Thursday, August 29, 2013


Your favorite Clearwater criminal defense attorney just obtained a memorandum sent today to each federal prosecutor working in every United States Attorney's office. The memorandum outlines the factors which every prosecutor must now consider before pursuing marijuana trafficking cases.

Here are the six critical factors to be used by prosecutors in the future for every Department of Justice prosecution as delineated in the memorandum:

Cannabis is now legal in many states but not in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Is Cannabis Legal?
1. Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors. 
2. Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels. 
3. Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law from being dispersed to states where it is not legal. 
4. Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking in other illegal drugs or other illegal activity. 
5. Preventing violence and firearm use. 
6. Preventing DUI impairment from marijuana. Preventing the growing of marijuana on public parks or other public land or other federal property. 

What is most interesting is the fourth paragraph which represents a sea change of policy from Attorney General Holder's previous guidelines for his prosecutors. 

Now state authorized marijuana activity will be monitored to prevent its use in other illegal drugs or other illegal activity, whereas before even if a state had legalized marijuana, the federal government viewed the marijuana growing as illegal activity subject to the federal law of drug trafficking in itself

Clearly citizens in states that do not allow marijuana will not be as likely as other citizens to be subject to the harsh minimum mandatory sentences for marijuana drug trafficking cases, which should bring some disparity of sentencing arguments as well as disparity of prosecution arguments into play by enterprising defense attorneys in every jurisdiction.

Here in Tampa Bay, Florida we can only hope that a new constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana will not only make the drug legal for medicinal purposes, but will stop at least some overzealous federal prosecutions that often result in unfair minimum mandatory prison sentences that judges do not have the discretion to go under. Because prosecutors always had more discretion under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, this roll back of harsh sentencing by Attorney General Holder will save many people from being branded as criminal by our government.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The Pinellas County State Attorney's Office in Florida is establishing a diversion program for military veterans. The goal is for veterans suffering from post dramatic stress syndrome or those having difficulty reclaiming their civilian roles after military service will be helped rather than punished which should cheer the heart of every Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.
Veterans in Pinellas Florida will have access to a Veterans Pretrial Intervention program for fairer sentences in nonviolent criminal cases.
World War One Veteran

The program will give veterans who have been accused of minor nonviolent drug crimes, misdemeanors or third degree felonies the opportunity to have the charges dismissed thru Pretrial Intervention or to have a reduction in sentence to a period of probation rather than jail. 

Further, the program will help match mentors for each veteran for support and help. The Veterans Pretrial Intervention Program is set will begin September 1, 2013.

Overall this is an excellent idea which could help many veterans who live or vacation in Florida only to find themselves accused of crime. However, one significant problem is that the program is run by the Pinellas State Attorney's Office, so all of the discretion as to which Defendants qualify for the program will be made solely by prosecutors rather than by impartial judges. Why not have a Florida Pretrial Intervention system which has input from Judges, social workers and even may I say, defense lawyers?

Why not expand the program to include others? Shouldn't the criminal justice system be finding more ways to help those charged with crime so that the underlying reasons for the criminal conduct never recurs? Though this Veterans Intervention Program is excellent news for every veteran one wonders how long it will take for inclusive beneficial programs for those accused of crimes who may have suffered Post Dramatic Stress Syndrome from being the victim of a crime such as rape or other violent crime. 

Meanwhile as all Florida counties have some form of Pretrial Intervention, some counties in Florida are experimenting with civil citation programs for nonviolent offenders, but Federal courts are woefully behind and should embrace a Federal Pretrial Intervention Program for nonviolent, first time offenders.