Friday, September 21, 2018

RFRA Defense To Virgin Islands Marijuana Prosecution Fails

In People of the Virgin Islands v. Felix, (VI Super. Ct., Sept. 11, 2018), a Virgin Island trial court avoided deciding the interesting question of whether RFRA applies to the Virgin Islands even though it does not apply to states. Instead the court held that even if RFRA does apply, the Virgin Islands' ban on possession of marijuana with intent to distribute would survive a RFRA challenge by defendant, a Rastafarian.  The court concluded that both the "substantial burden" and "compelling interest" tests under RFRA were not met.  The court said in part:
The defendant might have been successful in defending against a charge of simple possession of marijuana since marijuana is important to Rastafarian religious practice.  But there exists in the record no evidence establishing that the distribution of marijuana is a requirement of Rastafarianism.
Furthermore, the circumstances leading to the Defendant's arrest were clearly unrelated to his religious beliefs. At the time of his arrest, the Defendant was an employee of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and allegedly used the Superior Court's corporate account to have 127.5 grams of marijuana transported — without the knowledge of the Superior Court — from St. Croix to himself on St. Thomas. The Defendant received the drugs at about eleven-thirty in the morning during his shift....