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The 7th Circuit Is Not Happy With a Prison Sentence For Marijuana Use

U.S. v. Jesse Smith. No. 14-2223.

In 2009 the defendant was sentenced to 24 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, for being a felon in possession of a gun.

In October 2013 and in April 2014 his probation officer advised the district court that the defendant had again violated terms of his supervised release both by continuing to use marijuana and by violating rules of the halfway house where he lived for a time after completion of his prison sentence.

The district judge sentenced him to 15 months in prison but no more supervised release.  But the district judge did not abuse her discretion.  She could have sentenced him to 24 months instead of 15.

That doesn’t mean that we have to be happy with the sentence. The defendant’s problem is marijuana (he admits it’s a problem), and quite apart from the issue, which is none of our business, whether personal use of marijuana should be illegal, we have our doubts that imprisonment is an appropriate treatment for a marijuana habit. (There is no suggestion that the defendant deals, or has ever dealt, in marijuana or any other illegal drug; he’s just a consumer.) The 29 months that he served in prison beginning in 2009 did not break him of his habit; what is the basis for thinking that 14 more months in prison will?

Maybe with a job and a family and greater maturity he’ll outgrow it, or reduce his consumption to a level at which it has no significant behavioral or psychological ill effects. The fact that he’s impressed his employers suggests that he can function even with the habit, in which event it might have been better had the judge not imposed a prison sentence but instead had ordered a stricter regimen of treatment for the defendant’s drug habit. Potential employers are unlikely to hold a job open for 15 months, and there may be no vacancy for the defendant to fill when he’s released.

Editor’s note:  The 7th Circuit vacated this judgment and remanded for a do-over of the sentencing proceeding before a different district judge.  This was related to a conflict with the district judge’s former role as a prosecutor.

By:  Chicago Federal Defense Attorney Michael J. Petro

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