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Sullivan avoids pot charge; judge objects

Posted by Christopher Shea  September 11, 2009 11:38 AM

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The blogger and commentator Andrew Sullivan was busted in July for possessing a small amount of marijuana within the Cape Cod National Seashore. A month later the charge was dropped. A non-story?

Not to U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings, who yesterday declared that the dismissal of the charge against Sullivan violated "the bedrock principle of our legal system that all persons stand equal before the law."

"It sometimes happens that small cases raise issues of fundamental importance in our system of justice; this case happens to be an example," Collings wrote.

The odd legal controversy was reported yesterday in The Docket, the news blog of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Sullivan, according to Collings's summary of the case, was charged on July 13 and ordered to, in effect, pay a fine of $125 or go to court. He elected to go to court. In late August, however, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a request with Collings to dismiss the charges because "further prosecution of the violation would not be in the interest of justice."

Collings found the request, and the vague explanation, puzzling, given that the U.S. Attorney's office routinely prosecutes pot cases, even involving small amounts. So he called a hearing, held September 2. There, Sullivan's lawyer, Robert Delahunt, Jr., explained that the charge could complicate his client's attempt to become a U.S. citizen. (Sullivan is British by birth. He is also HIV positive, as he has often noted on his blog, and U.S. law continues to discriminate against potential citizens who are HIV-positive, a subject Sullivan has written about often.)

Collings found that explanation unsatisfying, too: even if the charges were dismissed, Sullivan would still have to tell U.S. immigration officials that he had been charged with a federal crime. Moreover, many other people in similar situations--applying for citizenship--had not been granted such a favor. Collings wanted to pursue the matter, but the Assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case replied that Collings had to respect prosecutors' discretion.

In yesterday's "memorandum and order," Collings explained that federal law is somewhat unclear about when a judge may challenge a prosecutor's request for a dismissal, if such a decision appears to display favoritism. Ultimately, however, the weight of precedent suggested he had to respect the prosecutor's decision, he concluded.

"That the Court must so act," he wrote yesterday, "does not require the Court to think that the end result is a just one."

Collings went out of his way to clarify that his objections had nothing to do with his own opinions about marijuana laws or with whether prosecutors should pursue minor possession cases as a general matter.

(Memorandum via Gawker; Gawker acquired it from The Docket, but I was unable to download it from that site)

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12 comments so far...
  1. Sullivan, a big John Kerry and Barack Obama supporter, is getting preferential treatment. Maybe Andrew Sullivan was smoking pot in a national park to get over his obsession with Sarah Palin's infant son.

    The US Attorney should be fired. Andrew Sullivan, deranged blogger, should be deported.

    Posted by Karen September 11, 09 05:27 PM
  1. I find it absurd that this Federal Court Judge (er Magistrate) wasted all this valuable court time for someone caught with a small amount of marijuana. The voters in this state have spoken and the overwhelming majority are against prosecution of people caught with small amounts of marijuana. This wanna be Article III judge should focus on violent criminals and other more important issue than someone caught in a National Park with a small amount of marijuana.

    Posted by Mark September 11, 09 05:29 PM
  1. What was the "small amount"? If it was a couple of joints worth, then yes, it is a non-story.

    Posted by mgb1969 September 11, 09 05:29 PM
  1. what a stupid waste of time and the taxpayer's money

    Posted by bog September 11, 09 06:19 PM
  1. give him the $100 fine and begone

    Posted by Poet and a Prophet September 11, 09 06:38 PM
  1. correct me if I'm wrong... but wasn't possession of small amounts of pot legal in mass now?

    Posted by redheaded Wonder September 11, 09 09:16 PM
  1. Legalize it.

    Posted by Peter Tosh the Younger September 11, 09 09:59 PM
  1. I don't understand why you say that the US, by keeping out non-citizens with dangerous infectious diseases (and in this case, an incurable one), is discriminating them...Should the Government not protect its citizens??

    Posted by Alex September 11, 09 10:00 PM
  1. Nice to see a judge take a stand on preferential treatment for once, even if it is on a matter than is a non-issue on state property in MA. He should have pushed it and barred the dismissal to force visability on the issue.

    Posted by phonyuser September 12, 09 12:41 AM
  1. They gave him a small fine and he opted to go to court. They should give him his day in court.

    Posted by Rich September 13, 09 03:59 PM
  1. This is a federal crime. It happened on national park grounds. It is a federal case, not a state case. Federal law not state law.

    Posted by Ruckus September 14, 09 02:52 PM
  1. Sullivan doesn't deserve preferential treatment. The judge is making the right call, and one can only hope that it does keep darling Andy from becoming a citizen. Sullivan's a proven liar, and a parasite. Salvadoran landscapers are infinitely more valuable and ethical than his ilk.

    Posted by sglover September 14, 09 04:51 PM
 
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