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Prosecutor's persistence puzzles the people of Norman

What's the difference between drug paraphernalia and a perfectly legal pipe that can be used to smoke tobacco?

According to the Norman district attorney, who is doggedly pursuing another round of charges against a shop owner who sold glass pipes in a store full of eclectic items like jewelry and art, there's no distinction.

Jury after jury has already disagreed. If the prosecutor pursues the remaining charges against the former shop owner, his manager (who is also a popular city councilman) and several clerks, it will be the fifth trial over the issue. The first four ended in one hung jury and three acquittals.

The ongoing legal drama has many residents wondering why the prosecution is so determined to gain a conviction. Many see the cases as an example of governmental overreach -- and an expense that seems to be unwarranted when the only issue is whether or not the glass pipes could be used for legal purposes, like smoking tobacco. Every day of these trials is estimated to have cost the city $7,800 -- which seems like an extraordinary expense given the nature of the alleged crime

Aggressive acts of prosecution against shops that sell smoking accessories are nothing new in Norman, but this case is somewhat extreme. The owner, the city councilman who managed the shop and the clerks have all refused plea deals and have been willing to take their chances with prison time by taking the cases to trial. Many question the reason for the trials, calling it a waste of taxpayer money, and newspapers have noted that the investigation began shortly after the city councilman working there voted against allowing the police department to spend $280,000 for an armored car.

Under state law, there are a number of criteria used to determine if an object is actually drug paraphernalia or not. While the pipes could be used for drugs, they could also legitimately be used for tobacco, and Oklahoma's Bureau of Narcotics said that the agency typically focuses on shops that knowingly market the items for drug use.

If you've become the victim of an overzealous prosecution that's trying to make a drug case out of a tobacco pipe or something similar, contact a criminal defense attorney promptly.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Oklahoma prosecutor still pursuing case against pipe shop," May 10, 2017

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