Montana Supreme Court opinion references Notorious B.I.G, ‘The Wire,’ ‘Scarface’
By Ed Kemmick/Last Best News
We cannot say for certain, but we are willing to bet that a Montana Supreme Court opinion issued Tuesday was the first one ever to bolster its conclusions by referencing the rapper Notorious B.I.G., the hip-hop group N.W.A. and two popular crime dramas, “The Wire” and “Scarface.”
The opinion was written by Justice James Shea in an appeal of a Ravalli County District Court ruling in a case involving methamphetamine possession. The appeal was filed by Bruce Anthony Glass, who was handed a five-year sentence on Nov. 19, 2015.
The basis of Glass’s appeal was a claim of double jeopardy. His lawyers had filed a motion to dismiss the charges in state District Court because he had already been charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in U.S. District Court.
They argued that the state offense arose out of the same drug transaction for which he was eventually convicted in federal court, but the motion was denied by the District Court judge. That denial was what his lawyers asked the Supreme Court to overturn.
In a summary of the case included in Shea’s opinion, Glass was said to have received eight pounds of methamphetamine in the mail from a source in California, of which he sold all but eight ounces, which he kept for himself. He subsequently received another pound of meth from the same source and kept two ounces for himself.
The state charge of possession was related to a traffic stop in June of 2014, when Glass and another man were pulled over in Ravalli County because the trailer their vehicle was pulling had nonworking lights. Sheriff’s deputies seized 14 marijuana roaches from an ashtray, three firearms, ammunition and a bag of unidentified pills, as well as a pipe, spoon and syringes, all of which contained residue that tested positive for methamphetamine.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Shea wrote, Glass made the novel argument that “his criminal objective was to import methamphetamine from California to distribute in Montana, and to accomplish that criminal objective, he had to necessarily possess the methamphetamine before he could distribute it. Therefore, Glass contends his act of possessing methamphetamine and distributing methamphetamine is part of the same transaction for which he was convicted in federal court.”
Lawyers for the state, however, argued that “Glass’s possession of the methamphetamine in the pipe was not motivated by the same criminal objective as his possession of the methamphetamine to distribute because he possessed methamphetamine in his pipe for the purpose of inhaling it to get high and he possessed other methamphetamine as part of a conspiracy to distribute dangerous drugs for profit.”
So far, so good, and all very lawyerly and traditional, as were two long, subsequent paragraphs in which Shea explained why he was about to uphold the District Court decision. Then came this unexpected conclusion:
“‘Don’t get high on your own supply’ is a long-established rule of the drug trade specifically because such conduct is inconsistent with the criminal objective of distributing drugs for profit. To that rule, we now add the legal caveat: ‘Don’t get high on your own supply, ’cause double jeopardy don’t apply.’ The District Court’s denial of Glass’s motion to dismiss is affirmed.”
Beneath the conclusion is a footnote to the “Don’t get high on your own supply” quote, which we here give in full:
“See, for example, The Wire, ‘One Arrest’ (Blown Deadline Productions and Home Box Office July 21, 2002); The Notorious B.I.G., Ten Crack Commandments (Bad Boy Records 1997); N.W.A., Dopeman(Macola Records 1987); Scarface (Universal Pictures 1983).”
There is one more footnote, this one attached to Shea’s coinage of “’cause double jeopardy don’t apply.” It reads: “Grammar intentionally sacrificed at the altar of poetic license.”
Last Best News naturally wondered at the extent of Shea’s familiarity with the sources cited, but he could not be reached for comment.
Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist since 1980. Except for four years in his home state of Minnesota, he has spent his entire journalism career in Montana, working in Missoula, Anaconda, Butte and Billings. "The Big Sky, By and By," a collection of some of his newspaper stories and columns, plus a few essays and one short story, was published in 2011.