Friday, September 27, 2013

Court of Appeals: Medical MJ Use Can Violate Deferred Judgment

The Colorado Court of Appeals, in the case of People v. Wilburn decided this week, has ruled that use of medical marijuana is not an affirmative defense to violation of a deferred judgment and sentence stipulation.  In Wilburn's case, the trial court dismissed a petition to revoke his deferred judgment and sentence for violating a provision prohibiting the use of controlled substances.  The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in finding that the Colorado Constitution provision pertaining to medical marijuana afforded Wilburn an affirmative defense to revocation of the deferred judgment.  The Court of Appeals distinguished the prosecution for a crime, which IS afforded an affirmative defense under the Colorado Constitution, from a petition to revoke a deferred judgment and sentence stipulation where a plea has already been entered.  Although the trial court ruling was disapproved by the Court of Appeals, the dismissal of Wilburn's case was not vacated pursuant to Double Jeopardy prohibitions.

A deferred judgment and sentence is a form of plea bargain where a defendant enters a plea of guilty to a charge or charges, but his/her plea of guilty is held in abeyance by the court subject to the satisfactory completion of a probationary period, usually 1-2 years.  Upon successful completion of the probationary period, the defendant is allowed to withdraw his/her plea and the matter is then dismissed; failure to satisfactorily complete probation results in entry of judgment of conviction and subjects the defendant to the full array of possible sentences for the offense, including jail/prison.  While often a very effective way to resolve a criminal matter without trial, this form of plea bargain is nonetheless a binding legal agreement fraught with snares and complications.  It is always wise to have the assistance of an experienced attorney to explain ALL the implications before entering into such an agreement.