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Judge: Prove Bob Marley Smoked Weed

A Washington, D.C. man had his conviction for possessing drug paraphernalia thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — which, aside from the Supreme Court, is the highest court in our nation’s capital – after the court issued an opinion that would not survive scrutiny in a dorm room or reggae festival, but is nonetheless legally sound.

You need to prove Bob Marley smoked weed.

Deandre Brooks was convicted of possessing paraphernalia after U.S. Park Police discovered a grinder in his pocket. On the grinder was an image of Robert Nesta Marley, also known as Bob.

On January 28, Associate Judge Roy W. McLeese laid down the facts as follows:

In a search incident to the arrest [for assaulting a police officer], one of the officers, a twelve-year veteran assigned to investigate narcotics and vice offenses, found in Mr. Brooks’s pants pocket “a metal grinder with a picture of Bob Marley that is commonly used for grinding up marijuana.” Another officer, who was assigned to the Narcotics Unit and had been involved in over 500 drug operations, testified that he had recovered grinders numerous times. That officer further explained that grinders are used to grind up marijuana by people who smoke marijuana, and that when officers arrest people with grinders, there typically is green plant material in the grinders.

With blazing clarity, Judge McLeese explained why Brooks’ conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia would have to be reversed for insufficient evidence:

[T]here was no evidence that anyone saw Mr. Brooks use the grinder [to process, prepare, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance]. Nor was there evidence that Mr. Brooks made any statements suggesting an intent to use the grinder for drug-related purposes. Nor, finally, was there any evidence that Mr. Brooks possessed or used drugs, either at the time of the offense or at any previous time. Rather, the United States argues that Mr. Brooks’s intent to use the grinder for drug-related purposes can be inferred from three pieces of evidence: (1) the grinder bore the likeness of Bob Marley; (2) an experienced officer testified that people who smoke marijuana commonly use grinders to grind up marijuana, and (3) another experienced narcotics officer testified that he had recovered grinders numerous times.

Methodically deconstructing the government’s half-baked arguments to uphold Brooks’ conviction, the heart of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ ruling boils down to this:

In explaining the significance of the first piece of evidence, the United States argues that “the trial court was no doubt aware [that] Bob Marley is the late reggae superstar whose name is virtually synonymous” with marijuana. We assume for current purposes that the trial court may have been aware of a general association between Bob Marley and marijuana. At trial, however, the United States introduced no evidence that Bob Marley was generally associated with marijuana, did not ask the trial court to take judicial notice of such an association, and in fact never explicitly suggested that such an association exists.

One definite bud of wisdom that can be drawn from Judge McLeese’s opinion in Brooks v. U.S.: Never judge a grinder by its cover.

Photo by Dennis O’Regan/Getty Images