Colorado News: Court Rules That Possession of Marijuana Convictions Can Now Be Overturned
A panel of three Colorado Court of Appeals judges unanimously ruled in favor of allowing some state citizens who have been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana prior to the implementation of Dec. 2012's Amendment 64 to request their convictions be overturned.
According to Al Jazeera America, Amendment 64 decriminalized marijuana possession up to an ounce. A woman's 2011 conviction for possessing the drug was under appeal when the panel of judges decided to overturn the conviction because of a "significant change in the law."
Brandi Jessica Russell's defense attorney, Brian Emerson, told the judges Thursday that Amendment 64 should be applied retroactively, which the panel agreed with because they said there are some legal exceptions.
"The general presumption of prospective application, however, is subject to a doctrine established by our General Assembly and Supreme Court enabling a defendant to benefit retroactively from a significant change in the law," Judge Mary Hoak said in her 16-page opinion.
Russell was convicted in Grand County for the possession of one gram or less of methamphetamine, marijuana concentrate possession and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Brian Vicente, one of Amendment 64's authors, said the judges' ruling could ultimately affect hundreds of Coloradoans who were sentenced to jail terms for petty marijuana possession, while some inmates currently serving time could also be released. He also said that prior to the amendment, the state had prosecuted about 9,000 marijuana possession cases a year.
Emerson said the "tide is turning" on the national stance toward marijuana use, and that this ruling is an indication of that. The attorney also said that many prosecutors haven't given up their fight against marijuana possession and use as he still represents a number of marijuana appeals.
"This ruling shows it would be wise for them to focus on more pressing matter," he said.
However, following the judge's decision Thursday, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers released a statement with his plan to appeal the ruling because it could open up more case appeals that don't even involve marijuana. According to Suthers, nothing in the amendment shows that it can be applied retroactively and should not apply to previous cases.
"Well-established retroactivity law in Colorado indicates that statutory changes are prospective only unless the General Assembly or the voters clearly indicted an intent to require such retroactive application," Suthers' statement reads..
During the ruling, the judges agreed that there is nothing in the amendment stating they can throw out previous convictions, but they argued that sate law gives the defendant an opportunity to receive post-conviction relief "if there has been a significant change in the law."
And the judges claim Amendment 64 did in fact significantly change the law.