Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Report from Somerville--John Wilson Bail Hearing

Judge Reed set bail for John Wilson at $15,000 today at a hearing in Somerville, NJ. John's father, Ray, couldn’t come to the hearing because he was desperately trying to raise bail for his son. Even John couldn’t come to the hearing because he was locked up in one of New Jersey’s most remote prisons—Southern State Correctional Facility, near Cape May.

John was convicted of second degree manufacturing of marijuana—he grew some plants to treat his illness, but he was not permitted to discuss his illness during the trial. The judge denied John’s request for bail pending his appeal. John’s lawyer, Jim Wronko, appealed the judge’s decision to lock John up pending appeal. The judge did so despite the fact that John was no flight risk and no threat to the community. The appeals section of Superior Court agreed with Mr. Wronko and sent the case back to Judge Reed to set bail.

The prosecutor, Cassandra Serentino, asked for $75,000 to $150,000 bail. When asked why by the judge, the prosecutor said that was what was listed for such an offense on the bail schedule, but that she would defer to the judge for “whatever you deem appropriate.”

The judge cited the fact that John had no prior criminal record, was gainfully self-employed, had a family who was at the trial every day, and had many responsible members of the community vouch for him “in the cause which he has come to represent,” i.e., medical marijuana.

All those factors militate in his favor, the judge ruled, before setting the lower bail.

The judge acknowledged that the case has garnered a great deal of publicity and public debate. He was disappointed by what he called the lack of understanding of the three branches of our government. He was also disappointed by the personal attacks on him by well-meaning but ill informed people. He cited a recent editorial in The Times of Trenton, NJ that compared him to a “hanging judge” in Old England who hung a young girl for stealing three pennies. He said it was an unfair comparison.

The judge said his critics fail to consider the fact that the law is determined by the legislature, and is, he said, “clear and precise.” The judge said his critics should not denigrate the judicial branch of government when they disagree with the results, but should instead devote their efforts to changing the law, “and in this case, they have.”

The judge said that he did his duty in respect to the Constitution, and that he had no more ability to grant a pardon than he did to change the law himself. He protested the attacks on the judiciary in general and “on this jurist in particular.”

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey had appealed to Governor Jon Corzine and Attorney General Anne Milgram to pardon John Wilson or to use prosecutorial discretion to make this case go away, before it ever even went to trial. It would have spared the state and the defendant great expense, and it would have spared a conscientious judge great embarrassment.

But the State of New Jersey insisted on pursuing this case—the case of an impoverished young man with multiple sclerosis (MS) who grew marijuana to treat his disease. While the trial was in progress, the state passed into law the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The state officially recognized that marijuana is medicine, and specifically recognized that it is medicine for MS.

The state desperately tried to send John Wilson to prison for twenty years. In the end, John spent a little over thirty days locked up. Let’s hope that’s all the time he ever spends in prison. Let’s also hope he is the last medical marijuana patient to be prosecuted in New Jersey.

Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director
Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. www.cmmnj.org
219 Woodside Ave.
Trenton, NJ 08618

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece, Ken. We must press on with the law and restore honor, understanding and sense!

    Good for JRW, his family and New Jersey.