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Black disabled veteran sentenced to spend 60 months in prison for medical marijuana

A 2016 arrest for marijuana that has turned into a 60-month sentence in an Alabama penitentiary for a disabled veteran from Arizona is drawing national attention.

Brandon Moseley

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Sean Worsley (VIA ALABAMA APPLESEED)

A 2016 arrest for marijuana that has turned into a 60-month sentence in an Alabama penitentiary for a disabled veteran from Arizona is drawing national attention.

On June 30, Alabama Appleseed director Leah Nelson wrote an account of an arrest and pending imprisonment of a Black disabled veteran that could not have happened in many other states.

The story has been picked up by The New York Times and a number of national news outlets.

Sean Worsley, a disabled Black veteran, and his wife, Eboni, were arrested in Pickens County in August 2016. The Worsleys had visited Eboni’s family in Mississippi and were on their way to North Carolina to visit his family. They made the life-altering mistake of stopping to purchase gas in Alabama on their way to North Carolina.

Sean was wounded in Iraq. The 33-year-old veteran is disabled with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq. He uses medical marijuana to calm his nightmares and soothe his back pain. His medical marijuana was prescribed and purchased in Arizona, where it has been legal since 2011.

A Gordo police officer approached the Worsleys at the gas station. He said their music was too loud, was a violation of the Gordo noise ordinance and asked to search the vehicle. The Worsleys assented, believing they had broken no laws. That was a mistake. Marijuana is still illegal in Alabama even if you purchased it in one of the states where it is legal.

The officer said that he smelled marijuana and asked the couple about it. Sean told him he was a disabled veteran and had a medical marijuana card.

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“I explained to him that Alabama did not have medical marijuana. I then placed the suspect in handcuffs,” the report reads.

Eboni told the officer that the marijuana was behind the seat. The officer found the marijuana and the rolling papers and pipe Sean used to smoke it, along with a six-pack of beer, a bottle of vodka, and some pain pills, for which Eboni had a prescription. Both of them were arrested.

Eboni’s pills weren’t in the original bottle, which the officer said constituted a felony. The couple were both charged and spent six days in jail, but that was just the beginning of their Alabama legal saga.

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Once the Worsleys were released on bond, they paid $400 to get their car out of impound and had to have the car professionally cleaned because venison they had been transporting to North Carolina went bad.

When they returned to Arizona, they found the charges made it difficult for them to maintain housing and stability. They moved to Nevada and leased a house.

Almost a year later, the bail bondsman called and told them the Alabama judge was revoking bonds on all the cases he managed. They had to rush back, or he would lose the money he had put up for their bond, and they would be charged with failing to appear in court. They borrowed money to return to Alabama.

When they got to court, the Worsleys were taken to separate rooms. Eboni explained that Sean was disabled with serious cognitive issues and needed a guardian to help him understand the process and ensure he made an informed decision.

Eboni claims that Sean told her prosecutors told him that if he didn’t sign the plea agreement that they would have to stay incarcerated until December and that they would charge her with the same charges.

Rather than see his wife go to jail he signed the agreement.

Sean’s plea agreement included 60 months of probation, plus drug treatment and thousands of dollars in fines, fees and court costs.

Because the Worsleys lived in Arizona at the time of their arrest, his probation was transferred to Arizona, instead of Nevada, so they broke their lease agreement and moved back to Arizona. Sean’s Arizona probation officer, however, told them that their month-to-month rental did not constitute a permanent address.

At her direction, they contacted Sean’s probation officer in Alabama, who told them to return to Pickens County. They were short on funds so tried to do it by proxy. Drug treatment was another part of the terms of the probation.

Sean was denied treatment by the VA because smoking cannabis for medical purposes “does not meet criteria for a substance use disorder or meet need for substance abuse treatment.”

Eboni is a certified nursing assistant who works with traumatized children. Her job offer was rescinded due to the felony charge in Alabama. She also lost her clearance to work with sensitive information to which she needed access to do her job.

For a while, the Worsleys slept in their car or lived with family. In January 2019, they were homeless. Sean lost his homeless veteran benefits with the VA because Alabama had issued a fugitive warrant for his arrest after Sean missed a February court date in Pickens County. The case was referred to the district attorney’s office in March 2019.

Now Eboni’s health has failed and she needed heart surgery. Sean stopped taking on extra gigs to help her recover. To cover costs, the couple took out a title loan and lost Eboni’s truck when they could not keep up with the payments. With no transportation, they lost their home.

Sean’s benefits resumed in August 2019, but to save money, he failed to pay the $250 to renew his medical marijuana card. In 2020, Sean was arrested at a traffic stop in Arizona and the officer found that he possessed marijuana without a valid medical marijuana card.

Pickens County demanded that he be extradited back to Alabama at a cost to the state of Alabama of $4,345. That was added to the $3,833.40 he already owed in fines, fees and court costs.

On April 28, a Pickens County judge sentenced Mr. Worsley to 60 months in prison. That sentence would already have begun if it were not for the chronic prison overcrowding and the COVID-19 crisis that has gripped the prison system.

Sean has been in the Pickens County jail since early 2020. On April 28, the judge revoked his probation and sentenced him to 60 months in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Sean’s mother hired an attorney to appeal the case, but that process has just begun and most inmates begin their sentence while the case is under appeal.

Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was sentenced to a four-year sentence four years ago and has not served a day, but Sean Worsley does not have the friends that Hubbard has. He is in the Pickens County jail awaiting transport to a prison in Alabama.

Eboni is in the hospital for more heart surgery, and Sean will leave behind two children from a prior relationship, ages 12 and 14.

“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Sean wrote in a letter to Alabama Appleseed. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is aghast that this could happen in Alabama.

“This is an anomaly. This is not the norm,” Ward said. “Most police departments in Alabama do not arrest people anymore solely for marijuana possession.”

Ward said usually when someone is charged with marijuana possession, they are charged with other felonies and marijuana possession is an add-on charge.

Ward said that marijuana possession is a class D offense under the sentencing reform package that he sponsored, which passed the Alabama Legislature in 2016. With a class D offense, there is no prison time.

In Sean Worsley’s case, the arresting officer in Gordo determined that the marijuana was not for personal use and thus charged Sean with a Class C offense. The arresting officer is no longer with the Gordo police department.

Ward told APR that out of the 23,000 inmates in the Alabama Correctional system, there are only 60 or 70 there just for marijuana offenses.

“They got arrested for a whole truckload, semi-truckloads even, for trafficking,” Ward said, not the small amount that Worsley will lose five years of freedom over.

Ward said that the state passed sentencing reform in 2016 so that things like this could not happen, but there was a lag time between passage and implementation, so Worsley was likely charged under the pre-reform standards.

Chey Garrigan, the executive director of Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, said the non-profit advocacy group is fighting to change Alabama’s marijuana laws so that medical marijuana is legal in this state and so that travelers like Sean Worsley don’t have to fear long incarcerations for amounts of marijuana that would be legal in 33 states.

“The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, is extremely passionate about working with policymakers to bring about a necessary compassion for social justice,” Garrigan told APR.

The Alabama Senate has passed medical marijuana bills, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, in both 2019 and 2020, but the bills have never come before the Alabama House of Representatives for a vote.

This year the legislative session was interrupted by the coronavirus crisis before the House could consider the Senate bill.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Elections

Trump to visit Pensacola tonight

Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention

Neither presidential candidate is likely to visit Alabama before the general election, as both campaigns accept that Alabama will be certainly in President Donald Trump’s camp on election day no matter what else happens. While Alabama is not a swing state, Georgia and Florida are both in play, and both campaigns are devoting enormous resources there.

Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy. Trump will be just across the Florida-Alabama state line visiting Pensacola and is scheduled to address supporters at the ST Engineering hangar beginning at 7 p.m. CT.

The doors open at 4 p.m. and the event begins at 7:00 p.m.

The president’s rally tonight comes right after a visit to Pensacola last week by Second Lady Karen Pence and is one of many Florida campaign events planned for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump arrived in Florida after Thursday’s final presidential debate with Joe Biden. He is scheduled to hold a campaign event in The Villages before traveling to Pensacola. The president will spend the night at his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago and will vote early Saturday.

The vice president will hold rallies in Lakeland and Tallahassee on Saturday. Florida has 27 electoral college votes. It would be very difficult for Trump to get the 270 electoral college votes necessary to win without winning Florida.

Democrats warn that attending a Trump rally could be dangerous due to the coronavirus threat.

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“The last thing Floridians need is for Donald Trump to host more potential superspreader rallies across our state,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement on the rally in Pensacola. “What we do need, however, is a president capable of putting Floridians ahead of his own self-interest and get this pandemic under control.”

Most recent polls have Trump trailing Biden in Florida. Tickets are required to attend the rally.

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National

Barry Moore: Trump is right when he says that Biden is “all talk and no action”

2nd Congressional District candidate Barry Moore praised Trump’s debate performance.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Barry Moore (VIA MOORE CAMPAIGN)

The third presidential debate was held Thursday, and congressional candidate Barry Moore released a statement emphasizing that he continues to support President Donald Trump.

“This third debate showed us once again why Donald J. Trump is the better choice to lead this nation for four more years,” Moore said. “Joe Biden’s nearly five decades of being a politician make him an expert at dodging questions, giving non-answers, and twisting the facts to fit what he thinks is the response he needs to give right then. President Trump doesn’t respond like a politician, and he left Biden floundering. Biden truly is, as the President said, ‘all talk and no action’.”

“President Trump gave us three years of incredible economic growth after the Obama/Biden recession,” Moore continued. “He’s fought Chinese disinformation and domestic undermining throughout this pandemic and wants our economy to come back quickly. Biden wants to expand lockdowns, raise taxes, impose the economy-killing Green New Deal and throw us back into the same situation we endured for eight years under Obama/Biden.”

“Biden’s record—the real one instead of his tall tale of the minute—is one of little action and lots of failure,” Moore concluded. “Trump’s record is unprecedented economic growth and restoring America’s position in the world after Obama/Biden ‘lead from behind’ weakness. That’s why I will be voting for Donald J. Trump on November 3rd.”

Trump Victory Finance Committee member Perry Hooper Jr. agreed.

“President Trump was the clear winner,” Hooper said. “Bottom line, you have an outsider with results versus a failed 47-year career politician. I thought the President did well going beyond the base talking about what this Administration has done for Black Americans. This Administration passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, Opportunity Zones, increased funding for Historic Black Colleges and cutting Black unemployment.”

“Joe Biden hurt himself when he talked about his Energy Policy,” Hooper said. “He said he wanted to do away with the Oil and Gas Industry. Obama and Biden destroyed the coals Industry and now Biden wants to destroy the Oil and Gas Industry. What he said will hurt him in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma. Biden also talked about his government socialized economic policy. If that Policy is implemented, it would bankrupt America. The best statement made by the President, was when the President looked at Biden and said, You and Obama are the reason I ran.”

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The Trump campaign released a statement saying, “The President CRUSHED it.”

“After the Debate Commission CANCELED the second Presidential Debate last week, President Trump knew he needed to EXPOSE Joe Biden for the corrupt, China-loving SOCIALIST that he is,” the campaign continued. “The truth is, Biden would sell out America to the Chinese government and he’d DESTROY everything the President has accomplished. Tonight made that very clear. Unlike Sleepy Joe, President Trump will always fight for YOU.”

Moore is the Republican nominee in the Nov. 3 general election for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. Moore served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018.

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He and his wife Heather own a small waste management business. He is a veteran, Auburn graduate, husband and father of four from Enterprise.

The general election will be Nov. 3.

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Courts

U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

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“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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National

Last presidential debate is tonight

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020.

The last presidential debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican incumbent Donald Trump is scheduled for tonight.

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN. It will also be streamed live on YouTube via CBS News and other services like C-SPAN. The debate will also be streamed via Twitter’s U.S. election hub in the “Explore” tab and on CBSN, CNNgo, the CBS News App and the Fox News App.

Game three of the Major League Baseball World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays is Friday night so will not conflict with the presidential debate. There is, however, a football game tonight on Fox between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

The moderator will be NBC News’s Kristen Welker.

The topics for the second presidential debate have been announced by Welker. Welker has selected: Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced.

The original plan was to hold three debates, but Trump, the first lady and many members of the president’s team tested positive for the coronavirus immediately following the first debate. Trump recovered from his bout with COVID-19, but when the Presidential Debates Commission announced that the second debate would be virtual, the Trump campaign refused to participate, leading to the cancelation of the original second debate.

“I am not going to do a virtual debate,” which Trump called a waste of time in comments to the Fox Business Channel.

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Trump and Biden held competing town hall events last week instead. Biden’s town hall drew higher TV ratings. The final presidential debate before Election Day will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The debate format will be six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on the six pre-selected topics.

There will be no interrupting by the candidates in this debate after the raucous behavior in the first debate.

Both Trump and Biden will have their microphones cut off in Thursday’s debate while their rival delivers their opening two-minute answer to each of the debate topics. The open discussion portion of the debate will not feature a mute button, but interruptions by either candidate will count toward their time.

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The nonpartisan commission announced the rule changes on Monday. As late as Wednesday night, the parties were still arguing whether Trump will be allowed to bring up allegations that Biden assisted his son, Hunter Biden, in the junior Biden’s business interests in China, Russia, the Ukraine and other countries. Many Republicans, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are urging the President to focus on the issues instead.

Election day will be on Nov. 3.

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