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State of California v. John Berchielli (2005-2010, Sacramento, CA)

posted Jan 29, 2013, 10:42 PM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 25, 2013, 3:06 AM ]
John Berchielli convicted on five counts
by Vanessa Nelson
July 21, 2007

After a tumultuous trial in state court, Sacramento patient and caregiver John Berchielli was convicted on five counts relating to his medical marijuana garden. Berchielli was a supplier of clones to the Sacramento dispensary Alternative Specialties, which was shut down by a multi-agency raid in July 2005 and whose owner is currently being prosecuted in federal court. This closure, which occurred shortly before his own bust, prevented Berchielli from being able to present adequate evidence of his caregiver status during trial. When interviewed after giving their verdict, jurors reported that the lack of patient lists and testimony heavily influenced their decision.

The co-defendant in this case, Sheldon Webber, is an out-of-luck friend who had been living with Berchielli. Webber is also a medical marijuana patient, although his recommendation had been expired by several days at the time of the bust. Webber was facing three marijuana-related charges: cultivation, distribution, and possession with the intent to sell. The prosecutor dropped the distribution charge after Webber took the stand and testified that he had witnessed Berchielli sell marijuana to other medical marijuana patients. The jury then acquitted him on the possession charge, and convicted him on a single count of cultivation.

Berchielli, however, was convicted on all three of the aforementioned marijuana-related counts. The cultivation charge alone could mean a heavy sentence, since Berchielli's garden had over a thousand clones. He was also convicted on a booby trap charge relating to barbed wire and nails found around the fence of his backyard growsite. Due to these fortifications, as well as the supposed dangers of the marijuana itself, Berchielli was also convicted on a count of child endangerment. There is no evidence of physical abuse, and the child endangerment charge was based instead on the potential risks of raising an adolescent in a home where marijuana is grown and smoked. According to the prosecutions's star witness, "marijuana fumes and residue sink into upholstery and present a serious danger to children." Testimony in the case also illuminated the protocol of the UC Davis Medical Center's C.A.A.R.E.S. program, which automatically takes children from drug busts to a "safe center" where they are stripped and pee tested before being turned over to Child Protective Services.

The trial, which spanned two weeks in June 2007, was beset by misfortune after misfortune for the defendant. It was presided over by Judge Rothwell B. Mason, who has lived in Washington state for the past 16 years, and who admitted at the conclusion of the trial that he is thoroughly ignorant about California's medical marijuana laws.

Originally published by Vanessa Nelson at (now defunct).