Weed in the Car


Today Miami criminal-defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum brings us this judge’s verdict in a possession of marijuana case in Palm Beach County. After a bench trial in which the accused represented himself the judge found the accused, in Brian’s words, “not-guilty-really-really-not-guilty.” The only evidence against the accused was that he was driving in a car that smelled of marijuana and contained less than 20 grams of marijuana.

Here are the last couple of paragraphs:

In publishing this verdict, the Court has included commentary that admittedly may not be relevant to the question of whether the Defendant committed a crime. This commentary should not be construed as an indictment of the officers who arrested the Defendant or the state attorney for prosecuting the case. This judge is deeply concerned about the threat that drugs pose to our society, and particularly to our children, and, therefore, appreciates the motivation and good intentions of the police and prosecutors who bring these cases to court. However, as Judge Gray so eloquently writes, “although the war on drugs makes for good politics, it makes for terrible government.”

In this one case, the Court finds the Defendant not guilty. Undoubtedly, the state will prevail in many other marijuana cases that will come before this Court in the future if the accusation is proven. This judge is sworn to uphold the laws not to write them. The more important questions to be resolved are whether the war on drugs as it is presently being conducted is doing more harm than good and whether it is effective. Those questions can be answered only by the Legislature, not the Courts, and certainly not by this judge.

This was a stupid prosecution. The accused should never have been arrested; the state attorney should never have accepted charges; once brought, charges should have been dismissed before trial. The accused should never have had to waste his time coming to court.

Having acquitted the accused, the judge should not have felt obligated to pat the police and prosecutors on the back. He didn’t have to say “this was a stupid prosecution,” but why stroke the cops’ egos? Why stroke the prosecutor’s ego? Good politics, indeed. Why? Because elected judges have to worry about reelection, and judges worried about reelection have to worry about the endorsements of the law enforcement lobby. The last two paragraphs of the verdict are in effect a response to a “plea for law enforcement.”

Despite the need he felt to explain his law-and-order credentials, this judge did the right thing “in this one case;” if every judge would do the same in every stupid prosecution of a guy in a car with dope, such prosecutions would stop.

In Texas, we have the right to a jury trial on any criminal offense. Unlike judges, juries don’t have to run for reelection, so they are less likely than judges to be concerned with how their acquittals are publicly perceived. Juries are less likely to fall for a fallacious “plea to law enforcement” than judges who risk losing law enforcement’s support. I’ve tried worse cases to juries and won.

If we all tried all of these “weed in a car” cases, do you think the government would figure out that the cases are stupid and stop bringing charges?


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