(CN) – A California appellate court on Tuesday overturned five men’s convictions for possessing cannabis while in prison.
In 2016, voters in the Golden State approved Proposition 64, which made possession of less than an ounce of cannabis legal – even in prison, according to the appeals court.
Smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison is still a felony, but the court found that possession is not under the plain language of the state’s law, although it is still prohibited by prison regulations.
The five plaintiff prison inmates were denied relief from their convictions by the Sacramento State Court and appealed to the California Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District.
The California Attorney General’s Office tried to muddle the meaning of the statute by playing with syntax, Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye said in his 20-page ruling.
“In order to combat the plain meaning of Proposition 64, the Attorney General deploys a little-known canon of statutory construction in an effort to muddle the meaning of the statute,” Raye said.
The prosecution’s dissection of the penal code attempts to prove that if there is one type of prohibition on the possession of cannabis, there should be a complete ban on possession in the prison system.
“The argument flies in the face of the plain language of the statute and common sense,” Raye said, and he refuted the prosecution’s claims that a plain reading of the statute would lead to “absurd results,” which would allow the court to override the law.
“A result is not absurd because the outcome may be unwise,” Raye said.
The judge determined that none of the prosecution’s policy arguments could “undermine the will of the electorate.”
“We cannot ignore binding precedent and the plain language of a statute based on the intensity of the Attorney General’s passion to criminalize an act the electorate has decided no longer merits treatment as a felony,” Raye said.
Associate Justices Ronald B. Robie and M. Kathleen Butz concurred with the ruling.
The ruling remands the inmates’ cases for the trial court to grant their petitions for relief from their convictions. The five appellants are Goldy Raybon, Anthony Cooper, Dwain Davis, Scott Haynes and James.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.