TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — In a story Feb. 8 about a case before the Ohio Supreme Court involving cocaine weights, the last name of a defense attorney was misspelled. It’s Andrew Mayle, not Mahle.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Court to weigh cocaine cases, could alter sentencing in Ohio
Ohio’s top court will take a look this week at how prosecutors measure out cocaine in trafficking and possession cases
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Prosecutors across Ohio are concerned that a ruling under review by Ohio’s top court could delay and shorten sentences for suspects caught with cocaine and force costly changes upon law enforcement.
The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether to uphold an appeals court decision calling into question how prosecutors have handled cocaine cases for years.
It all comes eastdown to weight.
A state appeals court in Toledo ruled last year prosecutors should have determined how much pure cocaine a suspect arrested in a drug sting had with him or her instead of sentencing him based on the weight of the entire amount.
The appeals court ruled that Ohio’s drug laws say that what matters is the weight of the cocaine only — not filler material such as baking soda that’s often added by drug dealers to stretch out their supply and increase profits.
Prosecutors along with the state Attorney General’s office argue that such a narrow interpretation creates a new distinction for cocaine that isn’t applied to any other illegal drugs.
“It’s not what the legislature intended,” said Paul Dobson, the prosecutor in Wood County, where the case originated.
Andrew Mayle, the defense attorney who challenged the original sentence, thinks the state legislature knew what it was doing by singling out cocaine when it rewrote the law first in 1995 and again in 2011.
“They were not concerned with targeting baking soda or sugar or anything else,” he said.
Arguing that the law goes against what the legislature meant to say doesn’t make sense, Mayle said. “Our legal system doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Mayle represents Rafael Gonzales, of Fremont, who was charged with cocaine possession during an undercover operation that in 2012 netted more than two dozen arrests in northwestern Ohio.
Gonzales was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison because he had bought more than 100 grams of what was said to be cocaine from an undercover informant.
Prosecutors never tested it to determine how much pure cocaine was purchased, Mayle said.
The difference, he said, could be 11 years in prison versus just one year.
The state Attorney General’s office said in a court filing that only two states, New York and Georgia, require purity tests for cocaine in some cases. The rest measure the entire weight.
If the Ohio Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision, the state would need to create an entirely new system to test cocaine, which would delay prosecution and require tremendous investment, the Attorney General’s office said.
“This delay will torpedo current and future cocaine cases, including an August 2015 statewide operation that seized millions of dollars’ worth of controlled substances,” the Attorney General’s office said.
It’s not clear whether any drug offenders already convicted could see reduced sentences.
“What you’re going to end up with is more difficulty in prosecuting the higher level offenses,” Dobson said. “Unless the legislature decides to correct the grammar.”
He said there already have been discussions about tweaking the law if the ruling goes against them.