POSTED: 10:59 a.m. HST, Sep 27, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 1:02 p.m. HST, Sep 27, 2013
Hawaii island cannabis advocate Roger Christie and his wife pleaded guilty this morning in their marijuana trafficking case related to a now-defunct Hilo marijuana ministry.
Christie pleaded guilty to one count of marijuana trafficking and two counts of failure to file tax returns for income earned in 2008 and 2009
Christie's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22.
The marijuana trafficking charge carries a prison term of five to 40 years and each of the two tax charges carry maximum one-year jail term.
But Christie's lawyer Thomas Otake said his client will likely receive a five-year sentence and will only have to serve only six more months behind bars because he will be credited for the time he spent behind bars awaiting trial and because of the way federal authorities calculate prison sentences, Otake said..
In addition, under the conditional plea agreement, Christie will be allowed to appeal pretrial rulings to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals such as the denial of his bid to dismiss the marijuana charges under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
If Christie prevails on appeal, the convictions based on his guilty pleas will be reversed, Otake said.
Christie acknowledged in court today his sentence is not bound by his plea agreement.
Sherryanne Christie, 62, Christie's wife and codefendant, also pleaded guilty this morning to a lesser marijuana trafficking charge which carries a prison term of up to 20 years, but no minimum prison term.
Roger Christie admitted this morning he was a leader of the marijuana trafficking conspiracy that distributed marijuana from his The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry (THC) in Hilo.
His wife admitted she was an "intermediate" leader of the conspiracy.
Under her conditional plea agreement, she will also be allowed to appeal pretrial rulings. Her sentencing date will be Jan. 27.
The plea agreement cancels the trial for the couple that was scheduled to start Oct. 8.
Roger Christie faced multiple marijuana charges related to his ministry, and has been in custody since his arrest in July 2010 on a federal marijuana trafficking indictment. Under his plea agreement, federal prosecutors will dismiss Roger Christie's other marijuana charges.
Roger Christie has maintained that marijuana is a sacrament and an integral part of his ministry, but federal prosecutors argued that his ministry was a front to mask his marijuana enterprise.
The income tax loss regarding his two federal tax charges was reported today in court as $7,100 in 2008 and $6,844 in 2009.
Roger Christie has become an icon among marijuana supporters who say he has been unfairly targeted. They point to the changing attitudes toward cannabis that include voters in Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana for personal use.