A Seattle criminal lawyer who specializes in drug cases warns Canadians against smuggling marijuana into Washington state following new U.S. efforts to keep Canadian drug suspects in jail pending trial for fear they will skip bail.
"These Canadian kids, they don't realize the American government has gone completely berserk about marijuana," Jeffrey Steinborn said in an interview Tuesday.
"They treat you as though you were smuggling chemical/biological weapons or nukes or something. They get that excited about it. Don't come. Don't bring pot down here because you don't realize how extreme the consequences are."
Marijuana smugglers face a minimum five-year sentence in the U.S. A person could shorten that sentence by 53 days per year after the first year served for good behaviour, he said.
"You don't get out of jail, you get a huge amount of prison time, and the government has started denying people their right to prisoner transfer under our treaty with Canada."
In the first count of its kind it was found that 47 Canadians were considered for pretrial release in western Washington between June and December, with 26 released on bail and seven missing court dates. That's a failure-to-appear rate of nearly 27 per cent, compared with one to two per cent for all defendants, government lawyers said.
Because Canadians charged with drug offences are perceived to be a flight risk, U.S. courts are taking a harder line on granting them bail pending trial.
"It is true that a lot of Canadians are smart enough not to come back," Steinborn said.
Two Canadians, Achilles Grakul and Raymund Sarandi, were arrested Jan. 27 near the Lynden, Wash., border crossing.
Investigators said they crossed the border with more than 200 kilograms of B.C.-grown marijuana. Another truck authorities said was involved contained 78 kilograms of marijuana.
"Any time you get over 50 kilos, the feds take an interest," Steinborn said.
"They'll request that you not be released. And the way things are going, I think the government is winning on that one. So you start doing the time the day you get busted. It's kind of frustrating."
A U.S. magistrate agreed to release Grakul and Sarandi on bail, but before that could happen assistant U.S. attorney Patricia Lally appealed to the U.S. district court, which ordered the two suspects to remain in custody pending trial.
Steinborn said he doesn't have time to appeal the case before the trial, which is scheduled for Monday, but doubts it would do any good, given the political situation in which even low-level drug offenders currently find themselves in the U.S.
"The people getting busted in the U.S. are almost entirely at the very bottom of the rung. They don't know diddly about what's going on. They're basically told: 'Here, get in this boat or that car or whatever. Go meet this person.' If they get busted, they're cut loose."
"Mr. Grakul ( age 30 ), at the worst, is one of those."
The two accused Canadians are being held in custody at the SeaTac detention centre, or as Steinborn calls it, the SeaTac Gulag.
"A gulag is where you hold political prisoners, and many of them are political prisoners," he said. "If there is anything in the criminal justice system regarding drugs that is not political, I'll be damned if I know what it is."
Steinborn operates a Web site -- www.potbust.com -- and estimates two-thirds of his clientele are Canadians charged with drug offences.
Canadian bail jumpers who scoot back across the border are beyond the reach of U.S. arrest warrants.
They face few if any repercussions in Canada, and extradition can take years, Lally said.
"Our office is becoming increasingly concerned about the disappearance of our Canadian national defendants. If we have to seek extradition in every case where a Canadian doesn't appear, we would be spending all our time just processing extradition documents."
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