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Man Convicted in Medical Marijuana Case Refusing Plea Offer
Plans to appeal
HELENA – A Helena man who plans to appeal his conviction in a medical marijuana case says he's rejecting an offer that could reduce his sentence from up to 85 years to as little as 10 years — if he gives up his right to appeal.

Chris Williams said he will reject the Oct. 11 offer from U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter, as he has earlier plea offers.

"I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me, not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable," Williams wrote in a letter to the Independent Record from Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby. "Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost."

Public defender Michael Donahoe didn't dismiss the offer, but in court documents called it "unorthodox," saying he'd never seen a post-judgment offer that could reduce the potential sentence by 86 percent.

"Generosity, maybe; but it may be equally true that the government has misgivings about this case going to the Court of Appeals," Donahoe wrote. "Although this can be viewed as a magnanimous gesture by the United States, it also serves to acknowledge that even the United States Attorney for this district doesn't view Mr. Williams as deserving of 82 plus years in prison."

Instead, Donahoe asked U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to release Williams from custody while he takes his case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal prosecutors oppose his release.

Williams was convicted of drug trafficking and firearms charges on Sept. 27 and faces more than 80 years in prison due to mandatory minimum sentences on the firearms charges.

U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter wrote to the chief federal defender saying he's willing to drop one count of manufacturing marijuana, two counts of possession with intent to distribute and three counts of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense if Williams waives his right to appeal the conviction and upcoming sentencing.

"Such a resolution would allow Mr. Williams to argue for and receive a total sentence of as little as 10 years," on charges of conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking offense, Cotter wrote. "Mr. Williams received a fair trial that will be upheld on an appellate review. This offer is extended as a last effort by my office to treat Mr. Williams in a reasonable, sufficient and fair manner that will vindicate the federal interest in this case."

The offer expires Oct. 31.

Other parties in the case accepted plea agreements and one received a probationary sentence, while others received sentences of two years to five years.

Donahoe said his appeal will argue that the government brings gun charges against medical marijuana distributors as leverage to coerce plea agreements on the marijuana charges.

He said they know that because "the government readily agreed to dismiss the firearms counts for virtually every other medical marijuana defendant in those cases were firearms violations had been charged," Donahoe wrote.

"Given the government's conduct here that was a false choice inspired by an abusive exercise of government power, considering that it was the government's reckless decision to change its medical marijuana policy that was the first cause of all these problems."

Donahoe was referring to a March 2009 memo by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said the Justice Department would not raid medical marijuana dispensaries that were legally created under state law.

However, in June 2011, Deputy Attorney General James Cole instructed federal prosecutors that people who grow, sell or distribute marijuana are violating the federal Controlled Substance Act, regardless of state law. The so-called "Cole memo" said that abiding by state and local laws is not a defense to breaking federal laws.

Christensen prohibited discussion of Montana's medical marijuana laws during Williams' trial.
On 11-08-12, treehugger commented....
Totalitarians rule.. Lets fill up the prisons with more non-violent offenders! Lest rip families apart and punish the kids by taking away their mothers and fathers. When is this madness going to stop?  It’s a plant for crying out loud! This whole fiasco and war on marijuana has…
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