Court Vacates Guilty Plea in Minor Marijuana Case that Resulted in Twenty-Year Prison Sentence

By groupuscule (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA man facing almost 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a minor marijuana offense won his motion seeking to vacate the plea. This unusual story involves overlapping areas of law, one judge who understood that a charge for possession of less than six grams of marijuana is a very minor offense, and another judge who saw the situation very differently. At the time of his guilty plea, the defendant was on probation for another case, in lieu of a 20-year sentence. Unbeknownst to the defendant, the plea he entered constituted a violation of the terms of his probation. This resulted in the imposition of the full sentence, until another judge ruled in the defendant’s favor last June. Prosecutors may decide to re-file in the marijuana case but evidently have not done so yet.

Jurisdictions all over the country are loosening restrictions on marijuana possession and use, and a handful of states have decriminalized it almost entirely. It remains a controlled substance under federal law, however, and Texas is not one of the states to take more than the tiniest of steps towards decriminalization. The case in question took place in a Baltimore City Circuit Court in Maryland, where possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana has not been a criminal offense since October 2014. That is not the same as saying that it is “legal,” however. It may still be subject to a civil fine, and possession of drug paraphernalia remains illegal.

The lengthy prison sentence in this case was due to an earlier case involving the defendant, for which he received probation. When a court accepts a guilty plea or finds a defendant guilty, it has the option in many cases of probating the sentence for a defined period of time. It imposes conditions that the defendant must meet during the probation term, which might include counseling or community service. It also requires staying out of criminal trouble. If a defendant violates the terms of probation, the court can revoke the probation and impose the original sentence in full.

In January 2013, the defendant in Baltimore was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor offense at the time. The charge specified that he was accused of possessing 5.9 grams of marijuana. During an appearance in court, a district judge reportedly remarked that “5.9 grams won’t roll you a decent joint” and advised the defendant to plead guilty and pay a $100 fine. The defendant did so, but the case was far from over.

About three years earlier, in January 2010, the defendant had pleaded guilty to a felony charge of distribution of a controlled substance. The judge in that case sentenced him to 20 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence, but probated the sentence for five years. The defendant therefore had to comply with the court’s probation terms until January 2015. The guilty plea in the marijuana case came sooner than that.

The judge in the 2010 case considered the plea a violation, revoked the defendant’s probation, and sent him to prison with a projected release date in 2028. The defendant moved to vacate his plea in the marijuana case in 2015, arguing that the judge in that case had not advised him of his right to counsel when he suggested that he plead guilty. Another judge granted this motion in June 2015.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified drug crimes attorney Michael J. Brown has represented people charged with drug-related offenses in west Texas state and federal court for more than 20 years. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Jury Acquits Medical Marijuana User of Felony Possession Charges, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2015

Texas Becomes (Very Slightly) More Accepting of Marijuana, While the White House Commutes Sentences of Nearly Fifty Non-Violent Drug Offenders, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2015

Federal Authorities Charge Texas Retail Chain Owner in Connection with Synthetic Marijuana Investigation, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2015

Photo credit: By groupuscule (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.