Ada County prosecutor, ISP more interested in saving face than pursuing justice

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Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts and the Idaho State Police, collectively referred hereinafter as the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, continue to defend the arrest and prosecution of truck drivers who were innocently transporting non-narcotic hemp through the state.

Bennetts and the ISP keep up the persecution despite an onslaught of criticism, public outcry, and a rare appeal by the public and legislators to drop the charges.

“Those of us who enforce Idaho’s laws are bound by the laws which currently exist, not those which may exist at some future date,” the Ministry of Vice and Virtue said in a news release.

The statement came a day after three courageous lawmakers, Reps. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; Ilana Rubel, D-Boise; and Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, delivered more than 13,000 petition signatures to the Ada County prosecutor’s office calling for the dismissal of the charges against the accused truckers, Andrew D’Addario, Erich Eisenhart, and Denis Palamarchuk. Kudos and heartfelt gratitude to the trio of lawmakers for going the extra mile and for being the only grownups in the room when it comes to the pursuit of justice.  

Rubel noted that there’s no defensible reason for Idaho to confiscate their truck, the hemp, or to pursue felony drug trafficking charges against the young men who, by all accounts and records, are law-abiding citizens and productive members of society.

“It is entirely within the prosecutors’ power to not bring charges,” Rubel said during a press conference on the steps of the Ada County Courthouse. “They have every freedom in the world to make this case go away today.”

True enough, there’s a thing called “prosecutorial discretion” wherein the government can choose to dismiss or simply not pursue a case due to any number of circumstances. This ranges from a lack of evidence, victim, or criminal intent, or the need to deploy scarce resources to other matters in the interest of public safety.

Anyone who has ever been pulled over for a traffic violation has probably experienced this discretion as it applies to law enforcement. When a police officer or sheriff’s deputy states, “Yes, the law says you should be cited, but I’m going to let you off with a warning,” that’s the application of discretion in one of its most familiar circumstances. A bigger application, as Moon, Rubel, and Nichols noted, is a gross miscarriage of justice, such as arresting young men hauling hemp from a legal farm in one state to a legal farm in another. Those men are now caught up in an extreme version of an Idaho speed trap.

Remember that Idaho is an outlier on this issue. Some 41 states have legalized industrial hemp cultivation, including all of the Gem State’s neighbors. This past session, Moon and Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, tried to legalize industrial hemp cultivation in the Gem State, only to see the Idaho Senate engage in legislative tomfoolery, which ultimately doomed an otherwise worthy piece of legislation.

I believe the real reason the Ministry chooses to pursue the charges is that they’ve already made a big deal about the case. The Ministry told the news media that they had intercepted vast amounts of marijuana—they called the January arrests “the largest pot bust in the state’s history”—only to find out that what they had in the hemp shipment was best for making textiles, rope, and CBD oil, not getting high.

Bennetts’ office and the Idaho State Police would have you believe that they are bound by an antiquated and misguided Idaho law that makes hemp legally indistinguishable from marijuana. But it is plainly obvious that they’re more concerned with saving face than administering justice. Now, Idaho taxpayers, who get to pay for the prosecution of three harmless truck drivers, can count themselves among the Ministry’s unwitting victims.