Heather Burke: Curbing cannabis robberies, means DA and sheriff need to protect farmers
On the last day of 2018, two of the top local news stories both related to violent rip-offs in cannabis gardens: one where a young farmer ended up dead and another where the farmer thankfully survived a brutal encounter only to be treated like a criminal by law enforcement.
In just over eight years as a lawyer, I’ve worked on more marijuana garden robberies than a hippie lawyer like me ever expected to. It doesn’t shock me anymore.
I also recognize the root of the violence is not from the plant itself, nor even because the plant has monetary value. Instead, the victimization arises out of a failed legal system (i.e. robbers know cannabis farmers are fearful of prosecution and thus won’t call the cops). Without government protection, cannabis farmers are sitting ducks, left more vulnerable each year due to Google Earth’s ever-increasing sophistication.
As is clear with the cases occupying our front pages, the former sheriff and current district attorney exacerbated the counterproductive aura of distrust to the point a victimized legal farmer is clapping back at his unjust treatment, and the alleged murderers of a young cannabis farmer may walk free.
Thankfully, I’m not too concerned about the sheriff’s office because the voters rejected the outgoing sheriff’s policies this last election, though the district attorney election didn’t go as well.
These latest scandals (in a series of ethics-related kerfuffles) make clear the void in principled leadership at the DA’s office continues. It’s hard to comprehend a prosecution so ignorant of ethical duties they failed to disclose that two defendants were ganging up on a third to get a better deal (i.e. the most inherently untrustworthy snitch testimony that exists on the face of the earth). Regardless of what happens on appeal, the drastic sanction was warranted if we want our Constitution to have any meaning at all.
As a result of the dearth of leadership, the district attorney failed the family of the murdered young man. He failed the community too, as would-be-robbers know they can keep victimizing local cannabis farmers because our DA will either treat the farmers like criminals (as in the case of Brian Chaplin) or will bungle a prosecution so badly the murderers either got a deal or got to walk (as in the Isaac Zafft murder).
In a sad twist, our district attorney’s office is filled with bright, young, ethical prosecutors who are doing the best they can, but do not have sufficient mentorship. They deserve more.
We as a community (which includes lawful cannabis farmers) deserve more too. For starters, cannabis farmers must be able to work in conjunction with the prosecution to bring violent thieves to justice.
I look forward to the day legal cannabis farmers can trust the government enough to call the police when they are victims of violent crime.
Today may not be that day, but with lawsuits like Brian Chaplin’s, and with the continued work of brave judges, dogged criminal defense attorneys, and bright ethical prosecutors on deck, that day will come.
Heather Burke lives in Nevada City.
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