Under a rarely used principle that a defendant may commit a crime to avoid a perceived greater harm, a federal judge granted reduced sentences yesterday to a California couple who grew marijuana for a now defunct cannabis club, reports the Los Angeles Times. U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz sentenced Judy Osburn, 50, to one year of probation; she could have received as much as 37 months in prison. “You are a principled person,” Matz said. “I don’t consider you to be a threat or menace to society. But however salutary your purpose,” he added, “the ends do not justify the means.”
Osburn’s husband, Lynn, 54, got a one-year prison sentence because he had kept weapons at their ranch, despite a previous conviction that barred him from gun possession. The couple pleaded guilty in October after the judge ruled that they could not tell a jury why they were growing marijuana or that they were doing so with the support of West Hollywood city officials and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Matz justified the sentence under the “lesser harm doctrine,” under which defendants can be justified in committing a crime to avoid the perceived harm of the greater suffering of patients.
Prosecutors opposed leniency for the couple, contending that they were not entitled to it, partly because they had realized a handsome profit from their marijuana sales.