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Function of Juries | 10 Nov 2013

-Is Mixing Drug and Weapons Charges a Strategy to Undermine Jury Rights?

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Cannabis_sativa_(Köhler)IMG_1132cropMore and more I’m noticing cases that involve BOTH drug and firearms charges, including this one in which a Seattle robbery victim who was tied up and held at gunpoint is being charged for both marijuana- and firearm-related offenses because he defensively shot at the people who broke into his home and stole pot and guns from him. For example, this prosecution of a Seattle medical marijuana grower for his defensive use of a firearm during a home invasion in which he was bound and held at gunpoint by his captors:

Maple Valley Medical Marijuana Grower Charged in Self-Defense Shooting

A Maple Valley man accused of shooting two people during a home-invasion robbery at his home and marijuana grow now faces federal charges, as do his alleged assailants.

Investigators contend Justin Loken was growing and selling marijuana from his suburban house in August when he shot a robber and an unwitting accomplice after a home-invasion robbery. Loken, a 38-year-old medical marijuana supplier, now faces years in federal prison if convicted and could lose his house.

One might wonder:
1. In an environment where marijuana prohibition is losing favor, is mixing firearm and drug charges a strategy to poison the jury into leaning toward conviction? After all, many who support legalization are unfriendly to firearm ownership, and many who support gun ownership rights are unfriendly to legalization efforts.

2. Given that the presence of guns and drugs together frequently triggers harsh mandatory minimums, is this a strategy being used to bully defendants into taking a plea bargain and to punish those who don’t forego their right to trial by jury with harsh sentencing if they are convicted?

These comments from the robbery victim’s lawyer suggest that this is fertile territory for federal prosecutors:

Speaking Friday, Loken’s defense attorney Keith Hall said it appears federal prosecutors have drawn a line and will prosecute marijuana growers who use guns to protect themselves.

“People just don’t know this,” said Hall of Newton & Hall Attorneys at Law. “If you are going to have a marijuana grow and you’re going to have guns around, you’re going to get in trouble. …

“The law is clear, and how (federal prosecutors) apply the law can sometimes change, but it appears to me that they’re going to go after these people.”

oken opened fire on the SUV and a car the men were standing near, the detective said in charging papers, shooting Clay and a woman who’d been duped into driving one of the men to the robbery. According to charging papers, Loken said one of the men was trying to shoot him with an AR-15-style assault rifle he’d just stolen from Loken’s home.

Hall said his client’s claim that he fired defending himself has not been disputed.

“I have heard nobody say that it was anything more than my client defending his life,” Hall said. “To me, it’s a fairly straight forward self-defense shooting following a home invasion.”

Click through for the entire article.

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