Why Pot Prosecutors Backed Away

Why Pot Prosecutors Backed Away
Posted by FoM on May 09, 2000 at 09:55:12 PT
By Howard Mintz, Mercury News
Source: San Jose Mercury News
Prosecutors never like to fold, but a bad hand forced them this week to throw down their cards and walk away from their 2-year-old criminal case against Peter Baez, the leader of Santa Clara County's medicinal marijuana movement.
Battered by a series of adverse decisions in the local courts, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office had to drastically soften its position against Baez by the time a deal was reached late Thursday in the hallways of a Palo Alto courthouse.In the end, prosecutors were left with little to show for going after Baez, who originally was charged with eight felony counts of running a drug house and grand-theft allegations involving the local housing authority. Baez pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor, will serve no jail time, and will pay a $100 fine. While his case finally is resolved, it remains to be seen how long it will take for local law enforcement to repair relations with supporters of providing medicinal marijuana in Santa Clara County who viewed the Baez prosecution as a heavy-handed attack on the movement. Even Baez, while relieved at the outcome, has mixed feelings about getting such a favorable settlement."I don't think either side won," the 36-year-old Baez said Friday. "They proved a point and I proved a point. So we're both at zero." As for the future of medicinal marijuana in Santa Clara County, Baez said he has been told by supporters that they were awaiting the outcome of his case before deciding whether to risk another try at a medicinal pot center in San Jose."From what I'm gathering, I think something will happen pretty soon," he said. "But there is no way Peter Baez is getting involved in this again." Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu, who said Baez's failing health was a factor in the leniency of the deal, maintained the outcome was consistent with the goal of the case. She also said that Baez must repay any money he owes the housing authority and forfeit $7,000 of the $29,000 seized from the marijuana center at the time of the arrest. Clean Up or Shut Up:"We never said we expected prison from this case -- that would not have been appropriate," Sinunu said. "We got what we needed and the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor doesn't matter. What was important was that the (pot center) either clean up or shut down. It didn't clean up and it did shut down."Baez had been executive director of the Santa Clara County Medical Cannabis Center, which provided marijuana to AIDS and cancer patients for about a year until it was closed after his arrest in May 1998. The center originally operated with the blessing of the DA's office and other local officials, but then Baez was charged with illegally selling marijuana from the center and violating city regulations governing the verification of doctors' prescriptions for pot.Lawyers on both sides of the case say the outlines of a plea agreement have been in place for months. But the ground shifted in the case in recent weeks as the district attorney's office has taken a pounding on some legal issues in both the local trial courts and in the normally prosecutor-friendly 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose. The plea terms for Baez were reached in a series of discussions late Thursday. But prosecutors essentially were forced to capitulate to everything Baez and his lawyers wanted a week ago, when a Superior Court judge tossed the high-profile criminal trade secrets case against the Avant! Corp. and its top executives because of flaws in local grand jury proceedings.The same flaws also plagued a number of major criminal cases, including several murder prosecutions and the Baez case. Recognizing the Avant! ruling would carry weight in other local cases, prosecutors realized they might spend another year or two bogged down in prosecuting Baez -- a man stricken with life-threatening cancer who already was becoming something of a martyr for advocates of medicinal marijuana. The stock market reacted to the Avant! ruling, and so did the prosecutors responsible for the Baez case."You have to play the hand you are dealt," said Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker, who prosecuted Baez. "The decision in the Avant! case was the precipitating event that led to this result. I viewed this case very differently just one week ago."Selective Prosecution:Baez's defense lawyers also believe another recent decision by the 6th District pushed prosecutors to abandon their long-standing demand that Baez plead guilty to at least one felony. The appeals court recently ruled that Baez could pursue allegations of selective prosecution, which could have added delay to the case and forced the DA's office to expose inner deliberations about their investigation. Baez maintained that prosecutors tacked on some charges against him because of his role as head of the marijuana club."What pushed them to the edge was the double whammy of (the Avant! ruling and the selective prosecution ruling)," said Palo Alto attorney Tom Nolan. "The case was going to drag on for another two years. It didn't have that kind of value."Sinunu and Baker downplayed the importance of the selective prosecution issue, saying the grand jury problem was a larger obstacle in the Baez case. In fact, Santa Clara County prosecutors face the dismissal of a number of major cases as a result of the fallout from an 8-year-old policy of ordering court reporters in grand jury proceedings not to transcribe discussions between prosecutors and grand jurors. The appeals court recently found in five separate cases, including the Avant! and Baez cases, that prosecutors are obligated to turn over such communications to defense lawyers. But Santa Clara County cannot comply with the order because of the policy, prompting arguments that indictments have been tainted by due-process violations. The indictments include a number of murder cases, such as one against Scott Davis, a San Jose man charged with killing four people in a car accident near Morgan Hill in 1998. The cases can be refiled if they are dismissed, which is expected in the Avant! prosecution.But Sinunu concedes the legal wrangling will cause considerable delay in getting cases through the system.Contact Howard Mintz at: hmintz or (408) 286-0236. MAP Posted-by: Jo-D Related: Sat, May 6, 2000Contact: letters Copyright: 2000 San Jose Mercury NewsNews Article Courtesy Of MapInc. Article & CannabisNews MapInc. Archives: Bargain Concludes Case Against Activist
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Comment #2 posted by dddd on December 26, 2000 at 21:39:31 PT
Thomas....Greetings. Thank you for posting this.I think the idea of electing the public defender is outstanding.It would be a major step forward in the long overdue reform of the twisted laws,and this is a perfect place to start.....dddd
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Comment #1 posted by Thomas Spielbauer on December 26, 2000 at 20:33:45 PT:
Make a difference (ant than get high)
I am amazed that it takes individuals the ordeal of personally being prosecuted and spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to become conscious of the assault which is occurring on their constitutional freedoms. This can all be easily changed. See how at Even if you are skeptical, visit the site and blast us - that is okay. 
Citizens to Elec Our Public Defender
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