When term-limited Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey wrote an “official” letter prior to the November election in opposition to California’s Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in California this year, he sparked a great deal of controversy and criticism. Morrissey said that a California anti-legalization group had asked him to write about “the negative impacts of legal weed.” He told KMGH News, “I’m not doing anything but answering the questions.”

But were Morrissey’s statements about legalized marijuana entirely accurate? And why would a term-limited officeholder paint for other states a biased, negative picture of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado? Here’s part of what Morrissey wrote: “In the city of Denver since the legalization of recreational marijuana the number of crimes in Denver has grown by about 44%, according to annual figures the city reported to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. In 2015 in Denver alone crime rose in every neighborhood in the city.”

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel Murphy concludes, “Morrissey has chosen to conveniently ignore the tax benefits of legalized marijuana and has focused on studies done by a federally funded agency that fights the illegal drug trade. His letter, besides being done under the auspices of the City of Denver policy (on letter head of his office) is full of misstatements and fear mongering.”

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Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform marijuana laws at the state level, agrees. Tvert told KMGH News, “I don’t think there’s any evidence that suggests that there’s been an increase in crime associated with marijuana. The DA is politically campaigning to paint a negative picture of the marijuana laws in Colorado that doesn’t actually exist.”

WHO IS DENVER DISTRICT ATTORNEY MITCH MORRISSEY?

Mitch Morrissey has been described as a “political animal” who aspires to higher office as a no-compromise, tough-on-crime crusader. For example, he chose to re-prosecute Clarence Moses-EL when Moses-EL was released from prison after serving 28 years of a 48-year sentence for a rape that he did not commit. After DNA technology became more reliable and DNA became easier to test, Moses-EL raised $1000 from his fellow inmates to have the DNA in evidence tested against his own DNA. However, in the interim, the Denver Police Department “accidentally” destroyed the DNA evidence despite it being labeled “Do Not Destroy.”

Some years later, another man confessed to the crime, and he repeated his admission to investigators. Finally, after decades, investigators determined that the blood types of Moses-EL and the blood found on the victim were not a match. A Denver judge reasonably and rightly vacated the rape conviction and released Moses-EL on bond. What did the District Attorney’s office do? Mitch Morrissey, wanting to look tough on crime, retried Clarence Moses-EL.

Fortunately for the defendant, but not for the taxpayers of our state, Moses-EL was finally acquitted of all charges in November 2016 after a week-long jury trial. The not guilty finding on charges of first-degree sexual assault, second-degree burglary, and second-degree assault concluded a lengthy, indescribably painful, and completely unnecessary personal tragedy in the life of Clarence Moses-EL.

From the day he was arrested, Moses-EL always claimed that he was an innocent man, but in the end, he said that he would rather spend 48 years in prison than accept a plea bargain for a crime that he did not commit. The man who confessed to the crime, L.C. Jackson, cannot now be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired, according to Denver’s Chief Deputy District Attorney, Bonnie Benedetti.

WHO IS FORMER COLORADO GOVERNOR BILL OWENS?

While District Attorney Morrissey was busy campaigning against California’s Proposition 64 (it was approved by more than 56 percent of California’s voters), two other prominent Colorado political figures were fighting marijuana legalization in the state of Arizona. Former Governor Bill Owens dismantled no-fault insurance in Colorado back in 2003 with promises of lower rates for motorists, but those lower rates never materialized, and the main effect of his actions has been making it easier for insurance companies to deny coverage to injured Coloradans.

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Colorado’s no-fault law had been in place for decades, and it helped substantially reduce litigation for accident claims. That litigation now overcrowds Colorado civil courts. Owens has not only been a “shill” for the insurance industry, but he was also the “family values crusader” who divorced his wife after impregnating a staff member and promoted her to a key leadership position in the state, an incident that apparently disqualified Owens from consideration for a Bush administration cabinet position.

WHAT DID BILL OWENS AND WELLINGTON WEBB DO IN ARIZONA?

Along with former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, Owens appeared in a television ad for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group that opposed Proposition 205, a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational marijuana in Arizona. Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman and State Representatives Jonathan Singer and Millie Hamner called on Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy to remove the ads, describing them as misleading and inaccurate.

“They are saying these things that are really far afield from the truth,” Senator Steadman told the Associated Press. “We’ve been building schools and repairing schools with the excess tax revenue that was dedicated to school construction. Those dollars are flowing.” However, extra money for schools won’t be available in Arizona. Voters in that state defeated Proposition 205 by a 52-to-48 percent margin, possibly in part because they were influenced by politicians from Colorado.

Of course, everyone in the United States (including disgraced political hacks) has the right to an opinion and the right to freedom of speech. That’s not at issue. What’s troubling is when veteran politicians who should know better make an effort to skew the election process and to sway the voters with the influence of their prestigious political offices, information they probably know is inaccurate, and motives that are questionable.

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It’s also a problem when politicians use an official state letter head and the auspices of their offices to promote disinformation, because they are presumed in such instances to be speaking for their constituencies. Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel Murphy says, “If Mr. Morrissey had any desire to present the truth, he would have declined this possibly paid endorsement and chosen to remain silent.”

By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.