What is pot prosecution good for? | Feature | Chicago Reader

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What is pot prosecution good for?

Little rhyme or reason in reefer cases

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On June 22, Alvino was in court—again. And, wanting to get out of there as soon as he could, he was looking to cut a deal.

"I work every day at a grocery store," he said. "And I can't win this."

Alvino, 30, was in the misdemeanor courthouse at 51st and Wentworth to face charges of possessing marijuana and assaulting a police officer. A few weeks earlier he'd been arrested when police were trying to break up what they described as "a large disturbance/riot/brawl" near 63rd and May.

According to the police report, Alvino approached one of the cops "with clenched fists" and declared, "I'm gonna beat the fuck out of you."

The police report states that the officer tackled Alvino, placed him under arrest, and found a baggie in his pocket containing about one gram of marijuana with an estimated street value of $5.

"It was my weed," Alvino acknowledged.

But he had a different account of his run-in with the cops: "Fighting with the police? No one does that in America. I was going to the liquor store to buy something to drink and get a blunt for my weed. Some other guys were out there fighting and they just picked me out of the crowd." He spent a day in jail before being released.

It wasn't his first run-in with the authorities. In fact, Alvino appears to be the kind of troublemaker cops want to arrest for marijuana possession just to get them off the street.

The thing is, pot busts haven't kept Alvino out of trouble. Between 1998 and 2003, according to court records, he was charged five times with possession of marijuana and two other times with the intent to manufacture or deliver it—in other words, with dealing. He sat in jail for a couple of days on two occasions.

In 2003, Alvino was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon—that is, illegally carrying a gun. He served less than a year in state prison.

When he was released, Alvino returned to his old ways. In 2005, 2007, and twice in 2008, he was arrested and charged with marijuana possession.

And each time the arresting officers failed to show up in court and the cases were dismissed.

On his June 22 court day, Alvino had a choice: he could fight the assault charge but risk being sentenced to more time in jail, or he could accept the prosecutor's offer to plead guilty to assault in exchange for dropping the marijuana charge and walking out.

His public defender urged him to fight. But Alvino couldn't stand the thought of spending any more time in court, much less jail. He took the deal and pleaded guilty to a crime he says he never committed, adding another conviction to his record.

"I'm supposed to be at work right now," he said as he hurried out of the courtroom.

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