Minutes before her husband’s sentencing hearing began, Andrea Davis bounced the couple’s third baby on her lap. After nine years of hearings, Davis seemed to have become an expert at soothing a child.
The pair watched as Brice Davis, who’d been waiting nine years for a sentence on a marijuana conviction, was told he’d spend half a year in prison.
More than a dozen family members and friends of Davis sat around his wife in support, the most his defense attorney, David Miller, said he’d ever seen.
For close to a decade – through a marriage, the birth of three children and the start of several businesses – Davis has faced a potential future of at least 15 years in prison for marijuana-related offenses he was charged with in 2011.
U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen on Wednesday sentenced Davis to six months in prison, plus three years of supervised release.
Davis is one of seven codefendants initially indicted on federal charges carrying minimum 5- and 10-year prison sentences after police discovered a Spokane County marijuana grow in November 2011.
Police arrested them a full year before Washington voters approved the legal cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana in small amounts, and before Congress approved changes to federal law that threw kinks into a prosecution that spanned nearly a decade.
During the search nine years ago, detectives found eight pounds of pot and 1,000 plants at the illegal grow operation. In court Wednesday, the prosecution argued that the presence of a gun on the property showed the potential for crimes to escalate, and Davis’ prior marijuana possession charge in Utah indicated to the government that Davis was not above criminal use of the plant.
Miller argued Davis had been unaware the operation was illegal, that laws around marijuana have changed drastically and that Davis had rehabilitated himself through a decade of stressful court proceedings that included three appeals of pretrial judgments.
Nielsen met in the middle between recommendations of the prosecution and defense. Miller argued Davis should serve no time, while prosecutors sought a sentence of a year and one day.
A complicated case
The first appeal in the case occurred in June 2012, when prosecutors sought to admit evidence obtained at the residence near Newman Lake. Defense attorneys argued the search was unlawful because sheriff’s deputies hadn’t established probable cause to search the residence by simply stating they smelled growing marijuana.
The evidence was admitted by the Ninth Circuit, but defense attorneys appealed again in April 2015. They argued a new Congressional spending act prohibited federal prosecutors from trying marijuana cases in states that permitted sales of the drug for recreational or medical reasons.
Appellate judges agreed but ordered prosecutors to present evidence in the Spokane case and other similar cases to show evidence in court that state laws weren’t being followed if they wanted to continue their case.
In September 2017, just before a third and final appeal, Miller asked the court to uphold a plea agreement that would have dismissed the charges against Davis if he cooperated with investigators. Prosecutors at the last minute argued a gun found in the residence belonged to Davis and could increase his prison sentence.
Prosecutors argued that the evidence was properly presented. Nielsen, who has overseen the case since 2011, did not rule on Miller’s request because of the appeal.
Before Wednesday, only Davis and Peter Magana of the original seven defendants were awaiting sentencing. Jerad Kynaston, the lead defendant, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to manufacturing marijuana and possessing a weapon as a felon. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and was released from custody in June 2019.
Samuel Doyle pleaded guilty to one manufacturing charge, also in December 2017. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison and was released from custody a year later.
Corey Kiehl, Jayde Evans and Tyler McKinley all pleaded to simple possession or misdemeanor distribution charges and were given credit for time served.
Magana is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Davis took a deal, pleading guilty to a single count of manufacturing more than 50 marijuana plants. It’s a federal law that has been rarely pursued in Eastern Washington following the “Kettle Falls Five” case in which family members in Stevens County were prosecuted for growing the plant.
‘It doesn’t make sense putting a loving father in prison’
More than 40 people wrote in character letters describing Davis’ generosity and good nature through the years of looming prison time.
A daycare teacher described how Davis had arranged to trim the trees in her front yard with his eldest son simply because she’d mentioned that their overgrowth bugged her. Davis’ friends and siblings described how he will always stop on the side of the road to help anyone in need. His wife described him coming home late because he stopped to help an old woman weed in her garden.
Jani Davis, Davis’ mother, said because of COVID-19 spreading in prisons, she’s seen stories about violent offenders being released.
“It just doesn’t make sense to put a loving father in prison,” Jani Davis told Judge Nielsen Wednesday.
Jani Davis’ remarks follow the news that several prisons in Washington are facing COVID-19 outbreaks.
Davis pulled his mask away from his face to catch his tears as his mother spoke.
Davis’ father pointed out to Nielsen that his son had several businesses in the works that could employ dozens of people in Spokane Valley, but could not officially start up without Davis’ management. He added that Davis’ children needed him and the good example he sets for them.
Miller, Davis’ lawyer, argued Davis had every reason in 2011 to believe he was working for a legal medical marijuana grow. He said at the time, there were no state inspectors who could verify the legality of an operation. Davis had reviewed medical marijuana grow cards he believed showed it was a legal operation and Davis had told police as much when he was first arrested, Miller argued.
The prosecution argued Davis was playing dumb and said the government did not view him as a “martyr.”
After the sentencing, Miller told the family he’d expected four months, rather than six. He said if Davis had been tried at the state level, he wouldn’t have served more than the few days he spent in jail in 2011.
Miller pointed out that Vancouver, B.C., has legalized possession of all drugs in small amounts.
“All prohibition does is create criminals,” Miller said.
In his more than 25 years of experience in law, Miller said he has rarely seen marijuana linked to violent crime.
“I’ve seen many domestic violence cases where alcohol was involved, and you can buy alcohol from Safeway right now,” Miller said.
Davis was not taken into custody at the end of his hearing, and Miller said Davis should have about 10 days before serving his sentence.
Staff writer Kip Hill contributed to this story.
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