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April 24, 2009

Sentencing in medical marijuana case impacted by statutory minimums

This article from the Los Angeles Times reveals the continued impact of mandatory minimum sentencing statutes even though the guidelines are advisory.  Here are a few of the details:

The sentencing of a man who has become a key figure in the national debate over medical marijuana was postponed Thursday, with a federal judge saying he was inclined to impose a more lenient sentence than the five years required by federal sentencing guidelines, but questioning whether he had the authority to do so.

"If I could find a way out, I would," U.S. District Judge George H. Wu said. He gave lawyers in the case until June 2 to file briefs regarding the impending sentence of Charles Lynch.

Lynch, 47, ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay on the Central Coast in 2006 and 2007. Despite having the blessing of the city's mayor and other public officials, he was charged with violating federal drug laws for distributing marijuana and was convicted by a federal court jury in Los Angeles last year.

At the hearing Thursday, Wu heard from several character witnesses, including one of Lynch's patients and the young man's father. "I stand before you today because I believe a man is being punished for reasons that don't make much sense," said Owen Beck, whose parents took him to Lynch's Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers when he was battling bone cancer at age 17. "I believe a great injustice is being done."...

Janice Peters, the mayor of Morro Bay, described Lynch as a "polite, compassionate" man who did everything the city asked of him with respect to his business. Rob Schultz, the town's city attorney said he received only one complaint about Lynch the whole time he was in business "and that had to do with the quality of the medical marijuana."

The comment drew loud laughter from Lynch's supporters, who packed the courtroom, many of them wearing green ribbons with the word "compassion" printed on them.....

Though Lynch was not charged with violating state law, prosecutors contend that he broke the law because he was not truly a "primary caregiver" entitled to dispense marijuana to patients and that he profited from the operation of his business.

Much of the discussion Thursday dealt with whether Wu was required to sentence Lynch to a mandatory minimum of five years or whether the defendant was entitled to a lesser sentence under a so-called safety valve.

April 24, 2009 at 08:08 AM | Permalink


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I also wonder if the defendant has a potentially valid Eighth Amendment claim if he is sentenced to five years? Probably not. But it would give the judge a potential out.

Posted by: Wondering | Apr 24, 2009 10:43:07 AM

I seriously doubt he has an Eighth Amendment proportionality claim for a five-year sentence. Though I personally feel the sentence is disproportional, this has more to do with my view of the irrationality of the underlying law and/or the prosecution. But unfortunately, I also doubt the law/prosecution is subject to due process challenge as arbitrary and/or lacking a rational basis.

I wonder, however, if his lawyers are making the Sixth Amendment argument accepted by Judge Weinstein in the EDNY last year: That, at least on these extraordinary facts, Lynch had the right to have his jury informed of the five-year mandatory minimum, so that the jury could, if it chose, exercise its historical prerogatives of mercy and/or "nullification."

Posted by: Observer | Apr 24, 2009 11:00:32 AM

Stop sentencing people that use medical marijuana. Legalize it!

Posted by: MMJdb | Oct 12, 2009 10:53:01 AM

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