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Acquitted on All Charges: Eric Salerno Emerges from Years-Long Marijuana CaseTim King Salem-News.com
"This a reminder that Activism works, court support works, and the law works for legal MMJ patients!!"- Eric Salerno
(SACRAMENTO, CA) - "Acquitted on all charges" - Friday was a joyous day in Yuba County for Eric Salerno and his family and supporters.
For the third consecutive year, he has been battling a determined yet poorly aimed set of prosecutors in Yuba County who were intent on using taxpayer based resources to prosecute this medical marijuana patient without reasonable evidence.
Eric and his wife Desiree have been through the mill and back over this one, but today they are smiling and justice is, at least in this case, still alive in the state of California.
Salerno said, "Today I was found not guilty by a unanimous jury decision to acquit!! I'm now free of the charges brought by the Yuba County District Attorney's Office. This a reminder that Activism works,court support works, and the law works for legal MMJ patients!!"
I asked Eric how it feels to wake up and not face potentially serious charges, he said he felt, " ...relief, vindication, all those things, I feel like its been a long time coming, its like you're screaming let me out let me out I feel really happy"
After experiencing years of uncertainty, the Salerno family finally has an opportunity to think about a future without fear of being convicted of serious crimes. I asked Eric to explain the impact the case has had on his family.
"It has taken a lot out of us, I had to take money I planned to use to put my children through college with and - over 30k in legal fees," Eric said.
Before reaching a conclusion, four different lawyers were involved in the case. Eric explains that he first hired a lawyer, "who wrote a really nice letter asking the DA to recognize Prop 215 and the law as it is written and asking if we could have open dialog to have this case dismissed and have a resolution that both parties could live with. The DA responded by saying, 'We will look at the charges and make the appropriate decision.'"
At first, Salerno faced three felonies; transportation, Possession for Sale, and Attempted Sale. "I was looking at seven years total and there would have been an added enhancement for testifying on my own - they consider it perjury if a person testifies on their own behalf and are convicted," he added.
Salerno says a second person in the case, Andre Devezin, was the qualified patient he was meeting with when everything came down, "He agreed to become a member of the collective, and initially was not charged. In the middle of the court case he was charged as a co-defendant and was offered a plea deal, by twisting his arm the DA was able to secure a witness against me. In return for his testimony, he was given a lesser charge, he ultimately pled out and was convicted of a Misdemeanor, Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana and fined," Salerno said.
"The district attorney, John Nash, said outside the courtroom during preliminary hearing, he, "... did not want to prosecute you Mr. Salerno, but that the head DA, Patrick McGrath, insisted that we continue with the case."
Salerno said, "He came outside the courtroom to me very candidly and said, 'hey if it was up to me I would dismiss the charges against Mr. Salerno but my prosecutor insists that I convict this guy.'"
Salerno says the judge, James F. Dawson, remarked in an off the bench comment, "Mr. Salerno, you're a communist and your whole collective model reminds me of something from communist Russia."
Salerno says he asked him, "Are you addressing me?" At that point the judge walked back into his chambers for a brief recess and upon return to the courtroom, Judge Dawson denied Salerno's medical marijuana defense in spite of his having a valid medical recommendation and the co-defendant having a valid recommendation and there being evidence of collective membership.
All logical systems designed to prevent this type of court and prosecutorial abuse failed in this case, as evidenced by Mr. Salerno's victory. I asked him what message he believes people should take away from it, "My whole message would honestly be that when people tell you to lay down and give up, when the lawyers tell you to lay down and give up, that is the signal that you have to stand up and fight and never lay down and always push for your freedom, always push back for your freedom."
He says that after the judge denied his MMJ defense, Allison Margolin's office filed a writ of mandamus to the 3rd Appellate court which resulted in a stay of trial and a reversal of Judge Dawson's decision to deny Salerno's medical marijuana defense which was ultimately allowed and reinstated into the record.
Eric Salerno said, "After Dawson denied the medical marijuana (MMJ) defense, the lawyer at the time, Lance Rogers, suggested we go to trial anyway without a MMJ defense, I actually fired him in the courtroom on the spot, made a motion for a new attorney, and was asked by the judge, why the court should do that. I explained that I had hired a MMJ attorney and a MMJ expert and with a denial of my MMJ defense I was at a disadvantage to defend myself because the judge had denied my MMJ.
The motion was granted and a public defender was appointed until the writ was finalized.
"Today after jury selection I was acquitted," Salerno said Friday. "It was a long and hard battle and Michael Levinsohn used every legal tactic available with a style best referred to as legal jujitsu, taking your enemies power and using it against them. With those tactics implemented we secured a legal victory in Yuba County court against what seemed like impossible odds."
He added, for those facing similar circumstances, "If you need some great attorneys to fight for you contact Michael Levinsohn 310-420-9081 and Allison Margolin 323-653-9700 to assist you on the path to freedom."
Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer
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With almost 25 years of experience on the west coast and worldwide as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor, Tim King is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine who follows stories of Marines and Marine Veterans; he's covered British Royal Marines and in Iraq, Tim embedded with the same unit he served with in the 1980's.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from traditional mainstream news agencies like The Associated Press and Electronic Media Association; he also holds awards from the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs; and was presented with a 'Good Neighbor Award' for his reporting, by the The Red Cross.
Tim's years as a Human Rights reporter have taken on many dimensions; he has rallied for a long list of cultures and populations and continues to every day, with a strong and direct concentration on the 2009 Genocide of Tamil Hindus and Christians in Sri Lanka. As a result of his long list of reports exposing war crimes against Tamil people, Tim was invited to be the keynote speaker at the FeTNA (Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America) Conference in Baltimore, in July 2012. This is the largest annual gathering of North American Tamils; Tim addressed more than 3000 people and was presented with a traditional Sri Lanka ‘blessed garland’ and a shawl as per the tradition and custom of Tamil Nadu
In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005. Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 23+ countries and regions.
Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide; and maintains that the label 'terrorist' is ill placed in many cases; specifically with the LTTE Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, where it was used as an excuse to slaughter people by the tens of thousands; and in Gaza, where a trapped population lives at the mercy of Israel's destructive military war crime grinder. At the center of all of this, Tim pays extremely close attention to the safety and welfare of journalists worldwide.
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