|Photo: Indy Bay|
|Dispensary owner Rick Morse is back in jail for the third time on the same 15-day sentence|
The owner of a Fresno medical marijuana dispensary is caught in the middle of an escalating battle between a sheriff and a judge, both of whom say they have the legal right to decide whether he stays in jail.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald R. Franson on Tuesday sent Rick Morse — who has been jailed and released twice already — back to jail for a third time. This time, it came with a warning to the sheriff that Morse must stay behind bars until his 15-day sentence is served, report Paula Lloyd and Jim Guy of The Fresno Bee.
Judge Franson had earlier asserted state law gives him “the inherent power” to keep Morse in jail for his full sentence. The judge on Tuesday went even further, claiming that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office must get the court’s permission before releasing a sentenced prisoner like Morse.
Assistant Sheriff Tom Gattie, however, said a 1994 court order imposed on the jail controls when it must release nonviolent prisoners.
According to Gattie, the court decree, imposed to prevent rampant overcrowding, says the jail must have a bed for every prisoner, and must have enough correctional officers on staff to guard the inmates.
Prisoners can be released for overcrowding, unless they are being held for violent crimes such as murder or rape, Gattie said.
“Rick Morse doesn’t fit that criteria,” Gattie said, because his offenses did not involve violence.
Morse has been booked into Fresno County Jail three times and released twice in the past 11 days.
Sheriff Margaret Mims has cut the jail staff, reducing its capacity by half in recent months, citing budget cuts. As a result, thousands of prisoners have been released early, before serving their entire sentences.
Franson sentenced Morse to 15 days in jail on May 14 for violating a court order to stop selling marijuana from his storefront dispensary in Fresno. He was released from jail only eight hours later.
Morse was in Franson’s courtroom again on May 20 for a hearing on whether the city had the right to shut down his dispensary. Franson ordered him thrown back in jail a second time to serve the rest of his 15-day sentence.
Morse was released from jail again on Monday, again due to overcrowding.
On Tuesday, Morse was ordered back to jail by Judge Franscon for a third time to finish his 15-day sentence. The judge did not say what he might do if the sheriff releases Morse early again without his permission.