Court Support and Organizing During Trials
Medical cannabis patients are being arrested, facing trial, and going to jail nationwide. As advocates, it is our job to highlight these injustices in the courts.
What is court support?
Court support is a group of tactics used to support a patient or provider while s/he is going through the legal system. Listed below are some examples of tools that can be used for court support. You may want to use some or all of them depending on the situation. Remember the health and safety of the defendant must ALWAYS be your first priority.
1. Get the facts straight: Before you contact the press, make sure you have a clear account of what has happened. Get contact numbers for the defendant and anyone s/he would like to speak on his/her behalf: his/her attorney, family members, local officials, doctors etc.
2. Contact local media about case: Either immediately following the raid or a week before a hearing, send a press advisory to local press outlets.
3. Press Release: Before a court date, send a press release at least 24 hours in advance. Press releases have very specific formats, so if it is your first release, see ASA's media manual: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/MediaManual
4. Background: Medical cannabis trials can be very confusing. It is a good idea to have a one-page handout to give to the press that explains the specifics of the case and information about state law and about the state-federal conflict.
5. Press Conference: Press conferences should only be between 10-30 minutes long. Having an MC can help keep things moving. Make sure everyone knows the speakers' order, only have a press conference when there is something NEW to say, make sure someone helps the press set up and get all the interviews they need, and don't forget signs and visuals!
In the courtroom
Fill the courtroom with supporters…
Be respectful. It is often hard to sit and watch injustices unfold in front of you, but interruptions in the courtroom can cause a judge to take his anger out on the defendant.
Dress for court. Dress like it is YOU that is on the stand, since your appearance reflects on the defendant.
TIP: No need to draw attention to yourself, just all stand up and leave with the defendant.
Outside the courtroom
Protests and rallies: Get creative! Street theater, easy-to-read signs, marches, pickets, and large puppets can deliver a complex message to the public and to the press.
CAUTION: Be aware of laws concerning Jury tampering. Do not hand out information about the defendant once jury selection begins or during the trial.
Going through the legal system can be financially and emotionally draining. To build a strong, vibrant movement, we must make sure we do not let anyone slip through the cracks. Sometimes people need an ear, sometimes a ride to court, or childcare for their children. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask what they need. It is important to only commit to what is viable for you.
When should you use court support?
Court support should be used anytime a medical cannabis patient, caregiver or business owner/employee is arrested. A defendant or even your community may decide that a specific case may be too cloudy for the local political landscape, and media may do more harm than good. If this is the case, you can still do everything else but contact the media (protests, presence in the court, emotional support etc.).
Why do court support?
Organizing opportunity: Court cases create a crisis in a community and court support can give quiet supporters an opportunity to become active supporters.
Community Awareness: Court cases create an opportunity to educate your community, local media, and legislators about the injustices surrounding medical cannabis.
Bring the issue home: Court cases are an opportunity to localize and put human faces on the medical cannabis issue.
The fate of the defendant: Simply, judges and prosecutors are less likely to screw people in public.
How do you find cases to support?
Keep an eye in the paper for local medical cannabis busts
Stay in touch with people in the medical cannabis community
Check ASA's listing of upcoming federal court dates: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/UpcomingCourtDates