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United States v. David Davidson and Cynthia Blake (2003-2010, Tehama County)

posted Jan 28, 2013, 4:17 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 25, 2013, 3:31 AM ]
David Davidson and his partner Cynthia Blake were raided by Tehama County Sheriffs in July 2003, when officers seized the medical marijuana gardens at their homes in Oakland and Red Bluff, CA. The pair was arrested and charged with cultivation and possession for sale, in spite of claims that they were legitimate caregivers under California law. The plant count was soon the subject of contentious dispute -- the number varied between 36 and 1803, depending on which source was asked.  While negotiating in his state case in judge's chambers, in January 2004, with the help of the Tehama County District Attorney, Davidson was arrested on federal charges. 

By the time they bailed out of jail, the harsh realities of federal prosecution had begun to settle in. Davidson subsequently fled, and Blake stayed to answer to the charges that threatened to land her in prison for decades. After being offered leniency in exchange for information against her partner, Blake agreed to a plea deal that only got her time behind bars whittled down to only a few months. Shortly thereafter, Davidson was captured in New Mexico and brought to Sacramento County Jail, where he waited nearly three years before accepting a plea deal for time served. He was finally released in April 2010.

Federal Judge Praises Medical Marijuana Grower
by Vanessa Nelson  
Thursday, 25 February 2010

SACRAMENTO, CA -- David Davidson was given a 41-month sentence when he appeared in federal court this morning, but the former medical marijuana grower won’t have to give up the next few years of his life. Having served nearly all of his sentence while waiting for his case to resolve, the 59 year old is now a step closer to home and a new beginning. Davidson will soon be transferred from Sacramento County Jail to a halfway house in Iowa, where he will be close to his girlfriend.

The length of Davidson’s sentence was no surprise – both sides agreed on exactly 41 months in the recommendation submitted to Judge Morrison C. England Jr. late last year. What remained to be determined today was whether Davidson’s sentence would include an order to pay criminal fines.

Those fines totaled $1000, an amount that Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Stegman called “a minimal burden.” The prosecutor also stressed the point that Davidson would soon be out of custody, in a stable household and earning a living, which would enable him to pay the fines off easily over time.

Although not zealous, Stegman argued his points with steadiness and a tone of reason. Judge England, however, was not having any of it. According to the judge, Davidson deserved to be praised rather than burdened.

Judge England described Davidson’s character references as “one of the largest groups of letters I’ve received for a defendant,” noting that many of them had come from law enforcement personnel. These letters mentioned numerous courses and programs Davidson took while in jail, including his stint as a trustee, and they were more than enough to impress the judge.

“You should be commended for what you’ve done while incarcerated,” Judge England told the defendant as he waived the fines. That decision was justified, the judge told Davidson, “if for no other reason than you’ve shown what should be done under the circumstances.”

It wasn’t exactly a victory for Davidson, but it was as close to triumph as most people in his situation can get. The validating comments from the judge, as well as the defendant’s impending release date, put a positive spin on today’s proceedings. For Davidson, however, this semi-happy resolution was a long time in the making.

The case goes back to July 2003, when Tehama County Sheriffs raided two medical marijuana growsites associated with Davidson and his partner Cynthia Blake. The pair was arrested on charges of cultivation and possession for sale, in spite of claims they were legitimate caregivers under California law. The case was in the hands of the Tehama County District Attorney for several months before it was turned over to federal prosecutors in early 2004.

The change of jurisdiction did not bode well for Davidson and Blake. It effectively stripped them of a medical defense to their charges, since the U.S. government doesn’t follow state laws on medical marijuana. Felony convictions, therefore, became a near-certainty for both of the defendants. Given these circumstances, it’s easy to understand the rationale behind Davidson’s next move – while out on bail awaiting trial, he seemed to suddenly vanish into thin air.

Law enforcement officers ended up tracking Davidson down in New Mexico in mid-2007.  They brought him to Sacramento County Jail, where he waited for two and a half years for his case to play out.   Meanwhile, Blake took a plea deal and received a sentence of 18 months in federal prison.  After her attorney convinced the court that she had no involvement with one of the grow locations, Blake was permitted to serve the last six months of her sentence on home arrest.

Public defender Tim ZindelAlthough urged by his attorneys to accept a plea deal for a ten-year sentence, Davidson wasn’t willing to give up so easily. With the hope of getting a better offer from prosecutors, he brought public defender Tim Zindel onto the case. Zindel, who has represented a number of medical marijuana defendants in federal court, implemented a waiting-game strategy that ended up paying off for his client. As the defense stalled in anticipation of new federal policy guidelines from the Obama Administration, Davidson had ample time in jail to take advantage of the educational and self-improvement opportunities that impressed his judge so favorably. And in the end, Zindel was able to negotiate Davidson’s sentence down to a third of its original size.

During years of waiting and wondering, Davidson was able to find spiritual value in his experiences. Although an injustice, being jailed taught him valuable lessons about “letting go of personal will.” In a facility that’s notorious for its high suicide rate, such positivity was likely a life-saver.

Regarding the end of his incarceration, Davidson was contemplative. “Time is less poignant when the future is nebulous,” he reflected. “My mind is catching up on being future-active.”

Originally published on February 25, 2010 by Vanessa Nelson at (now defunct).