Authorities are citing and releasing for many misdemeanours and Class C felonies to combat overcrowding in jails
Three Florida men found with more than 21 kilograms of weed in their vehicle have COVID-19 to thank for skating, at least temporarily, on multiple felony charges since conditions at the local jail meant they could not safely be housed there.
That much weed, found during a traffic stop last week, would usually land a person in jail immediately, but these fortunate three were cited and released “due to COVID-19 restrictions,” according to the Argus Observer, citing a narrative summary from the Oregon State Police.
People are being turned away from the jail in line with “notices sent previously to local departments describing who they will and will not lodge during their COVID restrictions,” the Argus Observer quotes Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe as explaining. The idea is to help keep the jail population down.
While citing and releasing class C felonies would not have been thinkable in past, in the wake of the pandemic, that is what is happening for the majority of misdemeanours and class C felonies, Goldthorpe told the publication. Appearing virtually or by telephone has become a common option.
On Oct. 15, state troopers stopped the Jeep with Washington licence plates and were provided consent to search the vehicle. Inside, they found 47.3 pounds (21.5 kg) of what the police summary described as “green bud marijuana.”
While the three accused were released, a fourth man was not so lucky. COVID-19 or not, he has been lodged in the Malheur County Jail since he has a nationwide felony warrant for counterfeiting, held by the U.S. Marshal Service, the Argus Observer reports.
The safety of packed jails during COVID-19 has been an issue both north and south of the border. In April, data released by Statistics Canada showed that there were about 6,000 fewer inmates in correctional institutions across the country, with provincial facilities being the most affected. This represented a 16 per cent drop in the custodial population as government nationwide took steps to contain the pandemic.
Inmates in Canada contracted and had to be treated for COVID-19, as did inmates, including some high-profile ones, in the U.S. This resulted in individuals and groups calling for those convicted of low-level, non-violent weed crimes to be released.
The four men, ranging in age from 32 to 50, face charges of importing/exporting usable marijuana items over 16 ounces (454 grams), conspiracy and possessing marijuana of more than 128 ounces (3.6 kg) in a public place.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon for adults 21 and older to possess and use within specified limits, notes the Oregon Health Authority. Public use and driving while impaired remain illegal, the information states.
The amount inside the vehicle was “higher than the personal amount for sure,” Goldthorpe told the Argus Observer.
While personal home gardens and licensed productions sites for cannabis are exempt in Oregon, manufacture, delivery or distribution of cannabis can result in severe penalties. For example, manufacturing any amount of weed will result in a felony charge, up to five years in prison and as much as a US$125,000 fine.
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Written by Angela Stelmakowich.
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