Meital Manzuri Criminal Defense Attorney
People are always taken aback a bit when I tell them I am a criminal defense attorney because they assume that my job must involve representing hardened criminals who should be in jail. That is a common misconception. Very few of my clients are accused of violent crimes. I pick and choose the offenders I represent, and it is my belief that they are generally good people who have often been taken advantage of, made an understandable mistake or are people that can be easily rehabilitated and it would be a waste of time and resources to send them to prison. Most of my clients are very good people, and I am usually the first one to come down on them and show them the error of their ways.
Why defense? Why not prosecute bad guys?
I never considered working for the prosecution because it does not gel with my personality, political views, or work ethic. I have always been a confrontational type person with a desire to change the rules, and I always had a problem with authority. I think criminal defense was always my destiny.
What are some of your most common cases?
I often fight for people who have gotten DUIs, and people who have gotten in trouble because of a mistake, a misunderstanding, or the overzealous behavior of law enforcement. But many of my cases involve the gray area of the law that surrounds medical marijuana. That means many of my clients are growers, patients, dispensary operators, or, often times, all of the above. They can come to me in a consulting capacity whereby I try and advise them on the legal dos and don’ts of medical marijuana. All too often though, people come to me when it’s too late and a criminal prosecution has been initiated. In that case, I spend considerable time evaluating and preparing their medical defense, if any, and then fight to get them the best result possible. Sometimes that means taking it all the way to trial, and sometimes that means negotiating with a prosecutor for a plea agreement. Every case is different, but many of my medical marijuana clients are trying to operate legally, pay their taxes, and trying to help very sick people obtain medicine. Unfortunately though, they are caught in the crosshairs of a catch-22 legal situation.
This sounds like a particularly Californian legal environment.
The federal-state conflict is a very interesting area of medical marijuana law, and being in California definitely puts me in a unique position to defend these cases. Under federal law, marijuana has no accepted medicinal uses, so according to one definition, it is still completely illegal. Despite that, the Obama administration has made it clear that the federal government is no longer interested in going after patients who are in possession of a small amount of marijuana. They are only interested in pursuing those that are distributing and those that are cultivating extremely large amounts. I have defended federal cases and won when the defendant is only in possession of personal amounts. Recently, a client who owned three dispensaries was raided and faced a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence of ten years. But this person was a very compassionate provider and really in it for the right reasons. I worked on his case as the brief writer and was able to convince the judge to allow him to be the first federal defendant to present a medical defense in federal court. Previously, defendants would not even be able to utter the words “medical marijuana” in federal court, so all the jury heard was that the defendant had a bunch of marijuana–period. So his case was very huge. It’s actually been ongoing for about five years now and the trial has not even taken place. I’m not sure if it ever will.
You mentioned that you often try to counsel your clients in the error of their ways–“counselor,” of course, being another term for a lawyer. Does being so involved in your clients’ personal lives get tricky at times?
Things can definitely get tricky. I have had clients where I got too involved and tried to help too much, and I ended up in a complicated situation. For example, I had a client who is very well-known in the medical marijuana world, and she got in trouble because of an abusive boyfriend. I got over-involved and tried to help her get out of the self-destructive situation while also defending her criminally. This was too much. I have since learned that boundaries are important, and I can only do so much. I also used to baby my clients and try and make them feel better about themselves. But while I am their confidant, adviser, and defender, I am not there to sugar coat anything. I have found this to be much more effective with achieving good results both as an attorney and positively influencing my clients’ lives.
What’s one of the most exciting cases you’ve worked on recently?
One of my current cases involves a father and his two sons. One of the sons was having a beer on the front lawn and the police arrived. The police jumped over the guy’s fence, pulled the father and the other brother out of their home, and all three of them were arrested and beaten. One of the sons, a member of the Navy, suffered a fracture to his leg, his eye was swollen shut, and he was bloodied pretty badly. It appears that their only crime was being black on Friday. After getting the case thrown out for the criminal allegations, we are now suing the police department. Achieving justice for these three men is the type of work that makes me feel good about what I do.
*interview by Arden Sherman