Chris Lindsey’s Follow Up on the Chris Williams Trial – Why I Decided to Plead Guilty

October 8, 2012

I thought it was about time to follow up on my previous post about Chris Williams’ trial. The decision to plead guilty, and ultimately be compelled to testify, came down to a few key factors for me, and I relied on several family members and friends during the course of the last year to help me in make this decision. Here are a few things that tipped the scale in my mind, in no particular order.

1. One of the hallmarks of the organization was to operate out in the open, and that was the plan from the very start. There were never any plans to keep secrets. To claim at this late stage that it was somehow time to start refusing to talk about what happened was silly and naïve. That horse had left the barn over 3 years ago, and was inconsistent with what we had decided to do as an organization. We did what we did and we were an open book.

2. As an organization and as individuals, we were already cooperating with the federal government and had been all along. We gave dozens of tours to the press, law enforcement officers and the general public. During the time I was there, we paid state and federal taxes and we reported our incomes and income sources. Whether or not we were in violation of federal law was not an issue. Challenging that fact was never part of the plan. It was always a matter of discretion on the part of the US Attorney’s office.

3. I did not disclose confidential information obtained in the attorney-client relationship either to the US Attorney’s office or during the course of the trial. From US Attorney’s perspective, I was working for a criminal organization and attorneys cannot hide behind confidentiality to protect criminal enterprises. But the US Attorney’s office acknowledged my concerns nonetheless, and I was not required to speak to matters that would have been considered confidential as compared with other types of businesses.

4. As a criminal defense attorney for the past 6 ½ years, one of the first questions I ask my clients is: “Did you do it?” If the answer is “yes,” then there is a serious question whether or not it makes sense to deny what happened and go to trial. Was I a caregiver working with others to produce marijuana? Of course. What sense does it make to deny such an obvious thing? In fact no one denied it in this case, even Chris while he was on the stand testifying on his own behalf.

5. I thought it was worth getting the story out in front of a jury, but only if the jurors could hear what actually happened. My attorney and the other attorneys in my case and similar cases fought for the ability to talk about president Obama’s statements on the campaign trail, Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments to the press, the press’ interpretation of those statements, state law and our attempts to honestly comply with the vagaries, or the extent to which cannabis actually does help sick people (along with several other arguments). We got nowhere with any of these types of pre-trial motions. To testify at trial amounted to a confession, and I didn’t need a jury for that.

6. I have a commitment to my spouse that I take seriously, and 90 years is an insanely long time. A jury conviction would leave my wife to raise our son alone, and she would be without someone to help her manage her serious health condition. She has been there for me when I was at my worst with Crohn’s. I have a responsibility to be there for her.  And if I did not take the plea, she would likely have been prosecuted as well.

I have an immense amount of respect for Chris Williams’ decision to face a jury. He took a real gamble and unfortunately it did not result in an acquittal. While I was able to testify on his behalf and get statements on the record about our desire to comply with state law and our goals as a professional organization, the jury was not allowed to hear it.

I doubt there is anyone who thinks Chris Williams should have to face the amount of time he will likely have to serve for being a caregiver and the related activities. The armchair federal defendants of the world – particularly within the medical marijuana movement – will forever proclaim they would have done what Chris did. Honestly, I seriously doubt that, and being a caregiver-martyr for the cause requires nothing more than a phone call to the US Attorney’s office for those who think they are up to the challenge. Chris is a singularly brave and determined person and I will always be humbled by his courage to face the jury. My greatest hope is that Chris in particular and the hundreds of thousands of other prisoners sitting on non-violent marijuana charges will get justice one day and we will see an amnesty program for something that should not be a crime in the U.S.

My heart goes out to Chris, and his family and loved-ones he leaves behind.