Monday, December 13, 2010
Miraculous outcome in Michael Lapihuska Case
An amazing thing happened today due to the diligence, passion, and determination of the people who make up the ranks of Alabamians for Compassionate Care.
For those readers who may have missed the previous coverage of the Michael Lapihuska case you can read about it here and here. In short, Michael is a native Alabamian who moved to California in the 1990's so that he could legally use the only medication that works for his multiple conditions. Marijuana. He became a licensed patient.
On December 15, 2009 Michael had returned home to Anniston to visit his family. One night while walking down the road and minding his own business he was accosted by an Anniston police officer and accused of hitchhiking. The cop demanded that Michael consent to a search and being scared to death he did. The cop found his medicine in prescription bottle and Michael showed him his medical card from California...and was promptly arrested and jailed because Alabama does not yet have a medical marijuana law. He contacted me and asked for help and we at ACC came to his defense. With a fury!
We wrote numerous letters to the Anniston Star on his behalf. You can read those here. The Anniston Star also did a feature article on his situation.
Michael began attending ACC meetings and events all across Alabama and practically swamped the Oxford/Anniston area with handouts and flyers about his case and about the Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act. He was a tireless and energetic advocate for the only medication that works for him and for others who need/use it but are too afraid to speak out.
A couple of months ago ACC members from as far away as Cullman and Alexander City converged on Anniston to attend his first court hearing. Michael was not even aware that he had a court hearing that day. He had not been notified by the circuit clerks office nor by his then attorney. Thankfully I have friends in the legal community who are more than willing to look up a case for me. The same thing happened today.
Last week I spoke with Michael and asked him when his next court date was. He said he hadn't heard anything and that his lawyer wasn't returning his calls. So, once again I called up a friend in the legal community and found out that Michael had a pre-trial hearing today and that his trial date had been set for Jan. 24, 2011. I told Michael who knew nothing about it.
I picked him up this morning and took him to court. We sat in court for about an hour and when most of the cases had been called he asked me if he should go and ask the D.A. if he was on the docket for today...just like last time. And, just like last time she said he was. He told her that he had not been notified and had it not been for me he wouldn't have known to be there. She said he was lucky he showed up or else a Failure to Appear warrant would have been sworn out for him. She told him that his lawyer wasn't going to be there until 10:15 so we decided to step outside and call her.
He called her and she told him he was not on the docket for today...that she had just gotten off the phone with the judge and he confirmed that. Michael told her that he was in court 'right now' and had just talked to the prosecutor and saw his name on the list and was told that she (his lawyer) was on the docket for 10:15. She said she would be there in a few minutes.
When we got back in the courtroom she was already there and in front of the Judge discussing his case. We sat down to wait and a few minutes later she took us out to a private consultation room. She asked Michael if he would accept a plea deal. We asked what kind and told her anything that didn't include unsupervised probation was out of the question due to marijuana being his legal, doctor approved medication. She said she would ask for unsupervised probation.
Michael was very reluctant to take the deal. In reality he had done nothing wrong, should not have been stopped in the first place much less searched and didn't feel he should be being put through this whole charade to begin with.
I told him that he should take the deal because it was as close as we were ever likely to get to getting him off scot free. That a deal like this in Alabama is unheard of for someone with a record like his (multiple possession charges for marijuana before he was a legal patient). He said he thought a jury would not convict him. I asked him to please remember where he was....that he would not be able to raise a medical defense in Alabama because we do not have a medical necessity law. I told him that my case all those years ago was different....that I wasn't facing 10-20 years in a state prison running at 195% capacity....that he could do more on the outside to change the law than inside. To please take the deal.
He finally decided...and it was a very difficult compromise for him...I mean he really, really struggled with it...to take the deal if she could get it. He said he felt like he had caved, that he hadn't stood true to his values. I told him that was nonsense...the court is what caved by offering that deal. I told him he had absolutely nothing to feel sad about...that he had won if they offered the deal we wanted.
The lawyer came back in with the paperwork and said that the prosecution had agreed to the deal...all he needed to do was sign. I looked over the agreements and saw that the deal we had discussed was not in there and asked her about it. She said the D.A. didn't want it in writing. I asked her if we got in there and the DA or the Judge didn't accept his plea to 2 misdemeanors could he withdraw it and continue on with the trial as originally planned. She assured me that he could. I also asked her if this deal would be dependent on him passing a drug test today. She said she would work that out, that they usually do, but since this is his medicine she would try and avoid it. I told her if she couldn't then the deal would be off.
She began reading Michael his rights. She told him that the Judge would ask him if he had anything to say and that he should just say no. He said he didn't know if he could do that because he had plenty that he wanted to say about how fucked up this whole situation is, how he is a LEGAL patient, about how the law is wrong etc. I told him to please try not to say anything (and trust me I know how HARD it is to bite your tongue when in that situation) and he said he would do his best.
So, finally he signed the plea agreements, albeit it unhappily, and we proceeded back into the courtroom. When the Judge asked him if he had anything to say...he paused...and God it was a very long pause and I thought he was about to unload on the Judge and then he said "No."
The Judge asked him if he planned to return to California and Michael said "Yes". Then he sentenced him to 365 days in county, suspended, and 2 years UNSUPERVISED Probation, $250 on each count, court costs and lawyer fees and told him he was free to go.
Before that though his lawyer said, "Don't talk to the media because it will make the prosecution look soft on drugs and that will make it hard for me to work deals in the future." I told her we would try not to celebrate too much. As soon as we were out of there I called the Anniston Star and told them of the outcome since her request was just a request and not part of the deal Michael had signed.
I also asked the AS to investigate the fact that Michael was never notified about today's hearing and that even his lawyer was unaware....that if I hadn't known to get him to court that he would have been arrested for FTA through no fault of his own. Personally I think they did that shit on purpose. I can see it happening once....but twice? And the second time his lawyer didn't even know. Yeah...something's definitely up.
The fact that the media coverage was mentioned at all tells me all I need to know. ACC did one hell of a job coming to Michael's defense and alerting the public to this total miscarriage of justice. I want to personally than everyone who wrote a letter to the Anniston Star on his behalf, made comments on the letters that were printed, came to court with him, took him back and forth to ACC meetings and helped him in other ways.
WE DID IT Y'ALL!!! We defeated the dragons in Calhoun County and none of it would have been possible had it not been for you brave souls who dared to stand up and stare down the Alabama Criminal INJUSTICE system.
Many thanks are also in order to the Anniston Star. They picked up this story and ran with it the whole way through and published nearly every letter we sent in for Michael. Had it not been for them and their willingness to cover this issue then we would have never made the court fear us and back down today. Many thanks Anniston Star.
I never again want to hear that political advocacy and things like letter writing and showing up with someone for court don't have an effect. We made them cry uncle today and you should all be very proud of the part you played in it. I am still in shock that it turned out this way. Extremely happy in a bitter sweet way....but absolutely shocked.