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Court dismisses marijuana conviction

FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2012

SEATTLE – Washington’s Supreme Court threw out marijuana charges against a man in Auburn on Thursday, saying the city didn’t have the authority to prosecute him under state law.

When Dustin Gauntt was arrested in late 2008, the city had not adopted any ordinances criminalizing misdemeanor possession of marijuana or use of drug paraphernalia. He was charged in municipal court with those violations of state law and convicted.

He appealed, and both a King County Superior Court judge and the state Court of Appeals agreed with him. The Supreme Court put the matter to rest Thursday, unanimously ruling that Auburn did not have the authority to prosecute him. Cities are tasked with prosecuting misdemeanors committed within their jurisdictions, Justice Tom Chambers noted, but they must have their own laws to enforce.

Auburn City Attorney Daniel Heid said he was disappointed with the ruling. He argued that when the Legislature required cities to shoulder the costs of prosecuting misdemeanors in their jurisdictions, it implicitly authorized them to prosecute such violations of state law. The high court disagreed.

Nevertheless, Heid said he expected the effect of Thursday’s ruling to be limited. Since the appeals court ruling in the case, some cities changed their laws to state that any misdemeanors under state law shall also be crimes within the city.


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