Marijuana prosecution of Lacy Lee dropped -- because cops didn't have joint to prove case
During a May 1 rally to legalize marijuana, Lacy Lee was arrested for holding a joint -- something attorney Rob Corry considered so absurd, especially given a video of the incident on view below, that he agreed to represent her pro bono.
The offense carries a maximum fine of $100. Denver no doubt spent much, much more in the process of arresting Lee and moving the matter through the system. But yesterday, the city dropped the case -- because it had no marijuana on hand to support the charge.
"We are very happy the City of Denver has dismissed the case," Corry says. "It just goes to show that if you stick to your guns, you can sometimes prevail in the world's most pot-friendly city -- at least as far as the voters are concerned."
Indeed, as Corry pointed out in an October letter to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (now Colorado's governor-elect) accessible on the next page, Denver voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, voted to legalize it in 2004 and 2006, and de-prioritized it in 2008. "They didn't just make it a low law enforcement priority," Corry notes. "They made it the lowest law-enforcement priority."
As such, Denver Police have resisted making mass arrests during the annual 4/20 rally at the City & County Building, and Corry praises officers for their restraint. Two cops were more zealous during the May 1 event -- but while writing the citation, they apparently failed to collect the alleged joint in question, which Lee said had been handed to her by an unknown person.
"The deputy city attorney handling the case told me the reason they dismissed it is because they didn't have any actual marijuana to use as evidence," Corry says. "And that makes sense. We've always claimed that it's impossible to convict somebody without a reasonable doubt if they have no marijuana."
According to Corry, the attorney denies that pressure on Hickenlooper, represented by the letter noted above, played a part in the decision to dismiss, but he's not so sure. He also thinks the circumstances of the incident likely came into play.
"The fact that the arrest happened at a march protesting the wasteful policies of the city arresting people for simple possession is pretty absurd," he maintains. "And in a way, the police proved our point by issuing the citation -- that it is a waste.
"But we're glad the city folded, because it would have meant two more court appearances in a very crowded Denver County court. They deal with a lot of important issues up there, and the judges are very hard-working. This is one less thing they should have to deal with and one less thing the taxpayers will have to pay for" -- although they've already paid for plenty, he believes.
At the same time, Corry admits to some disappointment at the dismissal. "We had an expert joint-rolling witness who was going to testify that a rolled tobacco cigarette looks identical to a rolled joint," he says. "We were going to argue that the stop was illegal because holding a rolled-up cigarette shouldn't be the basis for stopping anyone, especially since the officers never said they smelled anything. I was looking forward to that testimony."
Corry hopes the Lee case will help dissuade the DPD from making more simple possession busts -- and he's similarly optimistic about Hickenlooper's impending guv stint.
"I'm looking forward to having a governor who is not a former prosecutor," he maintains, referencing current chief exec Bill Ritter, once the Denver District Attorney. "In a way, Hickenlooper is kind of a dispensary owner, since he was a brewpub magnate. And maybe this dismissal, while Hickenlooper is still mayor, is an indication of positive things to come at the state level."
If not, Corry predicts, "another Lacy Lee case," which he predicts would end with a similar outcome.
Page down to read Corry's letter to Hickenlooper asking that the case be dropped:
October 18, 2010
The Honorable John Hickenlooper Mayor, City and County of Denver 1437 Bannock Street Denver, CO 80202
Re: City and County of Denver v. Lacy Lee, Denver County Court Case No. 10GS207218
Dear Mayor Hickenlooper:
You preside as Mayor over what is possibly the most marijuana-friendly city on Earth. Denver's voters have voted four times, overwhelmingly, to medicalize (2000), legalize (2004 and 2006), and de-prioritize (2008) marijuana, more than voters in any other jurisdiction on the planet.
Despite this, your City still spends our money to criminally prosecute petty marijuana offenses. I represent (free of charge) Lacy Lee, an indigent young woman with no previous interaction with the criminal justice system. Lacy is the latest victim of the City's wasteful and expensive obsession with prosecuting marijuana cases. As a Denver resident myself, I agreed to take on Lacy's case pro bono to highlight the wastefulness of these prosecutions. Lacy was present at a First Amendment protest march against Marijuana Prohibition where there might have been marijuana present, although none was recovered by Denver Police. The City is still proceeding to trial without actual marijuana evidence.
Lacy's case is set for jury trial tomorrow, October 19, 2010 at 8:30 am in Denver County Courtroom 3G. This prosecution is brought in the name of our City by the Denver City Attorney, directly appointed by and answerable to you.
Mayor, please instruct your City Attorney to dismiss the case against Lacy Lee. This is your chance to conserve the resources of Denver's taxpayers.
Please call my office or cell phone at 720-629-7112 or email me at Robert.Corry@comcast.net with any questions or concerns, or if you need anything further.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Robert J. Corry, Jr.
More from our Marijuana archives: "Marijuana legalization: Mason Tvert blasts John Hickenlooper and politicos who dodge issue."
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