Press Release

Trial Court Order Denies Religious Basis to Overturn Felony Drug Plea
Second hearing unnecessary in Craig marijuana grow operation

March 7, 2007

(ANCHORAGE, AK) A March 1st court order may mark the end of an appeal by a former Craig couple that challenged a felony marijuana conviction on their claim that their conduct was protected under the Alaska Constitution's free exercise of religion provision.

In 2003 Michael and Maria Lineker pled no contest to charges of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the fourth degree for possession of 50 marijuana plants found in a hidden room in their home in Craig, Alaska.

The Linekers appealed their drug convictions claiming the marijuana was grown to be used in their religion. The Alaska Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Judge Larry Weeks for a two-part evidentiary hearing. The first hearing was to decide whether there was a religion and whether the Lineker's had a sincere belief in that religion. The second hearing was scheduled for May 2007 to allow expert testimony on whether the State had a compelling interest to justify regulation of marijuana if used for religious purposes.

At the conclusion of a 10-page order issued March 1, Judge Weeks determined that, "there is no religion in the Lineker's professed belief system and that those beliefs are not sincere religious beliefs and a second hearing is not necessary."

"This matter was remanded to the trial court for a determination of whether a meritorious constitutional claim could be advanced to shield the Linekers from punishment for conduct that clearly violates Alaska law," said Richard Svobodny, Chief Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Law's Criminal Division. "In my opinion the order speaks for itself. Judge Weeks determined that Mr. Lineker's current statements about his beliefs did not amount to a religion."

Based on that ruling Judge Weeks determined that there was no need for a second hearing.

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