuana and how he got home that night.  Watson, 50, was not immediately available to answer follow-up questions.

I am hoping that this state legislator might soon become a vocal advocate not just for medical marijuana, but for complete marijuana legalization.  After all, if he thinks he can and should be trusted to self-medicate for pain problems without going through the (onerous?) process for getting approval from using pot, why shouldn't he likewise trust his constituents to do the same?

April 27, 2011 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

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Here in Michigan, the law is that if you are driving, and have ANY trace of marihuana (Michigan statutes spell it with an "h" instead of a "j")in your blood, (and it can be detected to levels such as 15 parts per billion), you are in violation of the "driving while intoxicated" statutes, exposing you to 3 months in jail, a $500 fine, court costs, loss of license, and $1,000 "driver improvement" fees for that year, and the next. It's one thing to prosecute people who are actually under the influence. It's entirely different to punish people with those penalties for having smoked pot three or four weeks earlier. I wonder what penalties this gentleman is looking at.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Apr 27, 2011 11:23:33 AM

"I am hoping that this state legislator might soon become a vocal advocate not just for medical marijuana, but for complete marijuana legalization."

What evidence is there, other than his own entirely unreliable word, that he was toking up for "medical" purposes?

"After all, if he thinks he can and should be trusted to self-medicate for pain problems without going through the (onerous?) process for getting approval from using pot..."

Yes, well, as noted, the greater likelihood is that he by-passed the "medical" marijuana program because he has no medical problem he could even plausibly fake (not that they're hard to fake), and just wanted to get zapped.

"...why shouldn't he likewise trust his constituents to do the same?"

The word "trust" does really fit too well in a sentence talking about this guy.

Good grief. The story contains not one single word of independent evidence that this legislator has any ongoing medical condition at all, much less one that could not be treated with a myriad of legal drugs such as Tylenol, Dilaudid, Percocet or Vicodin. What, those drugs don't exist in New England?

In the unlikely event this character has an ounce of integrity, he'd resign. Maybe he and Blago can do a call-in show together.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2011 1:04:21 PM

Did you see, Bill, from the second piece that this guy got a standing O from nearly all his colleagues (and all his fellow Republicans) after he explained his misdeeds on the house floor? It seems you are one of a few eager to bash him.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 27, 2011 1:48:47 PM

Doug --

Then I will be one of the few eager to "bash" him. I repeat, there is not one word of independent evidence that his claim to an on-going medical condition is true, and still less that the numerous safe, legal and effective drugs I noted are unavailable where he lives.

One-sided, unverified, self-serving statements on the legislature's floor, delivered to his buddies of many years, cannot possilby be taken as proof of anything.

Is it really too much to expect legislators to abide by the legislation they pass? Is it really too much for this man to seek the same kind of legal medical help (assuming that health is really at issue, which I doubt) that the huge majority of his constituents get?

Blago and Duke Cunningham had their friends too. That's how pols get to be pols.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2011 2:21:13 PM

true bill. BUT there is also as you call it "not one word of independent evidence" to back up the claims of the police either.

i agree with him. if he was so dunk the couldnt' stand up or talk and supposedly FAILED the road side drunk tests. why was he released in less than an hour!

If of course that statement is true!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 27, 2011 2:56:42 PM

rodsmith --

This is why we have trials. If Mr. Watson is telling the truth, go for it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2011 3:53:18 PM

"This is why we have trials."
What? So law enforcement can come in and testilie? This guy doesn't have a shot at trial without a video. Cops are just going to railroad him.

Posted by: anon | Apr 27, 2011 5:18:18 PM

anon --

A street cop is going to have more credibility than a veteran, high-ranking state legislator with a boatload of friends in high places and years of successful experience presenting himself in public?

Righto.

I think you must have been smoking some of the same stuff Mr. Watson has.

P.S. And what's your alternative to trials? No trials? Ban the police from testifying? What?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2011 5:28:04 PM

Bill, I agree with you...He didn't have the paper work, therefore its just a crap shoot as to why he tested positive...True he was under the limit for alcohol...But I more than hesitate to believe a politician on the weed....This case isnot worth a trial, its of little consequence.....On the flip side, if it were me, would I want a trial.....No....I would loose..I'm guilty...Even politicians have to obide by some of the rules, some of the time....Be interesting to see if he does become a medial weed advocate....

Posted by: Josh | Apr 27, 2011 8:36:09 PM

"I think you must have been smoking some of the same stuff Mr. Watson has."

You don't have to be smoking that stuff to know that law enforcement lies yet are believed by juries. That's just the truth.

Posted by: anon | Apr 27, 2011 9:12:26 PM

sorry bill i'm gonna have to go with anon on this one. considering the massive amounts of evidence of law enforcment testiling and out and out fraud...not to mention the same from DA's around the country...a trial today is nothing but a glorified kangaroo court for the state.

as for the alternative.

hmm let's see if ANYONE no matter WHAT THEIR JOB is prosecuted when they VIOLATE THE LAW...trials would be even again.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 28, 2011 1:10:05 AM

anon --

At one point in the long-past days of my youth, in the 1970's, I was a grad student at an out-of-state Ivy League school. I drove my car there and kept it on campus. During the semester, its registration sticker expired.

I drove it back home at semester's end, and a local cop pulled me over for the expired sticker. But he was outside his township jurisdiction (by maybe 100 yards).

Feeling that I was not really to blame for the expiration (since there was nothing I could do about it, being out of state when it ran out), and also knowing the cop was (literally) off base, I contested the ticket in traffic court.

When the officer appeared, I asked him about where he was when he saw me.

He flat-out lied. Under oath. There's no other way to put it.

So I am aware that this kind of thing is possible.

Of course I'm also aware that I was factually guilty, even with a darn good explanation. The magistrate, a crusty and nasty old man who didn't care for my long hair or Ivy League pedigree the least little bit, thought I was guilty too, even though I'm pretty sure he knew the cop was lying. I got fined (I think) $10 and $5 court costs (things were cheaper back then).

So both of us were guilty. Of the two infractions, the cop's was vastly more serious because it devalued the integrity of his public trust.

I remembered this experience when I became an AUSA, and then the chief AUSA for appeals, which is something like the office witch doctor. You don't have all that much formal power, but no one wants to mess with you.

Given the experience of my grad school days, it was my policy that, if I even suspected a cop was being disingenuous in any way whatever, the case was over there and then.

I understand that one AUSA's experience in one Office a long time ago does not remedy the problem of police perjury. I also understand that such perjury is rare; I was in that Office for 18 years and I know of only two officers (both Parkway Police) I would not trust.

I cannot guarantee perfect honesty because I cannot guarantee perfect anything. Neither can you. The only realistic question before us is, on balance, can we get a distinctly better alternative system than we have now? By "better," I mean one that more accurately convicts the guilty and frees the innocent. Simply to do one or the other is not "better;" it will just shift the balance without improving it.

If you have a non-ideological alternative, I'm more than open to hear it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 28, 2011 1:27:43 AM

well bill part of the fix would include that when you do catch one comitting the crime of fraud and purjury ...you hammer the crook...not pat em on the head like our glorious u.s. supeme court has been doing lately.

that would go a LONG LONG way toward showing the public the court/justice sytem is at least TRYING to be fair.

right now all these actions show is it's a JOKE

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 28, 2011 12:53:34 PM

you know kind of like the most rescent case. here you had a guy on DEATH ROW in TEXAS for gods sake.

he not only was released. but got a TEXAS court to award him FOURTEEN MILLION dollars in damages. That's a hell of a trick in itself.

and what does our retard supreme court do. say TOUGH SHIT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 28, 2011 12:55:30 PM

One would expect that given your experience described above, coupled with your distaste for personal attacks in these comments, you would not have resorted to saying I must have been smoking pot to believe a cop would lie and would be believed. To use your phrase -- good grief.

Posted by: anon | Apr 28, 2011 3:12:59 PM

anon --

"One would expect that given your experience described above, coupled with your distaste for personal attacks in these comments, you would not have resorted to saying I must have been smoking pot to believe a cop would lie and would be believed. To use your phrase -- good grief."

The reference was intended to be more facetious than anything else. If instead it has offended you, I apologize and withdraw it.

I will repeat that the notion that there is rampant police lying is incorrect, and state again that the overwhelming reason defendants get convicted is that they are factually guilty.

Finally, I remain interested in what alternative you might offer to what we have now.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 28, 2011 7:49:40 PM

"I will repeat that the notion that there is rampant police lying is incorrect"

On what basis do you make this assertion? Because you only personally encountered two officers that you did not trust? You provide nothing here more than your own personal assertion of "move along, nothing to see here," despite instances of testilying coming out regularly. And, I suspect, the rate of testilying (and other misconduct by prosecutors) will only increase in the wake of Connick and other similar cases from the Chosen.

"...and state again that the overwhelming reason defendants get convicted is that they are factually guilty."

This is one of the most disturbing things I've read in a long time. All the more so because you describe yourself as an AUSA for 18+ years. The "overwhelming reason" is factual guilt???? WTF???? That someone is factually guilty should be the ONLY reason a defendant is convicted. Are you saying, Bill, that you are comfortable with this notion that implies acceptance of some degree of conviction of the innocent because, "awww, well, it's close enough and the alternative would be really, really hard"?

Posted by: ALB | Apr 30, 2011 1:08:38 AM

Oh, and by the way, the alternative to what we have now? It wouldn't solve the problem on the front end, but we could start by acknowledging that AEDPA is predicated on a legal fiction that state court judges are anything more than partisan political hacks who have zero incentive in doing anything other than what is politically popular. And that includes sanctioning misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement. So to say that federal courts are to bend over backwards to give "deference" to state courts' decisions is an absolute farce.

Posted by: ALB | Apr 30, 2011 1:15:17 AM

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