The attorney representing the two siblings sentenced Tuesday to a combined total of 37 years in prison for a marijuana grow operation says it's the longest sentence he's ever seen for a first offense.
Dan Viets, the state director for the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and director of Show Me Cannibas, was disheartened to see David and Natalie DePriest of Farmington, who he describes as two non-violent offenders with no prior convictions, sentenced to such lengthy terms.
"In 27 years of representing people with marijuana charges that is the longest sentence I have ever seen for people with no prior felony convictions for cultivating a few marijuana plants," Viets said.
Viets disagreed with the prosecution’s assessment saying 12 plants and eight baby sprouts in a closet are not a large operation. He added that during the search no money was found.
"According to the evidence, according to the prosecutors, David and Natalie cultivated a total of 12 marijuana plants. Now there were eight sprouts in addition to the mature plants. The 12 plants were in a closet in David's bedroom. In addition to that they had roughly two pounds of marijuana in bags, but that was it," Viets said.
Thus, David DePriest received two 15-year sentences to run concurrently for the operation. He was also sentenced to seven years for an additional charge of unlawful possession of an illegal weapon. Viets says that, however, still does not just justify the sentence.
"Now David also pleaded guilty to possessing a rifle that was one-quarter inch shorter than the law allows, but that's it. That's the crime. His firearms are not illegal to possess. There's nothing illegal about any of the guns he owned or anything else associated with them, other than that one rifle was a quarter-inch too short. So I certainly don't think that justifies or explains why he received such a harsh sentence," Viets said.
After the judge imposed the sentence, Viets asked if the judge would consider sentencing through a 120-day drug treatment program where DePriest would have a chance of being released on five years of probation after completing the 120-day treatment program in prison. The judge said no.
Natalie DePriest was then sentenced to two 15 year concurrent terms in the department of corrections for her role in the crime — for a total of 15 years. She had no prior convictions, other than a bad check charge, and was employed. Viets told the judge that Natalie DePriest did break the law, but she did not hurt anybody or distribute a "dangerous drug."
The judge denied Viets’ request for a 120-day drug treatment program
"We were hopeful that the judge might decide to grant them probation. Even though the prosecutor wouldn't agree to probation, he had recommended 10 years with 120 days served,” Viets said. “Well the defendants hoped the judge would grant them probation without having to spend four months in prison and also without a life-long criminal conviction record.
“In other words what we were asking for was a suspended imposition of the sentence, which is very common for people with no prior criminal history. That's not an unusual outcome at all in a case like this. But to receive the maximum sentence for a dozen small marijuana plants, eight sprouts and a couple pounds of marijuana …"
Viets pointed out the DePriest sentencing came just after Judge Pratte had sentenced a woman with 11 methamphetamine related charges. According to case.net Francesca Spinelli, 38, of French Village, entered an Alford Plea of guilty on Sept. 11 to seven counts of possession of chemicals with intent to create a controlled substance, one count of a precursor drug with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, one count of possession of a controlled substance other than marijuana and one count of unlawful use of paraphernalia. She also entered a guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance.
"Ten counts of possessing items with the intention of making methamphetamine and that woman walked away with probation. In fact she got an SIS on one of her charges," Viets said.
He said an appeal is not an option since there was not a trial.
According to Viets, the judge still has the option to free the Depriests in the first 120 days and place them on probation.
"He (Pratte) still has the power to release David and Natalie within the first 120 days. He has the power to let them out and place them on probation within the first 120 days of their sentence. I asked him to consider doing that and he said he would not, but he could change his mind. This is an extremely harsh sentence given the facts and circumstances," Viets said.
Many readers agreed with Viets' assessment of "this being an extremely harsh sentence." Here are a few comments posted online after the story was published Thursday.
"Grandmoi" posted, "The law needs to be changed, and soon, this is draconian sentencing, nothing new to Saint Francois County where the prosecutors seem to feel that marijuana is equal to murder. When it does become legal, whatever will the police and court do to amuse themselves?"
"Resident” posted, "I find it very disturbing these two people are going to prison longer than child molesters in this area. I am curious to why? Why did Michael Brooks get only 15 years and these people who did not harm anyone get more? Our justice system is failing. I do not care for weed, but to each their own. It's so crazy to look back at all these people who were imprisoned and killed over alcohol and now look."
"Laurieisnhrt" posted, "Boo! This is so stupid! Go after the meth labs and pill poppers! Cannabis is a herb that should be legalized, as it grows wild, naturally, has many many medicinal effects and if it ever goes on the ballot I will vote for it to be legalized in Missouri. It's already been legalized in our neighboring states. Come on Missouri, get with the program.”