The jury took less than twenty minutes to convict him of possession of marijuana to ten years in prison
Jailed for growing cannabis. Prior to the felony conviction of possession of marijuana earlier this year, Steven Sutherland was very ill. He had been diagnosed with chronic heart disease, type 2 diabetes and was given oxygen to treat his sleep apnea.
But Sutherland’s health now depends on the Missouri prison system. In April, after years of delays, a jury took less than twenty minutes to convict Sutherland for serious crimes involving possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. A month later, a judge sentenced him to ten years in prison.
Sutherland had a previous criminal record: a felony conviction in 1996 for possession of marijuana. For the court, the charge for the offense committed 20 years ago makes him a “repeat drug offender,” which changes the crime of drug possession for a Class B felony, which is comparable to violent crimes such as robbery by hand. navy or certain sexual assaults.
The defense attorney of Shutherland says that he had never before seen equal treatment in his nine years of practice. It all started in January 2015, when the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department broke into Sutherland’s house. In the basement the agents seized about 110 grams of marijuana and 21 plants. In a telephone interview with the Fulton Diagnostic and Reception Center, Sutherland said that when the police appeared at home he was smoking a pipe and drinking a cup of coffee. A policeman grabbed his throat and threw him to the ground.
Sutherland explains that he has self-medicated with the marijuana he has been growing for decades and that he had a medical marijuana card from California. He also explains that he had been buying marijuana by mail from California until a few years ago. But there came a time when he had no money to continue buying marijuana and decided to grow it himself. Sutherland insists that he was only growing marijuana for his own medicinal use.
The case went on for years due to Sutherland’s poor health. After missing several court dates due to hospital visits, the new Franklin County Prosecutor, Matthew Becker, took over the case in 2019. By that time, Missouri voters had already legalized medical marijuana. Sutherland’s defense lawyer argued in a pre-sentence motion that the national reform of cannabis laws and the state courts themselves, which sentenced more than half of all drug possession cases to parole, not to jail, they advised forgiveness in the case of Sutherland.
Huckeby, Sutherland’s lawyer wrote in his motion that the thinking of citizens in Missouri is indisputably removed from criminal punishment for marijuana. Huckeby wrote that the maximum sentence of 15 years faced by Sutherland was the same as given to those convicted of voluntary manslaughter or rape in the second degree. He also insisted that there was no indication that Sutherland grew marijuana for reasons other than self-medication. The documentation of Sutherland doctors described a picture of numerous serious medical conditions, including brain disorders described as likely progressive and affecting cognitive ability. Sutherland’s diseases have required the attention of a cardiologist and neurologist, as well as chronic medications that require long-term maintenance and surveillance.
Subsequently, but before the June ruling, the information of a neurologist affiliated with Mercy Hospital was included in the lawyer’s motion, who said he had been treating Sutherland for seizures since 2017 and had prescribed medications for multiple seizures without much success. The doctor added that he believed that marijuana was helpful with his seizures. But the Court Prosecutor only looked at the amount of marijuana seized.
In a subsequent letter in the Sutherland case file before the June ruling, a neurologist affiliated with Mercy Hospital revealed that he had been treating Sutherland for seizures since 2017 and that he had prescribed multiple seizure medications without much success. The doctor added that the medical use of marijuana can relieve attacks. But Franklin County prosecutors focused on the amount of marijuana seized. Matthew Houston, the assistant attorney for Franklin County, said the jail was the place he deserved to be since it wasn’t just a few joints.
The truth is that Sutherland’s health is at the limit. He has complained that prison officials had confiscated a key component for his oxygen machine, which was essential to continue breathing at night. Subsequently, the jail doctors subjected him to a constant feeding of oxygen through a tube connected to Sutherland’s nose. But this implies that you have to endure a combination of oxygen tube and CPAP mask that is very uncomfortable and does not allow you to sleep. The Prosecutor noted that although Sutherland deserves proper medical attention, it was the judge, Michael Wright, who decided to sentence Sutherland to prison instead of probation.
Matthew Houston, the Franklin County assistant prosecutor, recommended to the judge that the defendant deserved a sentence of not less than twelve years. Houston said about Sutherland’s health status that he did not know if he had been taken into account to rule the sentence. But Houston believes that the circumstances of Sutherland’s use of marijuana had a lot to do with the way the case was developed, as well as with the fact that Sutherland was arrested with guns in his home. Sutherland had already been punished for possession of marijuana years ago. Therefore, having a criminal record is not allowed to possess firearms. In 2015, prosecutors filed charges for other serious crimes against him that also led to decades of potential prison. A trial was scheduled for October 2019.
But last week prosecutors dropped charges for pending serious crimes, and in return Sutherland agreed to withdraw his appeal from the conviction. Without appeal it is not possible to obtain parole while the appeal is being judged. As a rule, inmates must serve about 1 third of their sentence before being eligible for probation. Sutherland complains that his situation has become a nightmare.