Defense Attorney, Phil Telfeyan, on the Kettle Falls Five Case

The Kettle Falls Five case has garnered significant national attention. For some, the case is a classic example of the federal government’s overreach into state regulatory issues. For others, it has simply become a rallying cry for marijuana legalization.

CrowdDefend sat down with Kettle Falls Five defense attorney, Phil Telfeyan, of Equal Justice Under Law, to learn more about the case. Phil and his colleagues have to-date provided their services probono, but they recently launched a campaign on CrowdDefend to help cover some of the costs they have incurred.

You can contribute to the legal fund here:

For those that are unfamiliar with the Kettle Falls Five case, can you give us a short summary of what happened?

In August 2012, nine federal and state agents raided the home of Larry and Rhonda Harvey in rural northeastern Washington, about 10 miles west of the town of Kettle Falls.  The agents found 74 marijuana plants growing on the property and the Harveys presented the agents with 5 state sanctioned medical marijuana authorizations: one each for Larry, Rhonda, their son Rolland, Rolland’s wife Michelle, and family friend Jason.  Each authorization stated that each patient could grow up to 15 marijuana plants for her or his own personal medical use.

In a state where marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use, the federal government indicted the Kettle Falls Five with five separate charges requiring mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years to life in federal prison.  Although the family admitted growing marijuana for their medical needs, they denied all of the other charges, including distribution, conspiracy to commit drug trafficking offenses, use of firearms, and operating a drug house.

After a week-long trial in March, a federal jury in Spokane delivered acquittals on all five charges and convicted each family member only of a lesser-included offense of growing less than 100 marijuana plants (which carries no mandatory minimum).  The family is scheduled for sentencing on this count on June 10, 2015.

How did you get involved in the case?

The Kettle Falls Five had garnered significant media attention during their two-plus years of persecution from the federal government.  We saw the coverage and reached out to the family’s court-appointed lawyers to offer help.  After meeting with the family and their attorneys, Equal Justice Under Law agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis.

In your opinion, why has this case been able to capture national attention?

The government’s over-zealous prosecution of the Kettle Falls Five epitomizes the height of the insanity of the failed War on Drugs. Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998, and the state has among the country’s most liberal recreational marijuana laws.  For a family with no criminal record to face 10 years to life in prison for growing medical marijuana simply shocks people’s moral sensibilities.

As a society, we want to trust the federal government to protect us and care for the downtrodden; instead, it targets largely poor and minority communities with decades-long prison sentences for totally victimless offenses.  People are rightly fed up with these kinds of cases.

What’s next for the Kettle Falls Five case?

Even though the jury exonerated the family on all of the most serious charges, the group was convicted of a lesser-included offense for growing less than 100 marijuana plants.  This offense carries a minimum sentence of 0 days in prison, which is what Equal Justice Under Law will be seeking.  The federal government appears poised to push for a draconian sentence; the parties will argue the sentencing in federal court on June 10, 2015.

After sentencing, Equal Justice Under Law hopes to continue its work on the case through any appellate stages.

What will the funds raised on CrowdDefend be used?

As a non-profit organization, Equal Justice Under Law depends entirely on donations in order to provide legal assistance to those who cannot afford it.  All of the donations we receive go directly to the costs of litigation, including our litigation staff, travel costs, court fees, investigation, and the like.

You can donate to Equal Justice Under Law here.

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