I recently discussed the impact of federal drug sentencing laws on the federal judiciary and correctional systems at the Seventh Circuit Conference in Chicago. A Texas case this week shows how such cases also inundate the state systems, including cases involving only marijuana. While marijuana possession and sale has been legalizes in Colorado and Washington, Texas continues to take a hardline approach to such cases. Jacob Lavoro is looking at a possible sentence of life in prison after being caught with 1.5 pounds of brownies and 1 pound of marijuana as well as $1,675 in cash.
He was released on a high bond of $30,000.
Even five years in this case is excessive in my view for pot brownies, particularly for a first offender. The case could have been charged as a misdemeanor as an act of prosecutorial discretion. However, Williamson County prosecutor Travis McDonald says that he just has to accept a plea deal.
The ridiculous range for selling pot brownies is often used by prosecutors to force people like Lavoro to give up his right to trial and accept a plea. Any plea. That is now the reality in both the state and federal systems where defendants cannot risk going to trial — a level of coercion increased by prosecutors who openly count stack by bringing multiple and often redundant charges to lengthen potential sentences. I have spoken with prosecutors who admit that, if a defendant does not do what they want in a plea, they intentionally run up the charges as a lesson to others.
The laws are written to guarantee years in jail for relatively minor possession cases. For example, Lavoro was also found with 145 grams of hash oil. However, just 4 grams of hash oil is enough for a first-degree felony charge. Hash oil is treated in the same sentencing category as amphetamines and ecstasy.
However, it gets worse. Under state law, by mixing the hash oil with the brownies, Lavoro can be charged with manufacturing and distribution of 1.5 pounds of that category of controlled substances. In other words, you can just charge the weight of the brownies as if it were pure narcotics.