Charles Frederick White was arrested in 2012 for a 1,700 plant indoor cannabis grow in rural Missouri and now, after a five year legal battle, the senior citizen will serve 10 years behind bars.
AUTHORITIES STUMBLE ACROSS ILLEGAL CANNABIS GROW
Seventy-seven-year-old Charles Frederick White maintains his rights were violated when two plainclothes detectives, who ironically weren’t even looking for him, entered his property illegally.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, back in March of 2012, the two plainclothes detectives were investigating an identity theft complaint, which led them to an address in Polk County.
The detectives couldn’t find the home they were originally looking for in the dense, underbrush-laden, rural area 45 miles north of Springfield, Missouri. So they stopped at the next closest address instead—the home of Charles Frederick White—presumably to ask for directions.
What transpired there caused an immediate halt to their current identity theft investigation, in favor of a more significant cannabis cultivation collar.
When the detectives drove up White’s long driveway and parked, they observed a tidy property with mowed grass, a well-manicured flowerbed, a screened-in porch and a distinctly skunk-like smell they were quite familiar with—unharvested pot plants.
They did not, they would later claim, see a locked gate marked with a “No Trespassing” sign. The property’s owner, an elderly man wearing a raccoon-hunting headlamp, approached them.
The detectives spoke to White for a few minutes, then left.
They noticed a security camera on a fence post on their way out. Unfortunately for White, the surveillance area did not extend to his gate. Later, they obtained a search warrant, which led investigators to discover that White was growing more than 1,700 marijuana plants on his property.
FREDERICK WHITE, THE 77-YEAR-OLD MISSOURI MAN CAUGHT GROWING WEED
The Polk County sheriff announced that the discovery was the biggest indoor marijuana bust in his 20-plus-year history in law enforcement.
Six years later, White, now 77, hobbled into a federal courtroom for sentencing, with his ankles bound in chains.
He walks with a cane, and his eyesight is failing.
White’s attorneys have long argued that the case should have never reached sentencing, considering overzealous detectives illegally stepped on his property and trampled his constitutional rights, according to the News-Leader.
White’s attorneys further argued that local, state and federal authorities, who have had him in their sights as far back as 2010, have unfairly targeted him. According to a motion filed by White’s attorneys, this case didn’t inadvertently begin while authorities were tracing fraudulently obtained credit cards to a location nearby during an identity theft investigation, as they claimed.
Instead, the motion argued, it actually began in a Kansas City parking lot in 2010.
Court records show that a Missouri State Highway Patrol sergeant observed White and another man leaving a hydroponics store and filling a pickup truck with plant-growing equipment.
According to court filings, White was the focus of a brief investigation. However, the federal prosecutor claimed that details of the prior investigation into White’s activities were never passed on to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The detectives testified that they had never met or heard of White before coming onto his property in March 2012.
They maintain that the discovery of more than 1,700 marijuana plants on White’s property was purely coincidental. The detectives, who are trained to be observant, insisted they didn’t notice the “No Trespassing” sign on his gate when they drove in.
But White emphatically rebuked this claim.
In court filings, he maintained that his gate was closed and that the detectives had no right to open it or to enter his property. Two of White’s neighbors testified in court on his behalf, stating in all the years they had lived next to White, his gate was never open.
One neighbor testified that he saw the officers approach White’s gate that day, get out of their car, undo the chain and open the gate. That testimony was supported by court records, which show that the authorities went onto White’s property twice before legally obtaining a search warrant. Ultimately, the court rejected the neighbor’s testimony on credibility grounds.
WHITE’S CASE GOES TO COURT
Early on, White’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case. But a federal judge ruled against White. Then, in 2015, Whiten’s new attorney, Jason Coatney, made another attempt to have the case dismissed. He argued that federal law was being unfairly applied to White.
In a motion, Coatney said the federal government has a “schizophrenic” approach to marijuana laws. He argued that prosecuting White for something that would be legal in Colorado is a violation of White’s 14th Amendment rights, which entitle people to equal protection under the law.
If the federal government is letting people cultivate cannabis in Colorado and other states, Coatney said, then White should be allowed to cultivate it in Missouri.
However, Coatney’s argument has some holes in it.
Adult residents of Colorado can grow up to six marijuana plants per person with no more than three mature plants at a time. No more than 12 total plants are allowed per residence, regardless of the number of adults living there.
White was caught with over 1,700 plants.
Coatney reasoned that even if one American citizen is allowed to grow one plant, the 14th amendment still applies. Coatney also pointed to 2013 guidelines from the Department of Justice that told federal prosecutors to prioritize marijuana cases that involve organized crime or distribution to children, neither of which apply to White.
White was originally indicted on May 16, 2012, for conspiracy to sell, distribute or dispense a controlled substance. These charges were superseded on May 8, 2013 with conspiracy to sell, distribute or dispense a controlled substance and conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants.
A federal judge ruled against White, and his case headed to trial.
White originally had a pre-trial release. He fled Missouri in 2013 and was apprehended in Colorado. Since early 2015, White has been housed at the Greene County Jail.
On February 8, 2017, White pled guilty to and was sentenced for conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants. His two other counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and sell, dispense or distribute a controlled substance were dismissed on the motion of the government.
A pre-sentencing report calculated that White should serve at least 24 years in prison, due in part to his criminal past. He was convicted in 1990 of manufacturing more than 600 marijuana plants, and again, in 2004, of manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants.
Under a plea deal, the federal prosecutor suggested the minimum sentence under U.S. law: 10 years. Coatney suggested home confinement, but Judge Douglas Harpool said that couldn’t apply in White’s case.
On September 21, 2017, White was sentenced to 10 years, with five years of supervised release (probation). The three years he has already spent in jail will apply to his 10-year-sentence.
He will be 82 years old upon his release.
SUPPORT FOR WHITE
Judge Harpool admitted he struggled with his decision to sentence White to 10 years in prison. He said he researched any way he could give White less than the 10-year-minimum sentence, but failed to find a precedent.
“This is not a sentence I feel particularly good about,” Harpool said. He also said he would suggest that the Bureau of Prisons consider a “compassionate release” for White.
White’s family and friends came to his sentencing hearing. They were upset at the sentence and upset that the case was never thrown out.
“He’s a good man. He’s always been happy and cheerful,” White’s stepdaughter, Valerie Patterson, said. “He’s never had a history of violence.”
Robert Murphy, a friend of White’s, added: “He’s a farmer. He’s always been a farmer. When he was busted, he was busted illegally. Officers entered his property unlawfully.”
It stands to reason that his subsequent arrest could be considered fruit of the poisonous tree. Perhaps that is the reason why the judge “didn’t feel good about” sentencing a 77-year-old man to a decade behind bars for cultivation. White’s case is currently pending appeal.