Criminal Justice

Post-Conviction Deal Shrinks Montana Medical Marijuana Grower's Sentence From Life to Five Years

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Yesterday Chris Williams, the Montana medical marijuana grower who was facing life in prison, agreed to a highly unusual post-conviction deal with federal prosecutors that could allow him to serve five years instead. His sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen was scheduled for January 4, and 

Under the agreement, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana will drop six of the eight counts on which Williams was convicted. Those include three counts of using firearms in furtherance of a drug crime, based on pistols and shotguns kept at the Helena grow operation where Williams worked. Although Williams never wielded the weapons, let alone hurt anyone with them, those three counts alone added 75 mandatory years to his sentence. The dropped charges also include one for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, one for manufacturing marijuana, and one for possession with intent to distribute. The remaining two charges are one count of possession with intent to distribute, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, and a single count of using firearms in furtherance of a drug crime, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years (whereas each of the additional gun charges triggered a 25-year mandatory minimum). In exchange for a 87-year reduction in the prison term he otherwise would have faced for the original gun and drug charges, Williams agreed to drop his appeal. He explained his decision this way:

It was not easy for me to give up my constitutional fight, but as I navigate this complex federal penal system, it has become clear that punishment is the only thing that is guaranteed.

With the rest of my life literally hanging in the balance, I simply could not withstand the pressure any longer. If Judge Christensen shows mercy and limits my sentence to the 5-year mandatory minimum, I could be present at my 16-year-old son's college graduation. This would most likely be impossible had I rejected the latest compromise.

During his trial, Williams was not allowed to mention Montana's medical marijuana law, which is deemed irrelevant under federal law. His partners at Montana Cannabis have received sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison. The huge variation in penalties for essentially the same actions, from no time to the life sentence Williams originally faced, gives you a sense of the enormous power that mandatory minimum sentences and the ability to stack charges give prosecutors. In this case, Williams' punishment for insisting on his right to a trial was so absurdly unjust that even the prosecution felt compelled to admit it. But if the possibility of sending someone like Williams to prison for the rest of his life is so obviously unfair, why does the law allow it, let alone mandate it?

Previous coverage of Williams' case here and here.

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  1. And Obama will grant him a full pardon the day after the sentence is finalized, right?

    1. Where’s the petition?

      1. petitions.whitehouse.gov

        Click on “Open Petitions” and search for Chris Williams

    2. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    3. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    4. Of course, rob. Because he’s just that kind of guy.

      1. Well, he is TIME’s Person of the Year. He’s got to pardon him now, right?

      2. He’s the kind of guy that says that we need higher taxes because of Superstorm Sandy Hook.

    5. I’m pretty sure that they don’t do pardons until after the full sentence is served.

      1. Being president means never having to say you’re sorry until the irreversible damage is already done.

    6. Where in the Constitution again does it grant the federal government the power to ban and arrest people for possessing or selling plants?

      Oh, yeah, Commerce *abracadabra* Clause! Because Fuck you, that’s why.

      And why does no one ever question the fact that when the feds wanted to ban alcohol, they had to pass a constitutional amendment to give themselves the power to do so, but no such thing is required for anything else?

      1. And why does no one ever question the fact that when the feds wanted to ban alcohol, they had to pass a constitutional amendment to give themselves the power to do so?

        Because back then, most politicians still felt they had to more or less follow the constitution most of the time.

        Now, we have Nancy “Are You Serious?” Pelosi.

      2. Apparently he wasn’t just “possessing or selling” plants. He was also “manufacturing” plants, which is probably illegal because it just sounds weird.

  2. “But if the possibility of sending someone like Williams to prison for the rest of his life is so obviously unfair, why does the law allow it, let alone mandate it?”

    Because fuck you, that’s why.

    1. petitions.whitehouse.gov

      Click on “Open Petitions” and search for Chris Williams

  3. So it goes from being a miscarriage of justice to a mere abortion of justice.

    1. More like the ectopic pregnancy of justice. Or something. I need more coffee.

      1. That’s actually not bad.

    2. With a rusty wire hanger.

  4. This is good news, in the greater scheme of things, but he never should have had to spend a day in jail, or a penny to defend himself.

    And the prosecutors who threw the book at him for daring to want due process should die in a fire.

    1. or a penny to defend himself.

      Not to mention the mountain of pennies all of us were forced to chip-in to to pay for the prosecution.

  5. He may get 5 years. He may also get 10 years if the judge is a real tuffgai on crime.

  6. could allow him to serve five years instead.

    “COULD”? So it’s not even a done deal?

    They could be dangling this in front of him and still be able to rescind it?

    I wonder what sort of gag order and other bowing and scraping he will be subject to.

    1. A maximum sentence of life in prison without parole is still on the table in this case, unfortunately.

  7. The law doesn’t allow ridiculous sentences like this, WE allow it. There should be a hundred thousand people protesting in the street outside the courthouse. Juries should hand down “Not Guilty” verdicts in trials for alleged “crimes” where no one was harmed.

    1. This is, I think, one reason why more and more people-especially people like me who don’t smoke weed, want to see legalization/decriminalization.
      It’s simply wrong to deal out these huge sentences for people who are not dangerous.

    2. The law doesn’t allow ridiculous sentences like this, WE allow it.

      This is Epi’s point, I think. There is no law, there are only people.

      1. I suspect Epi’s point, as a fellow anarchist, would be more along the lines of “What do you expect from a criminal gang that has used public schools to brainwash gullible citizens to not see the state for what it is?”

  8. In this case, Williams’ punishment for insisting on his right to a trial was so absurdly unjust that even the prosecution felt compelled to admit it.

    Had he not dropped his appeal you can bet that the prosecutor wouldn’t have done a damn thing.

    Overcharging to force a deal is what they do. They don’t give a fuck about justice. All they care about is winning.

    1. Sending an armed drug dealer away for 20 plus years looks good on their stats. Nevermind that the guy was selling legal medicine, and using a legal firearm to defend his business, and never harmed anyone.

  9. In exchange for a 87-year reduction in the prison term he otherwise would have faced for the original gun and drug charges, Williams agreed to drop his appeal.

    There it is.

    A boot, stamping on a face, forever.

    1. What a horrible choice.

    2. This is all government in a nutshell. Minarchists are fucking delusional.

      1. Yes, there is no difference between our government and North Korea’s. None.

        1. So the difference between oppressive and horribly oppressive is enough for you to support our system? How nice for you. I’m glad you feel that as long as we aren’t as bad as the most horrible place, we’re OK.

          1. That isn’t what I said. Reading comprehension, how the fuck does it work?

            1. Yes it is, maybe you should read your own words. I know it’s hard, but try.

            2. What you sarcastically said, Randian, was that the criminal gang that rules us is not as bad as the North Korean criminal gang, and thus thinking minarchy is good and just government isn’t delusional because hey, our criminal gang doesn’t openly declare us to be their slaves.

        2. An objectivist is criticizing as unnuanced the description of an entity that is the compromise between good and evil as being inherently evil?

          Interesting…

          1. Government isn’t the compromise between good and evil. Arguing that government shouldn’t exist is like being mad about gravity.

            1. We will always have murderers, so arguing that murder shouldn’t exist is like being mad about gravity?

              We will always have copying so arguing that the ‘theft of ideas’ shouldn’t exist is like being mad about gravity?

              Have you finally broken with Ayn Rand, Randian? 😉

              1. Neither of those is analogous.

                What are you going to use to prevent the rise of a tribe that uses force? Your good looks and charm?

                1. Nothing. Holy fuck, you so utterly do not understand my point that it’s like talking to a dog.

                  We will always have strongmen and force. Why pretend that it’s legitimate? Do you fucking even remotely get what I am saying?

                  1. We will always have strongmen and force. Why pretend that it’s legitimate? Do you fucking even remotely get what I am saying?

                    I don’t think you understand what you’re saying, let alone trying to explain it to me.

                    1. OK, so you can’t grasp it. I’m so glad I wasted my time. It really is very simple, and not at all contradictory to what you believe, but you can’t get past the semantics of it. How sad.

                  2. Why pretend that it’s legitimate?

                    Who says it’s legitimate? It exists. It will always exist. It just is. Legitimate or not, it will always exist. To pretend otherwise is delusional.

                    1. Who says it’s legitimate? It exists. It will always exist. It just is. Legitimate or not, it will always exist. To pretend otherwise is delusional.

                      Bingo.

                      Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

                    2. But no one here is suffering under that delusion.

                    3. But no one here is suffering under that delusion.

                      Seems Epi is. After all, he claims to be an anarchist.

                    4. I’m an anarchist and I don’t think there will ever not be governments, or at least oppressors. See tarran’s point above about murder. I don’t think we will ever do away with it; does that mean I shouldn’t be anti-murder? It’s a moral position. I’m tempted to say, “It’s a moral position, not a political one.” That is the case for me, at any rate.

                    5. nicole – when you have time I think you might enjoy this.

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPn84m1pvh4

                      It’s a talk about the difference between legislation and law.

                    6. Thanks, sarc, I know it and like it. Don’t know if you know the EconTalk podcast but I love that and Boudreaux has been on to talk about this (among other things) there as well.

                    7. I’ve tried to suffer through EconTalk but it has yet to hold my attention.

                    8. It’s a moral position. I’m tempted to say, “It’s a moral position, not a political one.”

                      This is the right thing to say. At this point in my life, I am no longer interested in utilitarian arguments, only moral ones.

                    9. “I am no longer interested in utilitarian arguments, only moral ones.”

                      Right on. Don’t tell robc, but anyone who is not an anarchist in principle is a utilitarian. Any government or law, no matter how well conceived or minimal, will be unjust to someone at some point.

                    10. But no one here is suffering under that delusion.

                      Oh, yes they are. To be a minarchist is to suffer under the delusion that a government with currently non-unlimited powers is legitimate.

                      To be an anarchist is to always and invariably view any government as a criminal gang with no legitimacy at all.

                  3. We will always have strongmen and force. Why pretend that it’s legitimate?

                    Because otherwise the cognitive dissonance about Ayn Rand being wrong about something will hurt his head, and so let’s tell ourselves a kinder and gentler boot stomping on our face forever is good?

      2. There will always be a gang of thugs with the monopoly on violence claiming to “protect” their victims, and using that monopoly as a license to steal.

        To believe otherwise is fucking delusional.

        “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin

        1. I agree with fuckface here.

          1. No you don’t! Sarcasmic’s comment is completely aligned with Episiarch’s observation.

            1. Yeah, I was kind of confused by this.

            2. I thought Randian’s 1:05 comment was pretty well-aligned with it too.

      3. Anarchy cant exist.

        Its the ultimate level of delusion.

          1. Whenever we agree, I double check my premises.

        1. Anarchy is all that exists. To believe otherwise is the ultimate level of delusion. No one can make a “law” that is enforced, they can only deliver punishment if it is broken. I am continually amazed how you people cannot understand this. Enjoy your fantasies.

          1. ???

            The delivery of punishment is what makes it an archy.

            My “fantasy” is that that will always exist in some form.

            1. Yeah, I don’t understand Epi’s stance here either. We have government but we also have anarchy? lolwut?

              1. Wow, your utter and total misunderstanding of everything I’ve ever said is sad and depressing.

                We are all rational anarchists; that is the state of human existence. However, we mostly fool ourselves that we live under the rule of law (government) and that causes most people to believe and propagate the power of those who work in government, delivering vastly more power to them than they would have under a vanilla anarchy. So we have a government because we think we do, but at any time any of us can do anything we want, though we may be punished for it.

                1. but at any time any of us can do anything we want, though we may be punished for it.

                  Which is what makes a government.

                  the rule of law (government)

                  These are not the same things necessarily.

                2. I think that Episiarch is completely correct at 1:13.

                  But I still think that “less is better” is still a worthwhile thing to advocate when it comes to government. But this is only because government is inevitable.

            2. Uh…what? Delivery of punishment makes it an archy solely if the archy has a monopoly on force. Though the government technically has that, every violent crime that occurs makes a mockery of that idea.

              1. Though the government technically has that, every violent crime that occurs makes a mockery of that idea.

                And every violent crime that is punished is proof that we’re not in a state of anarchy.

              2. Delivery of punishment makes it an archy solely if the archy has a monopoly on force. Though the government technically has that

                Technically, no government has a monopoly on the use of force. There’s always outlaws, and usually competing gangs not widely recognized as acting as governments. What a government has is the CLAIM that they have a LEGITIMATE MONOPOLY on the use of force. The last two bolded words are lies that comprise the claim.

          2. No one can make a “law” that is enforced, they can only deliver punishment if it is broken.

            True. Society makes laws. Governments write legislation. They can converge at times, but they are not one and the same.

            Anarchy is derived from “no archon” (an + archon = anarchy) where an archon is the guy with the monopoly on violence who punishes those who are caught disobeying his rules.

            It is also a delusion to think that in a state of anarchy you won’t have people killing each other to become the archon, with the winner becoming government.

            1. It is also a delusion to think that in a state of anarchy you won’t have people killing each other to become the archon, with the winner becoming government.

              I’ve never, not once, said this. Argue with the strawman in your head some more, because you aren’t arguing with me. You people are so frightened of the word anarchy that you lose 50 IQ points talking about it. It’s amazing. Are none of you capable of understanding my very simple points? Holy fuck, this is sad.

              1. You know, if five or six people are failing to understand you, maybe the problem is with YOU.

                1. No I understand him. You Statists are just being obtuse morons.

              2. Argue with the strawman in your head some more, because you aren’t arguing with me.

                You are the self proclaimed anarchist, and I’m arguing that anarchy cannot exist.

                I’m starting to think that while you call yourself an anarchist, you have no idea of what anarchy means.

            2. Which is why, in my opinion, the best case is to come up with the kind of governmental system we have, for the same reason you build floodwalls and arm teachers and have fire suppression systems – you know the force is coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you may as well control it the best you can.

              1. I will make one last comment on this: I hear you. But the problem is that the attempts at controlling it are just more of it, and it will always fail in the end. You can’t control aggression with a monopoly on aggression; all the aggressors just join the organization that is allowed to be aggressive. It is better to not have an organization that supposedly has an organization on aggression, in my opinion. Then all aggression is at least technically equal, and gives no extra powers and support to those that seek to be aggressive.

                1. “supposedly has an monopoly on aggression, in my opinion”. Sorry.

                2. It is better to not have an organization that supposedly has an organization on aggression, in my opinion.

                  I assume the second “organization” was meant to be “monopoly”, so I will reply as such.

                  It would be better to have no organization as such. It would also be better if I could fly to China on my wings. Neither one is ever going to happen.

                  1. I believe that Epi is making the point that anarchy is the natural state of man. That there are inevitable -archies that impose themselves upon that anarchy doesn’t change that fact.

                    I agree with him completely. Being ruled may be a constant, but it is not a requisite condition.

                    1. “You are not a free man, you are a number!”

                3. But the problem is that the attempts at controlling it are just more of it

                  Reminds me of a Sowell piece about how people always react to the idea of repealing bad policy with “What will you replace it with?” to which he responds “Once you put a fire out, what do you replace it with?”

                  It is better to not have an organization that supposedly has an organization on aggression, in my opinion.

                  Sure it is. Except that such an organization will always exist. Life ain’t fair. Get used to it.

                  1. Life ain’t fair. Get used to it.

                    This is sort of the whole point. Are you against fairness because life is unfair?

                    1. It’s unfair for him to be attracted to men, but he is anyway. So, yes.

  10. …it has become clear that punishment is the only thing that is guaranteed.

    For us all.
    Speak it, Brother.

  11. When do we just start busting these people out of jail?

    1. Don’t forget to bring a towel…

      http://news.yahoo.com/2-inmate…..58705.html

  12. I never would have engaged in this activity for this reason: having zero faith in prosecutors to leave me alone. But if I did do what he did, I’d take my chances with a Montana jury. And I would defend myself. That way I could say everything the judge tells me not to say. What’s the worst they can do, find me in contempt? I’m looking at life already. I want my deserved freedom but if I’m going down, I’m taking the judge and DA with me. I just need one juror to agree with me.

  13. “In exchange for a 87-year reduction in the prison term he otherwise would have faced for the original gun and drug charges, Williams agreed to drop his appeal.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this or the title of this post are correct.

    First, what he Chris Williams got was some mandatory minimum charges dropped. This does not equate to an 87-year reduction in the prison term. What it means is that his MANDATORY MINIMUM prison term is reduced, but that a very large MAXIMUM prison term is still a possibility for him. According to the Free Chris Williams Facebook page, he still faces the possibility of LIFE in prison, depending on the whim of the judge.

    1. Truth, Kristen. Thank you for pointing out the facts!

  14. “In exchange for a 87-year reduction in the prison term he otherwise would have faced for the original gun and drug charges, Williams agreed to drop his appeal.”

    Second, the reduction in charges is not the whole story. There was a $1.7 million + forfeiture judgement that would have taken the assets of Chris’ and his partners’ cannabis business. Part of this plea deal is that the government recommends that the judge vacate that forfeiture action. Think about the ramifications of that for a moment. They put responsibility on him, not only for his own future, but partially for the future of his business partners who plead out long before he did. Accepting this vs. turning this down could also potentially have consequences for his son as well. They turned the plea deal from one that was primarily about Chris to one in which he was suddenly made responsible for many other people as well. This changes the whole tone of the offer. It wasn’t just about Chris as the statement above would lead one to believe.

  15. Third, I would like to add something that I have not seen reported in the media, but which is well-documented on the Free Chris Williams Facebook page. Since Chris was imprisoned, he has been subjected to what is commonly referred to as “diesel therapy”. He has been moved around regularly between 3 different prisons in Montana, straight days in one of them. Each prison has different regulations, but the gist is that you have to be in the prison a certain length of time before you can do certain things like have visitors, have money put on your prison books so that you can buy basic things like shampoo, paper, phone calls, etc. When you move, your stuff doesn’t follow so he was losing things he had through the generosity of other prisoners and mail he had received. Some mail he never got because he was transferred before it arrived and it doesn’t get forwarded or retained for when he got transferred back. I have no doubt that this kind of treatment helped make the government’s case to Chris for taking a plea deal, and I have no doubt that the government is well aware that this would help encourage Chris to get in line with their program for him.

    Someone close to him has been giving personal reports, including excerpts from his personal letters over on the Facebook page Free Chris Williams:
    https://www.facebook.com/FreeChrisWilliams

    It’s a good source for getting a much fuller understanding of the situation than standard media reports.

    Kirsten Tynan
    Philipsburg, Montana

    1. Thanks, Kirsten, for sharing this, even if it is more awful news.

    2. Oops. I see a little editing-induced incoherence from trying to get under the 1500 character limit.

      He has been moved around regularly between 3 different prisons in Montana. According to the Free Chris Williams Facebook page a little while ago, the most he stayed was 17 straight days in one of them.

    3. Kirsten, you are an ANGEL! Thank you for spreading the word! I cannot wait to tell Chris about you! : )

  16. All of you people who are against murder sure are a bunch naive doofuses. Murder has always existed. So you can’t be against it. Ayn Rand told me so.

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