Prosecuting Trimmers in Recent Case Already Cost Over $10K–Should Fuel Deliverers and Other Workers be Facing Charges, Too?
A shift in emphasis by Humboldt County’s District Attorney Paul Gallegos has consequences beyond the marijuana industry. Gallegos has decided to not only prosecute trimmers who are found at the site of illegal grows but also to actively search out trim scenes to raid. According to this informative article in the Times Standard, Gallegos stated, “These people need to understand that they are engaged in illegal activities and there will be consequences until the law is changed….I hope they understand that we are looking and we are watching and we are waiting until they’re there to do our busts.”
So apparently the intent is to wait until trimmers are at a scene when possible before raiding it. According to another excellent piece in yesterday’s Times Standard the cost of this new policy may be a tremendous burden on us all.
Take the example of a recent preliminary hearing held for five co-defendants facing felony charges of cultivation and possession of marijuana for sales for allegedly working as trimmers at a Bridgeville growing operation. Taxpayers picked up the bill for four court-appointed defense attorneys and four interpreters brought up from the Los Angeles area to translate the proceedings into Russian and Bulgarian for the defendants.
According to numbers provided by the court, the price tag for the two-day hearing ran well in excess of $10,000, and that was just to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the defendants to answer to the charges they face. A jury trial — if the case goes that far — promises to be many times more expensive.
When I asked Gallegos if the larger number of arrests now that trimmers were included would result in more funding to cover the rising costs, he answered,
Increasing numbers of arrests results in no financial benefit to this office. Nor will it enable our office to get bigger grants from the federal government. …[W]ith the exception of a grant for domestic violence, our office gets no money from federal grants. Rather, our grants are state grants. My office has an fiscal year budget. That budget goes to pay salaries and benefits and the costs associated with running the office. There are no additional costs for prosecuting more people. That budget remains what it is whether we prosecute 10 or 10, 000 people. Therefore, while there is no incentive to prosecute more people as it is more work, my responsibility is to enforce the laws of the State of California. If I have sufficient evidence that someone is violating the law I will prosecute them.
A suggestion people have made is that the reason for this shift in policy is to cut down on transients as some folk feel that many transients are here in response to a need for trimmers. Gallegos however, categorically, denied this.
I do not mean to be disrespectful but that is absurd. First, the people that were arrested were not transients. Second, I have no interest in prosecuting transients or anyone unless else they are breaking the law. Transients, like everyone, are entitled to the protections of our laws. Similarly, they should be held accountable to the community if they break those laws.
I am not about to participate in any plan that arrests and prosecutes people for the goal or reducing a transient population. To do so would be unlawful, unethical, reprehensible and short sighted. Having someone on the streets, unless they are dangerous, is much less expensive than having someone in jail. Jail is a very, very expensive process and it would be a terribly expensive way to deal with a transient problem.
I appreciate his directness but doesn’t it also follow that jail is a very, very expensive way to deal with trimmers? Trimmers exist only because there are growers. Difficult as it would be, growers could exist and do exist without additional trimmers. Gallegos says (in spite of his statement to the Times Standard that “ we are waiting until they’re there to do our busts”) that
We are not focusing on trimmers. We are focusing on identifying criminal enterprises and prosecuting people engaged in them. If there was a criminal gang we would want to arrest and prosecute all of those gang members. Just prosecuting one or a few of them does nothing to stop the criminal enterprise.
Will prosecuting trimmers stop or appreciably slow down the black market trade in marijuana? That seems unlikely to me. There are proportionately more trimmers than there are growers. Prosecuting the growers caught has not ended or slowed down black market marijuana. Prosecuting what will be a proportionately smaller number of trimmers will be even less likely to stop the activity. However, what if the plan were not to just prosecute the trimmers and the growers? What if the District Attorney’s office were to prosecute business people who deal intimately with growers? Gallegos told me,
I am well aware that marijuana is an industry in Humboldt County. I personally wish marijuana was legal. ….
However, it is illegal. My duty is to give everyone the protections of the law and to hold everyone accountable to the law. I don’t write the law, I enforce it. Further, I do not get to just enforce those laws that I agree with. Therefore, everyone that we can establish is engaged in a criminal enterprises/activities or has broken the law of the state of California, will be prosecuted. I do not care if they are trimmers, water pipe installers, electricians, diesel fuel distributors or truckdrivers, saints or sinners. My focus is on the/their conduct – not on the person/people.
If the idea were to go after all the folk even peripherally involved, that might have an effect on growers. Without their support system in the mainstream world, marijuana growers would have a harder time creating gardens and indoor grows. However, wouldn’t prosecution costs go through the roof?
Gallegos tells me that his office deals with over a 1000 marijuana cases a year but that prosecuting people involved beyond the growers would not add to his case load.
When an arrest is made and several people are arrested generally that does not result in several cases. It results in one case with several defendants. So, prosecuting trimmers should not unnecessarily increase our caseload.
However, just in the Bridgeville bust outlined above, the grower has already agreed to a plea deal. The costs of the grower’s case will not go much higher if the judge approves the deal. But, the trimmers are not included in that deal. And the fees associated with them will continue to climb until resolution is reached. Imagine the costs should the DA’s office begin to prosecute all the carpenters, plumbers, electricians etc. who worked to build a grow and all the truckdrivers who deliver soil and fuel to a grow and all the trimmers who labor on a grow. And how does one prove that these workers knew the grow was not medical? How can they be expected to know whether the pounds go for sale or are recompensed fairly under medical marijuana laws? This kind of prosecution would require intensive investigation and the costs could be astronomical.
Are these costs society is willing to bear? The cost of the war against marijuana is already a tremendous burden on society. If the case outlined above is close to indicative, that will be well over a million dollars per year for our county to prosecute trimmers–mostly defenseless low income women. One comment (see here) on an earlier post stated that a large percentage of manicurists are
…moms who have no other employment opportunities in the remote parts of the county. They live from trim job to trim job and that money pays for basic living things, not luxuries. They’re making around $20 an hour (unless they’re super fast) with no benefits or job security for part time and seasonal work. Making them felons and forcing them to defend themselves in court means either they have to pay an attorney or further burden the court system using publicly funded defense lawyers.
Prosecuting this segment of our society seems incredibly inefficient and even more stacked against poor folk than usual.*
For more reaction to this inequality see The Sentinel’s Weekly Roundup’s third paragraph.