Chris Bartkowicz marijuana-grow case moves forward, could net mandatory 60 year sentence
The February arrest of Highlands Ranch marijuana grower Chris Bartkowicz, as well as his subsequent indictment, has been a rallying point for local medical-marijuana activists -- and it will continue to be so for months to come. The judge at a two-day hearing has allowed the case, which could net Bartkowicz a mandatory sixty-year sentence, to move forward.
Bartkowicz was arrested shortly after showing off his crop to a 9News reporter. Local Drug Enforcement Administration personnel saw a website piece about the interview and raided his home, which was less than 1,000 feet from a school. That and Bartkowicz's past convictions on marijuana-related charges add immeasurably to the prison jolt he could receive, notes his attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri.
According to Saint-Veltri, the federal mandatory minimum sentence for cultivation of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school is five years -- but that's multiplied by Bartkowicz's previous criminal history. According to the government's indictment papers, he's facing a minimum sixty-year sentence -- meaning U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer's only discretion would be to tack on additional time, up to life in prison, not lessen it.
"Some would say this was not a crime of violence," Saint-Veltri notes. "Some would say many other people are doing what Bartkowicz is accused of doing and aren't being prosecuted at all, much less being subjected to a mandatory minimum sentence of sixty years."
This week's hearing dealt in part with Saint-Veltri's contention that Bartkowicz's arrest was illegal because he was coerced into signing search-consent forms and waiving his right to remain silent. The prosecution argues that the search and Bartkowicz's subsequent questioning was consensual.
A Flickr photo DEA agents in action.
During the hearings, testimony cast a light on exactly what "consensual" might mean under these circumstances. On the day in question, Bartkowicz and a companion, Enoch Crago, hopped into Crago's Dodge pickup with the intention of driving to Home Deport to buy security doors. But before they could begin this journey, they were surrounded by multiple vehicles and five or six DEA personnel outfitted in full raid gear.
Crago said in court that the DEA staffers on site drew weapons, but prosecution witnesses denied that, saying their sidearms stayed hosltered. However, they confirmed the use of lights and sirens.
Despite this display of force, Judge Brimmer didn't agree with Saint-Veltri that Bartkowicz's signing of the documents had been coerced in a legal sense -- but neither did he call it consensual. Rather, at the end of the two-day hearing, Brimmer ruled that the Channel 9 story constituted the equivalent of an investigative tip that justified the feds' subsequent actions -- although he tossed some statements Bartkowicz made before inking a Miranda waiver.
Where's that leave Bartkowicz?