Saturday, July 26, 2008

Charlie Lynch's Trial: Friday, July 25

Cross-posted to Rough Cut

Friday was the first real, solid day of the trial, with opening statements and witness testimonies. The atmosphere is tense but also quite hopeful. Charlie and his family welcome all the love and support from those people who showed up to support him, and they were delighted to hear about the big presence of the piece on Boing Boing and Digg. During one of the breaks, Charlie's mother gave me a lapel pin of the flag of California. A lot of Charlie's supporters seem to be wearing these, so I presume the symbolism to signify that we support California's state laws, as opposed to the federal laws.

As a heads up for those of you who plan to attend next week, a police officer came into the courtroom during one of the breaks and told anyone in the public to turn off all electronic devices. I had been typing notes on the laptop until that point, so I guess they won't allow it in the future. I did think ahead though, so I had a notebook. Here's what went down.

Before the jury came in, the prosecution and the defense were arguing about the legitimate use of one of the documents as it would pertain to entrapment by estoppel. It seemed to be a lot of esoteric legal jargon, but eventually, they proceeded and said that whatever was relevant would be resolved in the body of the trial. The government made a bizarre claim that the defense's strategy of arguing entrapment by estoppel would waive attorney-client privilege, which Judge Wu rejected as not true.

The defense wanted to refer to Lynch's place of business as a "medical marijuana dispensary," which Wu said would be OK at times, but to just simply refer to it as a "marijuana dispensary."

They also clarified that they were not to discuss any "nuts and bolts," such as the medical efficacy or necessity of marijuana.

The jury was brought in and Wu read the indictment.

The indictment against Lynch, which is in no way evidence, included knowingly possessing and distributing more than 100 g of marijuana, possessing more than 100 marijuana plants, knowingly possessing and distributing substances containing marijuana and THC, a schedule I controlled substance, knowingly and intentionally distributing to persons under the age of 21, operating a marijuana dispensary named Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, growing and selling marijuana for profit, and hiring employees to grow and sell marijuana. The list goes on, with lots of details regarding what was turned up at the raid earlier this year.

The opening statements were given, and the jury was instructed that indeed, opening statements are not evidence either ; they are just a forecast of the arguments to come. Also, statements of the attorneys are not evidence, unless stipulated by both parties.

The government gave their opening statement, telling the jury that Lynch operated a marijuana store, had over 2000 customers, had thousands of plants, etc. He also made the point that Lynch kept very good records of exactly who he was selling to. The government was trying to point out that he overtly broke the law, but I think it could have actually backfired as a rhetorical technique, since they were making it clear that Charlie wasn't some street dealer. Regardless, opening statements are not evidence.

The defense then gave their opening statement, using a visual aid, four phone numbers on a big piece of paper on an easel. Lynch will indeed testify directly. Of course, he has no criminal history. When Lynch testifies, he will ask the jury to focus on one document, an SBC phone bill that shows calls that he made to 4 phone numbers, which all belong to the DEA. He called the Oakland field office, who couldn't answer his question about the legality of opening up such a business, and then called the local DEA office, in Camarillo. Then he was referred to L.A., and then referred to two duty officers of the marijuana task force. He called the DEA precisely because he wanted to comply with the law. The defense's opening statement ended, “The evidence in this case will show that there is a moral and law-abiding man sitting in that chair.”

After the court was to take a break, the defense refused to give a certain document to the government. The male lawyer representing the government became quite agitated, visibly angry at this, in an awkward way. The document was turned over to the government eventually, but the incident gives insight to this lawyer's demeanor.

After the opening statements, witnesses were called to the stand. The government called Detective Greg Beuer, a deputy sheriff for San Luis Obispo who explained that he conducted surveillance on the dispensary, and confirmed that once he saw an elderly man step into the dispensary for 5-10 seconds, say something, and then walk outside. An employee then handed a brown paper bag to him on the sidewalk, then drove to a residence and delivered a large brown paper bag. Beuer also observed that employee drop off a package to the post office. In the cross examination, the defense pointed out that this person was elderly, so they inquired as to how he so quickly climbed the flight of stairs to the second floor, where the dispensary was located. The defense also pointed out that Beuer let a suspect package be mailed even after seeing it dropped off at the post office.

The government called to the stand James Wade Moxley, a deputy sheriff for San Luis Obispo. During this initial questioning by the government, they brought up what they think is a black backpack full of cash, and a box which they saw taken out of the store. The cross-examination revealed that Moxley couldn't guess at all what was in the box, so the defense successfully weakened any point of evidence that the government was trying to push as relevant.

What the government was trying to do is prove that a few rogue employees were actually operating under the orders of Lynch, and the defense is systematically disproving this.

After lunch, the government called to the stand Detective Nicholas A. Fontecchio, another sheriff's deputy from San Luis Obispo. In questioning, he explained that he had 100 hours of training in growing marijuana indoor and outdoors, and had worked on approximately 1300 narcotics cases, 300 of which pertained to marijuana. He described a drug deal that happened with an employee. The government questioned him for quite a long time, dragging the questioning on and on, providing recordings of phone calls with the employee from an undercover officer, as well as the evidence for product they obtained in the deal. The government dragged this out for hours, making Fontecchio identify forty pieces of evidence that were obtained both in the drug deals with undercover agents, and in the raid on Lynch's business and home. In the cross examination, the defense brought up that two informants involved in executing the drug deals were working off cases, and one was paid $300, including gas for his car. The number that the defense had was closer to $1000, but the number was disputed. Fontecchio also said that he didn't recall whether or not he searched the first confidential informant at one of the drug deals, which means logically, that Fontecchio could have no idea if the informant had any more money or drugs in his car at the time than what he had after the drug deal. The implication from the defense was that this informant was being paid, and had an incentive to produce results. Since he wasn't searched, there's no way to tell if the drugs that were produced ever even came from Lynch's business. Also, the store only sold 1 or 3 gram quantities, and the amount of marijuana supposedly purchased at this drug deal set up was about 300 to 330 g which makes it increasingly unlikely that Lynch had anything to do with it. Also, this employee at the drug deal did not provide receipts of any kind, or instructions on how to properly use the marijuana, as would have been provided by the dispensary, further removing what would have been any involvement by Lynch, and therefore, responsibility. The defense also pointed out that Fontecchio could have no idea if a particular strain obtained in the drug deal was the same strain grown at the dispensary.

The next session will start on Monday at 10:30 a.m. for the council, 10:45 a.m. for the jury.

Check out the L.A. Times piece on this case, and if you haven't already done so, watch our piece about Lynch.

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