It seems that, since Washington State legalized recreational and medical marijuana, I have written my fair share of posts regarding what may be seen as a broken medical marijuana system. In keeping with this theme, the Court of Appeals recently released an opinion discussing the doctrine of collateral estoppel, our medical marijuana laws, and civil forfeiture.
Before we get into the facts, you should know what collateral estoppel is. Imagine that you have been charged with robbing a poker game. You go to trial to face charges for robbing one of the players at the game and are acquitted. Sometime later, you go to trial to face charges for one of the other players at the game.
Collateral estoppel, in criminal law, is a part of our tradition against double jeopardy. Double jeopardy prevents someone from being tried for the same crime twice. Collateral estoppel prevents specific facts from being litigated at a second trial. Thus, if you have been found that you did not rob the poker game at one trial, you cannot face trial for a different robbery at the same game. Those facts have already been determined.
The facts here are as follows. City police officers found a marijuana grow operation while executing a search warrant. The State brought criminal charges, while the City brought a civil forfeiture action against the defendant. In the civil proceeding, the defendant moved to suppress all of the evidence of the marijuana, because the police could not show that he had violated the Medical Use of Cannabis Act before they searched his home. The civil court granted the motion. The criminal court found that, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, it also must suppress the evidence.
One of the requirements for collateral estoppel to apply in Washington is that there is privity between the parties bringing the action. In criminal matters, this is easy. But, this was not strictly a criminal matter, however. In this case, the Court of Appeals found that there was no joint operation between the City and State.
The City obtained and executed the search warrant, and was the only entity given the power to commence a forfeiture proceeding. The State could not even participate in it, but did bring criminal charges. These were two separate actions, and there was no privity between them.
The Court of Appeals also found this necessary on public policy grounds. According to the Court, the State should not be forced, and may not be able, to litigate guilt or innocence in a civil proceeding.
Although this is an important case discussing the intersection between medical marijuana and criminal law, there is another one in the pipeline. Our Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether the Medical Use of Cannabis Act may prevent police from making searches like the one seen here unless they have knowledge of violations of the Act; knowledge that there is marijuana on the property may no longer be enough for a warrant or arrest. Watch this site for more details.
If you have been charged with a marijuana-related crime in and around Seattle in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, you need an experienced criminal attorney to protect your rights. Attorney Kevin Trombold has decades of experience representing those charged with drug offenses. Do not hesitate to contact him today for a free consultation.