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UPDATE: School Zone Entrapment Appeal Denied

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
The Massachusetts Appeals Court has upheld one of the controversial school-zone drug cases in which a South County teen was drawn into a $20 marijuana sale to an undercover police officer, as part of a major drug investigation during 2004.

In a decision released yesterday, the three-judge panel upheld the marijuana distribution case against Mitchell Lawrence, now 20, who is serving a two-year jail mandatory jail term for selling in a drug-free school zone.

The Otis man was among 19 young people arrested in a major undercover narcotics operation centered around the so-called Taconic parking lot in Great Barrington, which is within 1,000 feet of two schools.

Justice Frederick Brown, while concurring in general with the opinion, delivered a sharp critique of the school-zone law's application in Lawrence's case.

"An enlightened prosecutor should not have sought a conviction for the school-zone offense," Brown wrote. "A government official induced the defendant to enter a danger zone that exposed him to an enhanced penalty. This conduct was particularly outrageous because the young man unwillingly went along with an experienced police officer, who undoubtedly was aware of consequences of drug activities in a school zone."

He cited Lawrence's lack of a criminal record and described the deal with the undercover officer as "an isolated incident" that will impair Lawrence's future job prospects and eligibility for government benefits, educational grants and public housing.

District Attorney David F. Capeless took sharp issue with Brown's remarks, calling them an "improper assertion of personal opinion into a judicial decision."

The three-judge decision reflects long-standing appellate positions that drug dealers need not have knowledge of school-zone boundaries in order to be charged and convicted. It was a point that Lawrence's defense attorney, Richard Simons, argued did not apply to preschools and day-care centers.

The justices also ruled against Simons' claim that Judge John Agostini, the trial judge, should have included an "entrapment" instruction to the jury in Lawrence's case.

An entrapment defense would apply in a case where an otherwise innocent person is subjected to "the government agent's intentional, persistent and repeated conduct, which goes beyond mere solicitation or request that the defendant participate in a criminal act."

'Predisposed' to dealing

By his own testimony, the court wrote, Lawrence himself indicated he was a marijuana smoker — though not a dealer — who shared drugs with his friends, and therefore was involved in distribution.

That very day, he went to smoke pot with his friends, and agreed to "take a walk" with an undercover cop to share some.

"The defendant's own testimony indicates that he was predisposed to distributing marijuana," the decision states.

In this instance, Lawrence was not an innocent teen "induced" by Detective Felix Aguirre to sell marijuana.

Lawrence was hungry after biking to Great Barrington from Otis, and used the money to buy a burrito.

Community outrage

Brown's remarks keenly reflect a segment of the community's outrage that followed the charging of nearly all 19 people with school-zone offenses, which carry a mandatory two-year jail term. Seven in particular had no prior records and only made small drug sales.

Capeless was then unbending in his hard-line position against drug dealing, and he remained so yesterday.

He said the undercover investigation took place in the Taconic lot because that's where the drug deals were happening, and that's the location that was the source of public complaints.

"The choice of location was by those involved in criminal acts," said Capeless. "(Investigators) went where it took them, and it happened to be a school zone."

Capeless said Lawrence is serving jail time "due to some poor decisions on his part. He chose to sell it and chose not to cooperate with law enforcement. He had the chance to become part of the solution to a serious community problem, drug abuse, and he has only himself and those who champion his cause to blame for the situation in which he finds himself."

It was not clear yesterday whether Simons would appeal Lawrence's case to the Supreme Judicial Court.

"I am obviously disappointed the judgment was affirmed and that Mitchell remains in jail where he has sat since March 22, 2006," said Simons.

However, he said he was pleased with the Court's acknowledgment that the school zone statute is not an "ordinary crime."


The court also found the police officer's deliberate conduct in walking Mitchell into an area within 1,000 feet of the preschool to be "unsettling," Simons said.

He said the "most satisfying part of the opinion" was Justice Brown's comments about the "danger of abuse of prosecuting power.

"To this day, I cannot be convinced that putting Mitchell Lawrence, a 17 year old man with no prior record, behind bars for two years for accepting $20 in exchange for a small amount of marijuana was fair or just," he said.

Capeless said the justices viewed the appeal "in the light most favorable to the defendant."

News Hawk- User http://www.420Magazine.com
Source: Berkshire Eagle Online
Author: Ellen Lahr
Contact: elahr@berkshireeagle.com
Copyright: Berkshire Eagle
Website: Berkshire Eagle Online - Taconic drug appeal denied


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dam all tht fo a 20 sack if it waznt at school and he got caught wit a 20 i would just be probation and some communtity service so he got fucked ova in tht case
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