More than six years after he was arrested and saw his Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers dispensary shut down in a joint SLO County Sheriff’s Department-U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operation, Charlie Lynch is facing a renewed effort by federal prosecutors to put him behind bars.
Once again, prosecutors are seeking a minimum five-year prison term.
Lynch has been stuck in a bizarre web of conflicting state and federal laws, a sympathetic judge and a relentless U.S. Attorney’s Office, appeals, and now a cross-appeal since he was convicted in federal court by a judge who wasn’t technically allowed to consider whether he was following California law. He’s since appealed that ruling.
On Nov. 1, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kowal finally filed a 211-page “oversized” cross-appeal to Lynch’s appeal, arguing against Lynch’s challenges to evidence submitted in the trial. Most of the cross-appeal discusses background and transcriptions of the case.
Kowal didn’t return a request for comment on the appeal.
For Reuven Cohen, Lynch’s long-time federal public defender, the cross-appeal is just another indication that the federal government won’t let up on Lynch.
“The individual prosecutor in this case sought to make an example of an honest, hard-working man who operated in complete compliance with the laws of the state of California, had a valid business license, and enjoyed the support of his community, including the mayor, the City Council, and the city attorney,” Cohen told New Times. “With the pronouncements from Washington, D.C., and the rapid national movement toward legalization, I think that people assume that the United States government has moved on from the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration. This prosecutor has taken a position that is obviously on the wrong side of history. That, of course, provides very little solace for Charlie Lynch.”
During Lynch’s sentencing, the judge in the case disagreed with prosecutors, but was compelled by law to opt for the minimum sentence possible: a year and a day in federal prison.
“Equally troubling is this prosecutor’s decision to seek to remove a thoughtful and deliberate jurist like Judge Wu for no other reason than Judge Wu’s measured decision not to put a man like Charlie Lynch in prison for five years,” he added.
Since Lynch’s appeal, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum—known as the Cole Memorandum—in light of Colorado and Washington states’ successful ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana and not prosecute people who are complying with state law.
“Charlie Lynch ran a model dispensary—exactly the type of dispensary that the Cole Memorandum would exempt from prosecution,” Cohen said. “If the Cole Memorandum is to have any meaning, this case must be dismissed as of yesterday.”
Lynch has since moved to New Mexico to be close to family, according to Cohen. Though the lawyer is making the move from federal public defender to private practice, he told New Times that Lynch’s case has struck a major chord with him, and he will continue to represent him—at no charge—until his legal troubles are finally behind him.
“Charlie Lynch will never have to pay a dime for my representation, which will continue for as long as it takes to vindicate him,” Cohen said.
Next, the court will have to rule on whether to accept the government’s 211-page cross-appeal brief. Cohen anticipated that he would file an opposition to that cross-appeal, and the process would continue. He added that any oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court wouldn’t likely proceed until 2015 or 2016.
“This obviously means that without a dismissal, Charlie will have remained in legal limbo and under threat of significant imprisonment for a decade,” Cohen added.