Editor's Note: Since the publication of this story, the case in question has been dismissed and the records have been sealed.
A judge has dismissed the case of four undergraduates who were allegedly found in possession of marijuana in a DeWolfe dorm room this past January.
On Friday, Cambridge District Court Judge George Sprague granted the defense's motion to issue a continuation without a finding for one year. That allows the case to end in a dismissal, contingent upon a year of good behavior, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s spokeswoman, Melissa Sherman. The four students were also ordered to pay $150 in court costs and $50 in victim witness fees, Sherman wrote in an e-mail.
The decision was handed down after Sprague first reduced all charges to only possession of marijuana, according to Sherman. The three DeWolfe roommates—Jason R. Gardner '07, Mathias G. Gordon '07, and Nathan O. Simmons '07—were originally charged with possession with intent to distribute and committing a drug offense within a school zone, which carries a minimum of two years in prison if convicted. A fourth student, Zoe A. Strominger '07, who does not live in the DeWolfe dorm room but was present when police arrived, was only charged with possession that night. The charge against her was also dismissed last Friday.
The prosecution had recommended that the judge issue a guilty finding and sentence the four students to a year of probation, 20 hours of community service, and drug evaluations with follow-up screens, Sherman wrote. But Sprague elected to follow the defense lawyers' recommendation.
Although the ruling is not a conviction, if any of the defendants is arrested for a second offense within this year-long period, the prior charges may be used to impose heightened penalties for the second offense.
The Crimson reported in February that Harvard University Police Department instructed Detective Brian Spellman to "make frequent checks of the [DeWolfe] dorm for the possible detection of marijuana or visible signs of distribution," according to police documents. Police began monitoring the room three weeks before the students were charged. Spellman wrote in a police report, "I familiarized myself with the layout of the 10 DeWolfe building and the exact location of [the] room." He wrote that on Jan. 6, he detected the scent of marijuana emanating from the students' second-floor window.
That night, Spellman entered the DeWolfe room—but only after Gardner granted the detective permission, according to the police report.
One of the defendants, who spoke to The Crimson on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid greater publicity, said that police “suggested that [the case] would be handled through the College administration, and that if we were really forthcoming about everything we would have a lesser punishment.”
“So I was really surprised when it ended up being dealt with by the Cambridge court,” the defendant said. “I felt as though they had implied that it would not be handled by the court in order to make us more willing to give up our rights and strengthen their case against us."
"The process didn't seem like an effective way to deal with marijuana possession in my circumstance,” the defendant said. "I think education might be a more effective tool in changing attitudes towards, and use of, marijuana."
-Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.