A California man’s drug case was successfully dismissed by a federal judge once he appealed his convictions after the prosecution was unable to disclose to the defense that a key witness had received a reduced sentence.
Dana Christensen, a U.S. District Judge in Missoula dismissed charges against LaShawn Jermain Johnson of Tulare, California, after the U.S. attorney’s office declined to seek a new trail. The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on the matter, but in previous records, Assistant U.S Attorney Michael Lahr mentioned that the prosecutor had erred in trail.
The 37-year old Johnson was convicted on five counts including cocaine possession with intent to distribute, conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in 2006. His sentence was lowered from 35 years in prison to 25 years. Without an attorney, Johnson appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that prosecutors didn’t reveal to him that co-defendant Heather Schutz was granted a sentence break before her testimony against him.
A Missoula attorney who was recently appointed to represent Johnson, stated that his client was “very, very happy” that the charges had been dismissed. Johnson served eight years in prison before his charges were dropped. As far as the prosecution declining to re-try the case goes, Johnson’s attorney said, “I kind of like to think in this case…they realized that they were just going to do the right thing and not push it.”
In 2006, Johnson was found to be at the top of a large drug conspiracy that ended a year earlier after law enforcement raided Schutz’s house in Billings. Schutz reached a plea agreement in which she testified that Johnson was here supplier in exchange for a reduced sentenced. Schutz had told authorities in an earlier statement that Johnson was not her supplier. Both versions of Schutz’s statement were brought to the jury, but her plea bargain had been reached and the fact that her sentence was already reduced was “evidence the jury should have heard to allow it to determine whether she was being truthful when she debriefed or when testifying at trial,” Lahr said.
Schutz is serving a 15-year sentence.