Getting caught with a measly 1.5 grams of cannabis can land you in jail for a year in Georgia. That's what happened recently to 37-year-old Robert Stovall, who received a 12-month jail sentence after getting caught with just over a gram in the Atlanta suburb of Newnan.
The arresting officer said he originally pulled over Stovall's vehicle because of a broken tail light. But when Alec Taylor of the Newnan Police approached Stovall's car, he says he caught a strong whiff of cannabis.
"I do have a small personal amount that I smoke recreationally," Stovall admitted when Taylor asked about the smell. That amount turned out to be 1.5 grams.
Cannabis has been decriminalized in Atlanta and several Georgia cities, but Newnan isn't one of them. The Coweta County Solicitor's office suggested punishing Stovall with a year of probation, community service and $1,300 fine, which Stovall could not afford. So his attorney Brad Moody had to request a jail sentence instead. That's when Judge Seay VanPatten-Poulakos slapped Stovall with the maximum sentence for the offense: 12 months in jail.
Stovall's attorney Brad Moody called he sentence unjust both because of the harmless nature of the offense and because Stovall was essentially getting incarcerated for being poor.
"We’re talking about a few Cheerios of marijuana and they’re wanting to put this guy in jail, lock him in a steel cage for 12 months," Moody told 11Alive. "The only reason Mr. Stovall was sentenced to 12 months in jail is because he’s poor."
Stovall also believes the judge abused her power.
"She did it because she was able to do it," he said. "I don’t feel that she thought there would be any consequences to it."
Moody later filed a motion for reconsideration, and Stovall's sentence was reduced to 57 days. But even that is far too long to spend locked up for possessing a plant - especially since the reasons for pulling over Stovall are unquestionable since the officer's body-cam appears to show that his tag lights operating.
"On the film, you can see my tag lights operating," Stovall explained. "My tag lights were not out. There was nothing about myself that should have drawn the attention of any law enforcement, but it did."