Artificial Bust

The drug law that wasn't there

Charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, 15-year-old Joshua Krawiec won a dismissal by proving that the law he was accused of breaking didn't exist.

In October a police dog sniffed out three film canisters in Krawiec's locker at Newport High School in northeastern Washington state. A field test indicated "marijuana residue" in one of the containers. Lab analysis later confirmed the presence of pot, but the residue detected was insufficient to charge Krawiec with drug possession. Undaunted, local prosecutors decided to indict him for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Krawiec, who said he had no knowledge of any contraband that might have been in the canisters, tried unsuccessfully to get the charge dismissed based on a drug test he passed a few days after the search. Then he turned to Citizens Against Corruption, a local grassroots legal organization. With the assistance of CAC founder Leonard Browning, Krawiec used the Internet to research the law he was charged with breaking as well as several relevant court cases.

He discovered that Washington law forbids the use of paraphernalia for producing, storing, or ingesting illegal drugs. As stated explicitly in the 1998 case Washington v. McKenna, however, "mere possession of drug paraphernalia is not a crime."

After firing his public defender, who seemed to have little interest in mounting a defense, Krawiec himself presented his findings to the court. In January, Superior Court Judge Rebecca Baker reluctantly ordered the case dismissed.

Krawiec, who maintains that he was maliciously and illegally prosecuted without probable cause, got a final slap from Baker. "Don't laugh when you leave this courtroom, thinking you have beat the system because you looked these things up yourself," she said. "We are going to get you down the road."

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