Washington: Judge Again Orders Police To Return Man's Marijuana
By Steve Elliott
Two months ago, Tacoma Municipal Court Judge Jack Emery told police to give the man his marijuana back. Police refused. Judge Emery on Thursday repeated himself with emphasis: He gave the cops one week to comply with his February 28 court order and return the cannabis to Tacoma resident Joseph L. Robertson, or face possible contempt of court charges.
"Appeal or comply," Judge Emery told Assistant City Attorney John Walker, reports Sean Robinson at The News Tribune of Tacoma. "Or next week, show up, and I would advise you to bring counsel."
The ruling -- a procedural victory for Robertson -- will likely set the stage for a precedent-setting case.
Police seized the marijuana back in May 2012 after they had pulled Robertson over for speeding. The officer who made the traffic stop claimed he smelled marijuana inside Robertson's car, and later he found a small amount of weed inside the vehicle.
Robertson was ticketed for driving without a license and misdemeanor marijuana possession and released. City prosecutors dismissed the possession charge in December after Washington voters approved the legalization of small amounts of marijuana in November.
Robertson then asked for his pot back, and provided proof of medical marijuana authorization. The city refused, which resulted in Judge Emery's February 28 court order for the cops to return the cannabis.
Judge Emery used the word "contemptuous" to describe the city's response to his earlier courte order. The judge, at Thursday's hearing, held up a thick stack of legal briefs from the city, delivered one day before. The city had blown the deadline to make such arguments, even if they had merit, the judge said.
The next hearing is set for May 2; the matter could be resolved by then, or it could go to the next legal level.
Judge Emery's court order requires Tacoma to fill out a release form and give it to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, which operates the evidence room where Robertson's marijuana is stored.
The city could fill out that form and give it to Pierce County -- putting the onus on deputies to return the pot -- or it could refuse to return the weed, setting up an appeal to Pierce County Superior Court.
Tacoma police can come get the weed, but the sheriff's office isn't going to hand it over to Robertson, according to Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.
"It's Tacoma's case," Troyer snapped. "If they want it, they can come get it."
Judge Emery, at Thursdays hearing, pointed out the jurisdictional issues of the case. He has legal authority over the city of Tacoma, but not over Pierce County.
"I am going to order that you fill out the appropriate release and transmit it to the sheriff's department," Judge Emery said, addressing Walker. "Then I'm going to set a hearing next week. I think there's contemptuous behavior here."
The judge called the case a "quagmire" due to conflicting provisions of state and federal law.