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The Charge: Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (a pipe and lighter), Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance

The Record: Holding a bottle of beer in a brown paper bag, Christopher Melera approached an officer standing by the Capitol. The officer smelled alcohol emanating from Melera’s body and asked what he was holding. Melera replied: “juice.” Then the officer “took the bag from the defendant and identified its contents as a bottle of Bass Ale Beer.” After Melera was arrested, an assisting officer noticed a “plastic bag with a green leafy substance protruding from the defendant’s right front jacket pocket.” The officer asked what it was, and Melera responded: “marijuana.”

Sentencing Hearing Date: 11/30/07


Judge’S Introductory Announcement: “He’s not complied with his testing conditions, he’s not complied with his verification of address conditions, so that’s kind of where we are now—having not complied with anything,” says Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin.

Lawyer: “We ask that Mr. Melera receive probation,” begins student attorney Kandis Gibson. Interjection from Judge Mitchell-Rankin: “That’s not happening. So let’s try to regroup. He doesn’t get probation. He doesn’t deserve probation.” Gibson pauses and restarts: “This isn’t a typical possession case….Mr. Melera was recommended by his doctor for a medicinal marijuana permit to treat seizures as a result of a motorcycle accident.” Gibson says Melera was doing some sightseeing during a layover on his way from Colorado to North Carolina. He approached the officer for directions. “He was not under the impression that the possession of an open container was against the law because it’s not against the law in the jurisdiction where he lives [Breckinridge, Colo.].” Judge: “Oh, so that’s fine. You can just walk around with a beer on the streets?” Gibson: “Yes ma’am, you can walk around with a beer in a brown paper bag in Breckinridge.”

Defendant: “I came to your town and I disregarded your laws. I apologize for that.”


The Sentence: $500 fine—pay it today. $50 court costs.