Being tried in court for any crime, especially a victimless crime, is a trying process. Not just for the defendants, but for their friends, family, and supporters as well. When the crime involves medical marijuana in California, it is often the defendant who is victimized. Community support is important to help a friend get through this difficult time and to support the larger cause.
As a supporter, you may want to argue or shout or rant around the courthouse about the injustice. But remember that the Defendant is fighting for their life and livelihood. THEY are the focus of the trial. Cannabis rights are important to fight for, but in court, we do that by exonerating the defendants. The verdict will set the tone for how Law Enforcement or the District Attorney pursues future cases. DA's will not prosecute future cases they know they won't win.
What are the best ways to support both the cause and our friends at the courthouse? I have lots of experience as a criminal defense attorney in the courtroom. My courthouse advice for my clients can apply to their friends and supporters as well. Here are six ways you can show support during a medical marijuana case.
- Be Presentable. A trial is a serious thing for all parties, and your attire will show that you also take it seriously. Clean, tidy, and put together. You don't need to wear a suit, but wear something you'd consider nice for your day today. It will not help your cause if you show up like you are camping in Humboldt.
- Be Quiet. As a defendant, you should only speak when addressing the court. As a spectator, you should be absolutely silent throughout the proceedings. Even in the halls and on the steps, keep your voice down and discussion to a minimum, since there are ears everywhere. One careless whisper could be overheard and sink the case. The line “anything you say can and will be used against you” is not TV cop jive. Be especially cautious not to talk around jurors or potential jurors. In court, we avoid even the “appearance” of impropriety.
- Be Present. Some parts of a trial can feel tedious to a defendant or spectator. My advice is: if it is important enough for you to be here today, then it should be important enough for you to keep your head in the trial. No sleeping, reading, texting, note passing, or knitting. Your degree of focus on the trial reflects your regard for its importance.
- Be Respectful. The courthouse is a workplace for hundreds of people. There are also scores of people there for their own cases. 90% of the people at the courthouse are worried about their own cases and are oblivious to yours. There are victims, jurors, social workers, clerks, and other people focused on their own issues. Respect their reality by not intruding yours on to them. This includes keeping your voice down, turning off phones, not smoking on the grounds, and not blocking doors and hallways.
- Be Careful. You and your friends might be chill, but a courthouse is full of violent people on edge. There are convicts and cops who are keyed up in this environment. There are also bad people seeking revenge on other bad people, and bad people seeking revenge on good people. Keep your eyes open and be wary of commotion.
- Be Thoughtful. A trial can be personally overwhelming for a defendant. Offer your friend support outside the courthouse. Bring them a coffee. Offer to drive their kids to school. Pick up their dry cleaning for them. Small gestures of support for everyday things will help a defendant deal with the stress of the big things.
It is your right to smoke, shout, and rally for legalized marijuana, and I would defend your right to do it. But when a friend is on trial, the courthouse is not the most effective venue to demonstrate those rights. Supporting a victory for the defendant will advance the cause as well as save your friend's life and liberty.
There are many organizations that support the rights of marijuana patients, as well as their caregivers, collectives, and cultivators. One in particular, The Human Solution, organizes courtroom support for defendants. Check for a chapter in your area and any actions they have planned.
Joseph Tully is a criminal defense attorney at Tully & Weiss based in Northern California. He has experience defending medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, cultivators, and caregivers on trial for helping their patients. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook