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Man convicted of marijuana charges coerced to give up appeal rights by extreme sentence

Our readers may have heard about the case of Chris Williams, a Montana medical marijuana grower, who faces at least five years in federal prison for violating federal laws banning such activity. Williams, who openly supplied marijuana to patients who were allowed to use it under state law, was originally sentenced much more severely, but a post-conviction agreement resulted in an easier sentenced. Still, some say the penalty is too harsh.

Williams-a partner in a medical marijuana operation based out of Helena-was found guilty in September on eight counts. Four involve marijuana production and distribution, and another four for having a firearm in conjunction with drug distribution. Williams is the only medical marijuana distributor in Montana to fight federal prosecution and proceed with a jury trial. But on Tuesday, Williams' attorney filed a motion to withdraw from the case. According to the attorney, Williams began to lose confidence in his ability to present the best possible defense after reading an Ohio State law professor and legal blogger criticize aspects of his case.

Williams' initially faced a mandatory minimum sentence of between 80 and 90 years in prison. A post-verdict plea deal, though, dropped that down to five years in exchange for his agreement not to appeal his conviction. Prosecutors, for their part, dropped all but two of the charges as well as the forfeiture of roughly $1.2 million from his business.

What is interesting, from a defense perspective, is the power prosecutors had in this case, dropping 75 percent of the charges after conviction. As one legal blogger has pointed out, prosecutors used the threat of an extreme sentence to coerce Williams into giving up his appeals rights.

Source: Billings Gazette, "Danahoe asks to withdraw from Chris Williams marijuana case," Eve Byron, January 2, 2012.

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