Federal Judge, Fining Several Defendants for Pot Possession, Issues Sentence while Disagreeing with the Law

By Kenneth Lipp

In several statements all to similar effect made during proceedings today at the federal courthouse for the Eastern District of PA, Judge Jacob Hart noted his own personal disagreement with laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana, while affirming his obligation to reach findings of guilt and issue sentences to those prove to have violated those laws.

Banner at Smokedown 7

Banner at Smokedown 7

In what was set to be the last round of hearings that resulted from arrests at Independence National Historic site during Smokedown Prohibition events (except one notable case against activists Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn that has been continued to January 23rd), Judge Hart levied $175 fines for possession of a controlled substance against Smokedown participants Mike Whiter and Richard (known as Kyle) Prouty. In doing so, the judge made clear in both cases that he was issuing the findings of guilt despite what he acknowledged was both a personally and popularly objectionable criminal prohibition of marijuana.

Mike Whiter, United States Marine

Mike Whiter, United States Marine

Both Mr. Prouty and Mr. Whiter pleaded nolo contendre to the misdemeanor possession charges, compelling the prosecution to present its evidence in both cases. Whiter, a Marine veteran of two foreign combat theaters who was seriously injured in Iraq, asked and was allowed to make a statement to the court prior to his sentencing.

Mike Whiter being searched in the screening area set up by Rangers at Independence Mall during Smokedown events

Mike Whiter being searched in the screening area set up by Park Rangers at Independence Mall during Smokedown events.

The retired Staff Sergeant spoke passionately for several minutes, recounting his own life-threatening struggle with PTSD, for which Veterans Affairs prescribed pharmaceuticals which only ended up excacerbating his difficulty rejoining society at home, saying at one point that had he not made the decision to try marijuana as a remedy, the FDA-approved pills he was taking would have surely killed him. Judge Hart found Mr. Whiter guilty, reasserting his role as guardian of the law, even laws which he “quite frankly doesn’t agree with.”

About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

There are 3 comments

  1. Drew Bright

    I am thankful to every protestor and activist who challenges the legitimacy of cannabis prohibition by taking a stand; especially those who “civilly disobey”, in public. We need to take the discourse from our current “already-guilty-and-pleading-for-exoneration-by-the-PowersThatBe” to “We will be holding War Crimes trials for those who continue and promote Prohibition of God’s healing plant. If you are one of the persecutors, you will be placed onto a “GreenList” kept by Anonymous 420 Team Vendetta (and others) and your name will be brought up at the forthcoming tribunals to seek redress, reparations, immediate amnesty and possibly civil fines or other tortious actions. Lives are being destroyed by drug laws, people dying in pain when cannabis could help….


  2. Jim Geesman

    If a jury can nullify a trial, why can’t a judge? It’s nice that he’s rational enough to recognize the absurdity of the law, but do we really want judges handing down sentences when they know they’re working with bad laws? Isn’t that a bit delusional? Judge nullification should be the outcome of any such trial if he’s really working his conscience.


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