As a Buffalo police officer, James Hamilton Sr. was caught in November selling a quarter-pound of his homegrown marijuana to an informant. He pleaded guilty three months later in a deal that would give him somewhere between 18 and 24 months behind bars.
But as sentencing day approached, Hamilton asked a judge to keep him out of prison because, he said, his motives were above board. He told the judge in a letter that he started growing his plants for the day when medical marijuana would be legal and his product could alleviate suffering for many people.
As for his sale of $1,100 worth of pot to a government informant, Hamilton called it a “lapse of judgment.”
U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, who had expressed concern about the possible sentence, agreed Wednesday with prosecutors that Hamilton should spend time in prison – 18 months.
“It’s an unfortunate situation you put yourself in,” Skretny told Hamilton, a lean 30-year-old whose family sat in support in the courtroom.
“The most regrettable part,”’ Skretny continued, “is you took an oath, which you chose to put aside – for whatever reason I don’t know.”
After Hamilton serves his prison time, he will undergo two years of supervised release. Further, he must forfeit $50,000 – the amount the government prosecutors calculated as the value of the marijuana crop found in his basement.
Skretny a week ago had urged defense lawyer Thomas J. Eoannou and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch to negotiate their differences over the potential sentence. The negotiations didn’t go far.
Judging by the remarks in court, Lynch reminded Eoannou that Hamilton agreed to plead guilty to one count of marijuana distribution, knowing that federal sentencing guidelines would lead to 18 to 24 months in prison.
Eoannou took offense to Lynch also arguing that, because investigators found a shotgun near Hamilton’s marijuana plants, prosecutors could have gone for an additional 25 years in prison. Or they could have pursued charges against Hamilton’s wife.
“Basically we were strong-armed, Eoannou said.
Hamilton had written a letter to Skretny saying, “It would absolutely be no benefit to me or any tax-paying American to place me in an institution.”
Confinement would lead to further financial ruin for his family, he pointed out. His wife, according to his statement, lost out on her career as a state trooper because of his arrest. Hamilton said he would be in harm’s way in a prison “sitting with inmates that I’ve placed in there.”
While Hamilton acknowledged it was appropriate that he serve time, he suggested that Skretny suspend the sentence so that Hamilton could do charitable work while in society.
“I’ve endured more punishment than most Americans ever will,” he said in his letter.
In response, federal prosecutors said they didn’t buy Hamilton’s story that he was an entrepreneur driven to ease the suffering of patients with certain medical conditions.
They said the sale of a quarter-pound of pot Nov. 20 was not a one-time thing. Hamilton, they said, was set up to sell marijuana for whatever money he could make. Buffalo police fired Hamilton after his arrest.