By Terrie Best – San Diego Americans for Safe Access
San Diego CA – In one of the most depressing statements from a judge I’ve heard, Judge Jay Bloom of the San Diego Superior Court vilified cannabis patient witnesses from the bench while at the same time insisting DEA agents are bound to tell the truth on the witness stand or risk arrest and conviction.
The criminal case of Ernest James Knight and co-defendant Sandra began Wednesday with the preliminary examination. It was a two day affair and very expensive. The prosecution called two DEA special agents to make her case. There were no local cops called. The first of the special agents, DEA Special Agent, John Gieson testified to 17 years of training in Virginia but when eventually questioned about California cannabis law, had no knowledge.
Geison took us through the knock and forced entry on the first of two properties raided by the nine special agents who participated. The occupant of the first house, Sandra, was home alone in Oceanside February of this year and, according to Geison, marijuana was being grown illegally inside and in a shed in Sandra’s backyard. Geison counted 286 cannabis plants in various stages of growth. Sandra was arrested and interrogated and Geison claims she confessed to her crimes. But, Sandra only told the special agent she was growing for a very ill woman and several other patients. All were medical cannabis patients. Sandra was not, but in her hospice and caregiver duties she provided medicine. From the stand, Gleison claimed statements which Sandra says she never made. It is a common thread in all testimony from all DEA special agents in these cases.
It should be said, Sandra is a lovely woman with a huge heart. Michael Cindrich is her attorney. In his cross of the special agent we heard Geison say that back at the DEA lab Sandra’s plants and processed cannabis were chopped up and weighed. It came to over 11,000 grams. Cindrich questioned if stems were included, yes they were, Geison was asked if stems are typically sold, in his illegal drug experience, no they aren’t. Cindrich asked if stems are weighty, yes they are. The attorney stopped short of asking the special agent if the 11,000 gram figure was dishonest. Instead Cindrich asked if him if he had ever read the local or state cannabis law, no he had not.
Nathan Shaman is Ernest’s attorney. Ernest’s San Diego home was also raided but in his cross of special agent Geison, Shaman wanted to know why the two raids were connected. The agent testified he was told they were but could not release the name of the confidential informant who had told him.
The prosecutor then called DEA Special Agent Chad Plennes. He testified to a lot of what he thought were suspicious text messages on Sandra’s phone. A phone he could not find himself so had to release Sandra from handcuffs to go get for him. The messages in Sandra’s phone amounted to texts of various logistical matters for getting medicine to patients. When DEA Special Agents read “I need a quarter, can I come over,” they can’t help but believe there’s a crime because, right or wrong, their job requires that they ignore state law and punish medical cannabis patients.
Chad Plennes was also at the raid on Ernest’s house. He claimed witness to statements Ernest made, which Ernest never made. According to Plennes, Ernest confessed that he was not even a cannabis patient but only sold cannabis for profit. Plennes found a number of what he said were illegal plants in Ernest’s home and garage. Later from the stand Ernest told us he was diabetic with several painful neurological conditions and grew cannabis for himself and several other patients. He said he told the DEA special agents this but they arrested him anyway.
In cross examination, Plennes described Ernest as cooperative. Ernest told the truth at the scene but the special agent only heard “I grow cannabis.” Plennes is not allowed to hear that growing cannabis for medical purposes is lawful in the state of California so he does not hear it.
The defense case was very good. Several witnesses took the stand as well as Ernest himself. The patient witnesses were able to confirm they were in a collective together with either Ernest or Sandra. The first witness, Sarah, was very frail and on crutches. She testified that Sandra was her caregiver and helped her with shopping, doctor appointments and sometimes bathing. One of Ernest’s witnesses, David has cancer and would help Ernest trim, for that he obtained cannabis. In her cross, Deputy DA Deborah LaTouche drilled the witnesses about their medical conditions and focused on impeaching them as lying to help the defendants.
The next day Ernest took the stand. Ernest is an articulate thoughtful man and his testimony was very good. Nathan Shaman came armed with Ernest’s past electric, hydro store and water bills to show his cultivation expenses. Latouche tried to prevent the bills from being entered, claiming hearsay. The judge shut her down. If bills are already paid they are an exception to the hearsay rule, he said.
Ernest testified to having 25 years of pain but what began his cultivation effort was his police officer brother whom he helped as the man died from cancer. It is obvious Ernest is a kind, gentle person. He grew for six other sick people with recommendations and Ernest himself uses cannabis juice which requires a lot of plant material. He was not making money, we saw the shut off notices he deals with from the power and water companies.
The expenses we were shown exceeded the proceeds from monetary contributor estimates but in her cross examination of Ernest, LaTouche could not grasp that even though money may be coming in, if it’s also going out at a faster rate, there’s no profit to be gotten. Ernest was prepared to tell the truth but LaTouche would not allow him to elaborate on certain facts. She is interested in winning and her version requires she suppress state law, inline with her DEA special agents.
The two parties each had closing arguments. LaTouche misstated evidence and had to be corrected by the defense attorneys as well as the judge. She claimed the defendants were drug dealers because there were no formal incorporation papers drawn up for the collectives. The judge then cited the People v Orlosky ruling that collectives can be informal but LaTouche argued on. She wanted pay/owe sheets to prove the collective was legitimate. It should be noted, this was hugely disingenuous since pay/owe sheets are always used to prove illegal drug dealing.
Deborah LaTouche is a big woman and she stretches, ignores and stomps on the truth in order to win. It should be noted she has a history of ignoring justice and excluding exculpatory evidence in a shameful manner. She is no representative of the People and she once tried to keep me out of performing jury consulting by lying to a judge. She told him I have a felony record and I don’t. Judges have humiliated her for this cheating but she continues to ignore truth in favor of victory. Still, she now does so with a shake-y voice. I hope she will refuse medical cannabis cases from now on. If she and her special agent assistants from the federal government have to lie to win, they are bad for her soul.
In his closing argument Michael Cindrich cited a lot of case law to support the clients’ cases. Both attorneys pointed out that DEA special agents don’t know the law at all and Nathan Shaman highlighted that People v Orlosky was crucial to the case. He asserted from Orlosky that in a small collective there are too few transactions to warrant formal incorporation and bylaws.
I have never seen a medical cannabis case get dismissed at prelim. I thought I might see my first one. I couldn’t get a read on the judge. He seemed interested in hearing the law and, if he was citing Orlsoky – he was up-to-date – as that case is from 2015. I was terribly disappointed to hear him call Sandra and Ernest drug dealers. I knew we were going to have to go to trial. Then he asserted that the defenses witnesses were not neutral but the DEA special agents were. Judge Bloom said DEA agents have no reason to lie and further, they risk jail if they do lie. A shocking statement to me since I am of the opinion that the whole special gang of them are liars.
So, in a disheartening ruling Ernest and Sandra were bound over to stand trial even though there is very little chance a jury will convict on this case. Trials are expensive but the San Diego District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis likes to punish medical cannabis patients with court proceedings as a weapon. This particular punishment is going to be expensive for we tax payers. Not only will it take days to seat 12 people who don’t know and love a cannabis patient onto a jury but Sandra’s first language is not English. She requires an interpreter which costs 800.00 daily.
Ernest and Sandra will be arraigned on September 10th with trial scheduled at that hearing. Please follow San Diego ASA on Facebook to get updates on future court dates.