Fifty Pounds of Weed in Arlington = Probation?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

This landing may get bumpy. In late 2018 a chap was on a plane that landed at Reagan National Airport. He undoubtedly had the usual tools of travel — toothbrush, shave kit and clean socks.  However, he also had 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil. Perhaps he got on the wrong plane expecting to land in Denver. The MWAA Police met him at baggage claim, offered to help him with his luggage and cuffed him up.

As arlnow.com reports, “Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.”

Here comes the judge. Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Fiore was not amused by the plea deal. He rejected it. “Virginia jurisprudence has long and consistently recognized deterrence as means for a court to determine an appropriate sentence, no matter the criminal statute violated,” Fiore wrote. “Deterrence disincentives unlawful behavior both for the individual and for society.” Judge Fiore felt that the amount of hootch was understated and that the transgressions should merit between five and 40 years in the slammer along with a cool $500k in fines. Looking on the bright side, the suspect would sidestep the 200 hours of community service under the Judge’s thinking.

Mule skinner blues. How could a clear crime merit a penalty ranging from probation and community service to 40 years in prison? It turns out the suspect in question wasn’t smuggling drugs, he was just reenacting Clint Eastwood’s character in the 2018 film, The Mule. Ok, not really. The suspect was a drug smuggler. But he was also a mule. Maybe. Probably. At least that’s what Public Defender Brad Haywood thinks. “They are under duress; fearful for their safety, desperate for money, or desperate to feed their own addictions,” he said. “They are easy to manipulate precisely because they are suffering. They can even be pressured into doing something as irrational as traveling on a plane with tons of narcotics.” After admitting that he didn’t know whether the suspect was cooperating to target higher ups, Haywood opined that something like that could also be happening. Or not. “I have no idea if that is or isn’t going on here,” he said. “You would not know about it, the court might not know, nor would it be appropriate for anyone to know if a defendant had been enlisted to cooperate.”

Scott free. This is not the first time that Virginia prosecutors have decided that they don’t particularly like the laws passed by the General Assembly. In 2019 Norfolk’s top prosecutor said he would, ” … dismiss virtually all misdemeanor marijuana cases as part of an effort toward criminal justice reform.” Circuit Court judges said “no” and the Norfolk prosecutor appealed to the state supreme court. The supremes also said, “no,” citing 200 years of precedent giving judges, not prosecutors, the final say-so on plea deals. “Balderdash” said occasional Rebellion reader Sen. Scott Surovell. At least that’s what I imagine he said. He was the Senate patron of a bill that would require a judge to dismiss a charge if both prosecution and defense agree. Del. Mike Mullin was the chief patron in the House. The bill passed and was signed by Gov Northam. “It’s using the carrot versus the stick, and that’s something that’s been missing in our criminal justice system,” said Surovell.

Rip’s Wrap. As long time readers of this blog know, I am strongly in support of legalized adult recreational use of marijuana in Virginia. But this is not about that. It’s about whether a prosecutor should be able to ignore laws passed by the General Assembly. In Virginia, both prosecutors and General Assembly members are elected. And prosecutors routinely refuse to enforce some Virginia laws like the statutes against adultery. But what about consistency? If the hapless smuggler described earlier in this article bought a ticket into Richmond International Airport or Norfolk — would he be facing 40 years instead of probation and community service? How is that fair or just? As for prosecutors being apolitical — fugetaboutit! There’s a group called the Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice. They mince no words as to what laws they’d like to see passed and what laws repealed. Do they now constitute a local veto on the General Assembly?

What was wrong with the idea of a check and balance on a plea deal? The prosecutor and defense attorney agree on a deal and the judge decides whether or not to accept it?

Anyway, I’m hoping for a Commonwealth’s Attorney to run for office in Fairfax County with a promise that he or she will not enforce Virginia’s income tax laws.  That would be a campaign I could support.

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22 responses to “Fifty Pounds of Weed in Arlington = Probation?

  1. In re: “I am strongly in support of legalized adult recreational use of marijuana in Virginia. ”

    I hope they don’t use pot and drive a vehicle in my home state of VA… and also stay the hell out of Florida!

    • I hope “they” do not use pot and drive a vehicle in my home state of Virginia too. I also hope they don’t drink whiskey, take prescription pain killers, etc and drive a vehicle in my home state of VA.

      As for Florida, I travel to the Sunshine State at least three times a year – twice on business and once for pleasure. Turns out you can get a medical marijuana card there unlike Virginia. Given your obvious anger management issues you might want to look for an obliging doctor and a dispensary near your home.

    • The problem is that stoned people drive better… if just a little too slow.

      • Sometimes they really hold things up when they’re waiting for the stop sign to turn green.

        • It was fun being young and how lucky we are to have survived….

          Hey, DJ, didn’t you understand this is what Bloomberg was paying for when he bought those Commonwealth’s Attorney’s seats for hand-picked woke candidates? This is just the start of selective prosecution. It won’t be of any help to folks like us, trust me – do not screw up in those jurisdictions. The Days of Payback.

          • Selective prosecution in unconstitutional. Due process and all … Trump’s everlasting gift to America may well be a Supreme Court that won’t tolerate BS like selective prosecution.

          • Selective prosecution in State court is a federal matter, DJR? Or do you mean the State Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional? Under which Constitution?

          • So much for Equal Protection. OTOH, 71 days and a lot more than that may shake out; 71 is 10x more than needed in May.

    • Further bad news for you in Florida. First, in 2016 medical marijuana passed a citizen driven ballot initiative with 71% of the vote. So, at least on the medical marijuana side, there was a considerable majority in favor. As you probably know, the Florida constitution can be amended by citizen initiative. It’s a difficult process whereby 8% of the votes from the past general election set the bar for the number of signatures that need to be collected in order to get an amendment on the ballot. About 11 million votes were cast so, along with some margin for error, about 1 million signatures need to be collected. That’s in process. If that happens the question of whether Florida will legalize recreational marijuana will be on the 2022 ballot. It would need 60% of Florida voters to approve and then the constitution is amended.

      Now, prohibitionists are nothing if not persistent. This year an initiative was on the ballot that would have required two consecutive votes to amend the Florida constitution. While it was not directed at marijuana it would have impacted the 2022 ballot initiative by requiring a re-vote in 2024. That proposed amendment failed.

      The state with the least interest in legalizing marijuana is probably Wyoming. Perhaps you can relocate there if the marijuana legalization initiative passes in 2022.

      As for whether the constitutional amendment would pass … a recent poll says “yes”:

      “Legalizing recreational marijuana also crosses party lines. Overall, 64 percent of voters voiced support of a measure that would legalize the sale and use of 2.5 ounces or less of pot. The supporters included 73 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.”

      Wow Dude … you prohibitionists can’t even convince a majority of Republicans to support you. Freaky man, like really freaky.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    One toke over the line?

    • Michael Brewer – 76 years old and counting. In 2010 he released his third solo album entitled It Is What It Is. In 2012 he followed up with Dancing With My Shadow. Today Michael resides in the Ozark mountains in southern Missouri.

      Tom Shipley – 79 years old and counting. Tom is still active as a singer/songwriter/musician doing regular Brewer & Shipley shows. He resides in the Ozark mountains in southern Missouri.

      Regarding “One toke over the line”:

      Mike Brewer gives this account of the origin of the song, “One day we were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, “Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.” I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it.”

      The song gained popular acclaim while the band was touring as an opening act for Melanie, after they received an encore but had run out of other songs to play. Spiro Agnew said the song with its reference to marijuana use was “blatant drug-culture propaganda” that “threatens to sap our national strength,” pressuring the FCC to include the song on its list of music banned from the airwaves because of drug references.

      Convicted felon Spiro Agnew died at age 77 in Ocean City, MD.

      While I liked Spiro Agnew (example: “nattering nabobs of negativism”) the absurd anti-marijuana fervor of his day still exists to a certain extent.

  3. Virginia’s adultery laws are unconstitutional, all but struck down.

    That said, they’re still on the books awaiting some prosecutor, a judge, and a hapless defendant (with more money than brains) to actually prosecute, adjudicate and levy the $250 fine, and here’s the important part, spend $1000s to appeal the conviction and get his/her $250 back.

    If I could get the wife’s permission, choice of a co-respondent, and agree on a price with, oh say, Katy Perry, or the like….

    Lawrence v. Texas.

  4. I believe that selective prosecution within a state where the same law applies to an offense is a violation of due process. This is different than various states having different laws. For example, possession of marijuana is legal in Colorado while illegal in Wyoming. Two different governments (sovereigns?), two different sets of laws passed by two different elected bodies. In Virginia, laws regarding the possession of marijuana are passed at the state level. There is no provision for local laws regarding marijuana possession. In order to preserve due process a citizen of Virginia who violates the state law should be treated the same regardless of where in Virginia that violation occurred. While there might be some variation based on the sensibilities of judges, juries and prosecutors … it’s hard to imagine how due process is preserved when a person violating the law in Arlington County receives parole for an offense which would earn the same person violating the same law in the same manner in Richmond decades in prison. There’s only one law.

    How’s that for a techie who has watched a lot of Law & Order reruns?

  5. I like the idea of electing a commonwealth’s attorney who will “selectively enforce” the tax laws. Now that the selective-enforcement precedent has been established, let’s go for it! Ultimately, we can get to a place where we all obey the laws we like and ignore those we don’t like.

    • Did not Barack Obama “selectively enforce” federal laws, ignoring those law he did not like, such as regulating immigration and border enforcement?

      Did not Obama encourage the spread of non-enforcement of federals laws on the local level as well, and thus create sanctuary cities?

      Is this not standard practice now in cases of rioting and looting by democratic activists in blue cities and states, creating lawless societies and places throughout America for democratic activists to ravage at will?

      And now are laws created by executive fiat, or stealth, in blue cities, states, and federally, to punish citizens who fail to support and obey (vote for, or keep their mouth shut, or speak with approved words only, or otherwise kowtow to democratic activist demands), and to flee all public places on demand of democratic activists?

      • He did all of those things. However, he did those things across the board as far as I know. If the Governor of Virginia or Attorney General of Virginia wanted to selectively enforce a law across the state it would apply to everybody in the state. That’s effectively what is done with regard to adultery. By allowing Commonwealth’s Attorneys to selectively enforce major crimes (and possessing 50 pounds of marijuana is still a major crime in Virginia) without judicial review we have empowered the Commonwealth’s Attorney with selective veto power and substantially diminished the legislative process. Remember that this diminishment is often not on a case-by-case basis. The Commonwealth’s Attorney in Portsmouth pledged that he would stop prosecuting virtually all marijuana possession cases. The truly bizarre argument in Arlington was that drug mules are sometimes pressured into transporting large quantities of drugs so leniency is warranted. The argument was not that the particular suspect in question had mitigating circumstances. At least, that’s what the public defender seemed to be saying. I have bad news … gang hitmen are often pressured into committing murder. Perhaps some woke and understanding prosecutor will start agreeing to plea deals for community service for gang hitmen. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous but so does giving one person parole for a crime in Arlington that would get the same person 40 years downstate. If we want to legislate at the local level I’d be happy. Let counties and cities decide the marijuana law for their jurisdiction. However, even if marijuana were legalized , flying in 50 pound of unlicensed unregulated marijuana would still be a serious crime.

  6. The evidence strongly points to the guy being either a dealer or a mule. How does this become prosecutorial discretion?

  7. Question: Will the seized merchandise be sold at an upcoming police auction?

    I’m asking for a friend…

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