Here in Los Angeles people have long had a liberal view of illegal drug use. In recent years we have seen our state’s marijuana laws become more and more liberal as well. Not all other states take the same view toward unlawful drug activities like personal use and sale of small amounts of drugs.
As people’s views toward drug use tend to liberalize, a phenomenon occurs within the court system. It becomes increasingly difficult to find twelve jurors who will hold a defendant accountable for certain minor drug crimes. Most people think of the term “drug dealer” as someone who prays on the less fortunate, or someone who lurks outside school yards trying to find his next buyer. I find that this is not often the case. Many drug dealers are simply supporting their personal habits or buying drugs in larger quantity to get a better supply price and sharing the cost with another friend or fellow drug user.
Then we apply these concepts to marijuana. California and about 18 other states now have established what we call compassionate use laws or medical marijuana laws. Having established such laws, there are still many gray areas surrounding the laws. First, marijuana is still illegal in some states and by federal law. Next, how do we lawfully obtain the marijuana? And finally, if one is furnishing or selling the drug to another, is that person within the guidelines of the medical marijuana laws? These questions are being battled daily in courts in California and other states. For guidelines on medical marijuana you can visit NORML or check out the California Department of Justice Guidelines .
As a defense attorney, I know that there are potential jurors out there who believe that drugs should be legalized. Some feel that drug laws should be liberalized as well. When trying a criminal case, I am always on the lookout to try and find such people for my jurors. However, not every potential jury panel comes with perfect jurors. And, there are always risks associated with taking any case to trial. Prior to trial, I must advise my client’s of the potential risks should the client be convicted. For example, if someone is convicted of selling marijuana, even in a tiny amount, that person faces up to three years in prison.
Having said that, there are certain cases which I feel are more likely to sit well with a jury. I prefer cases where the defendant is able to testify in the trial. This normally means he or she presents well to the jury and has little or no criminal history. Next, marijuana cases tend to be better in front of jurors than most any other types of illegal drugs. Smaller amounts of narcotics are better than larger amounts. Next, evidence of gang affiliation or possession of deadly weapons is rarely helpful in front of a jury. Finally, in the case of a medical marijuana defense, a well documented history of a medical condition is extremely helpful. As opposed to one visit to a medical marijuana doctor, if the client has a documented, long term medical problem for which they were prescribed marijuana as a treatment, that is very powerful evidence in front of a jury. When seeking a medical marijuana recommendation, I encourage my clients to fully discuss their medical conditions with their personal physician before going to a pot doctor. If one’s own physician refuses to give out medical recommendations, then at least there is a medical chart note about the medical condition and the request for a marijuana recommendation. A talented criminal defense lawyer should be able to do the rest if you give the lawyer enough to work with.
If you have questions about this or any other criminal law matter, contact me, Jeffrey Vallens.