Pubdate: Thu, 24 Apr 2003
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Record Searchlight - The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author:  Maline Hazel


A state appellate court has overturned convictions of a Redding mother and 
son found guilty of conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in a highly 
publicized medicinal marijuana case three years ago.

A three-justice panel of the state's 3rd Appellate District in Sacramento 
ruled Monday that defense attorney Eric Berg of Redding should have 
objected to an instruction that may have persuaded jurors to convict Lydia 
Hall, 65, and her son James, 41.

The same jury acquitted the Halls of growing marijuana and also acquitted 
Jim Hall on a charge of possession of marijuana for sale.

Jim Hall was sentenced to 75 days in Shasta County Jail, while his mother 
was sentenced to one day in jail. Both sentences were stayed pending the 
outcome of the appeals.

Charges were filed against the Halls after Shasta County sheriff's deputies 
confiscated 188 young plants and seedlings from the Halls' garage and 49 
from a hydroponic garden in Jim Hall's closet in 1999.

Jim Hall, who suffers from a debilitating back injury, and his mother, who 
said she used marijuana to alleviate glaucoma symptoms and migraines, said 
they believed their gardens were legal under Proposition 215, the 
Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

That law does not specify how many plants patients can grow as long as the 
patients have doctors' recommendations. Both Hall and his mother had 
doctor's recommendations.

Jurors said after the verdict that even though they believed the Halls had 
a right to grow plants under California law, they believed that the number 
of plants was unreasonable -- hence the conspiracy conviction.

Jim Hall's appellate attorney, Eileen Kotler of Pacifica, argued that Berg 
should have fought against a jury instruction that said a defendant is not 
guilty if he or she had a "reasonable" belief that the actions were legal.

Lydia Hall represented herself in the appeal, but joined Kotler's motions 
on her son's behalf.

Kotler said that the Halls, even though it might have been unreasonable, 
thought they were following California law.

The court agreed, finding "a reasonable probability a correct instruction 
would have resulted in a different outcome for defendants" on the 
conspiracy charge.

Kotler said Tuesday that she is "very pleased" with the ruling and also 
that, though Berg "missed this one little thing," he mounted a good defense 
for the Halls.

Berg, too, was happy with the ruling.

"My main reaction is that I think there has been a pretty significant, even 
a huge change, in perception in these kinds of cases since this one was 
originally prosecuted," Berg said.

Acting Shasta County District Attorney Greg Gaul said Tuesday that he had 
not yet read the appellate decision and could not comment on whether his 
office would refile the charge.

Berg said he is hopeful that Gaul will "show compassion and mercy and do 
the right thing."

Jim Hall, meanwhile, praised Kotler.

"She was great, did an excellent job, and I'm really impressed," he said, 
declining comment on Berg's advice.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart