Guilty as charged: Cobbs vows appeal in two-plant pot case

In a decision that sends a strong message that drugs must be rooted out at any cost, the Albemarle citizen recently arrested after a SWAT team found a pair of pot plants in his yard, Philip Cobbs, was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor possession in Albemarle General District Court.

"The court doesn't find it reasonable that anyone other than Mr. Cobbs planted it," said judge William Barkley as he pronounced Cobbs guilty at the close of the October 18 trial.

While authorities have declined to release an estimate, Constitutional scholar John Whitehead pegs the taxpayer cost of the operation at Cobbs' southeastern Albemarle property at at least $25,000. And having recently called for an end to the routine use of SWAT teams and America's so-called War On Drugs as threats to human rights, Whitehead directed his Rutherford Institute to oversee Cobbs' defense.

That came in the form of Charlottesville attorney Ned Michie, who argued Tuesday that Cobbs– allegedly feeling threatened by as many as ten rifle-equipped, flak jacket-wearing officers– couldn't have reasonably consented to the helicopter-assisted search of his land in late July.

As it turned out, the trial's tipping point turned out to be not the Constitutional search-and-seizure arguments– but something more mundane and yet surprising: deer netting.

Two of the five officers testified that the pair of marijuana plants spotted on Cobbs' property from approximately 500 feet in the sky were surrounded by plastic deer netting. If true, the netting would undercut Cobbs' assertion that the plants were growing without his knowledge.

In his closing argument, however, Cobbs' attorney Michie called the netting "not evidence" since the alleged netting was not mentioned in the written incident report, wasn't shown in any photographs, nor was its presence even revealed to the defense until the last few days before trial. Asked afterwards if he thought the netting story had been manufactured, Michie had no comment.

Client Cobbs, who spoke out recently in a Hook cover story and who was reached after the trial by telephone, says the the deer netting was news to him. But to the judge, it was a key point.

"It's not a Johnny Appleseed situation," said Judge Barkley. "It's not a situation where someone just threw out seeds."

Ironically, the prosecutor conceded that assembling the case presented challenges since the SWAT team neglected to preserve any photographs or to offer any physical or photographic evidence beyond allegedly seizing the two plants. As for the lead officer, he took a month to file the charge.

"They didn't think this case was a big deal," prosecutor Matthew J. Quatrara told the judge at closing.

Nonetheless, Judge Barkley assigned a 30-day jail sentence with all time suspended and ordered the statutory suspension of Cobb's driver's license. Cobbs says that if forced to forfeit his driver's license, he'll probably have to stop caring for his deaf and blind 90-year-old mother at home and put her in a nursing home.

Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford, who remained at the prosecutor's table throughout the three-hour proceedings, defended the verdict as a vote of confidence in police officers who have a thankless– and often dangerous– job. The defense disagreed.

"Mr. Cobbs feels strongly that his rights were violated," said Michie, vowing to promptly file paperwork for an appeal.

Read more on: philip cobbswar on drugs


Interesting development. The deer netting puts a whole new light on this case. But I suppose the commonwealth had no obligation to mention this when The Hook was doing their first story on this case.

I'm pretty sure that most nursing home residents have their costs paid through Medicaid, so the cost to taxpayers on this case will be even greater than the $25,000 Mr. Whitehead estimates. And for what? To punish Mr. Cobb like this does nothing for public safety. Those espousing smaller government should be all over this case.

yes, thank you local police and commonwealth's attorney for wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars on two pot plants. i'm sure the dealers at the end of my street are breathing a sigh of relief that you're too busy patting yourself on the back for terrorizing a blind 90 y.o. woman and her caregiver instead of trying to catch real criminals. oh yeah, there's still a murdering rapist on the loose too, but his victims' parents have to file a $3.5 million lawsuit to get any traction going there.

If California can do this so can we - drop the charges . What a misplaced use of resources.

"Advocates for the legalization of marijuana got a new, unprecedented member of their ranks: the California Medical Association. They adopted an official policy that recommends the legalization and regulation of cannabis.

They are the largest physician group in California.

California recently decriminalized marijuana in the state, making it possible for doctors to recommend the drug to their patients. "

"If California can do this so can we"

If ever there was an argument that would convince me NOT to do something, saying California did it is that argument.

No photos, the defense learning about the deer netting just a few days before trial--AFTER the Hook story. If I could see a photo of the 'deer netting' I would believe it. Otherwise, it sounds like a fabrication that was used to wrongly justify the raid.

I am thinking two of the five officers lied. The judge is going to believe the officers--the ridiculous raid now stands as a justified use of resources.

The netting story was indeed manufactured, unless they actually have evidence that there was netting there.

Holy freaking moly! What a disgusting railroad job. This is downright sickening.

Feels almost like Jim Camblos never left.

We are under a "government of laws", not a "government of men". But if someone can plant drugs among your belongings, and if you are then required to prove that the drugs are not yours (which you can't), then you are under a government of men, namely of those who are willing to plant evidence. Therefore the reverse onus of proof cannot be valid in any jurisdiction. So, if you are on the jury in a drug case, and if you are told that the defendant must prove that his/her possession was unwitting, it is your civic duty to put the onus of proof back where it belongs (on the prosecution), raise it to the proper standard (beyond reasonable doubt), and hand down a verdict accordingly. More:

Why didn't he ask for a jury trial? With half the country against marijuana criminalization, he stood a decent chance at acquittal.

@ Tim...You obviously speak without any real understanding of California's Law. It's not a free-for-all. The municipalities are reaping millions in tax dollars, everything is done under fairly strict guidelines, and while it may not be a panacea, it is freeing up law enforcement resources to fight other crime. Being "anti-pot" doesn't make sense any more.

First time, 50% of Americans favor legalizing pot- let's hope soon this type of raid will be a thing of the past. And note, the majority of those opposed are over 65

Deer netting, huh? Sounds very LEO CYA -- kind of like an officer having a citation issued to the wheel-chair-bound guy he just mowed down with his patrol car.

No jury in General District Courts; I believe Mr. Cobbs can request one during the appeals process. If he'll be able to endure what thuggish Law Enforcement members and their lackeys will likely subject him to during the interim, that is.

the sad thing is, if this guy had any money for a real lawyer, and the politicos would read actual studies of marijuana's effects (i refer one to the laguardia report, which was rejected by the politicians cause it was an actual study and ultimately said the exact opposite of what the nixon administration wanted, it was disregarded) then we could have saved a lot of wasted resources. the biggest drug and most offensive drug dealers out there are your local bartender.

Jeez, you just don't know how much safer the world is now that these 2 plants have been uprooted. I mean how could anybody complain about the waste of manpower and taxpayers
money when such a heinous condition existed in rural Albemarle county. Is there somewhere I can donate some icy-hot so all those involved in this joke so they can soothe their sore shoulders and backs once they're done wjth all the back slapping and atta-boys? You should be ashamed!

I wonder if George Washington and Thomas Jefferson put deer netting around the weed they grew.

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So there is no photographic record, nothing in the initial report, and no evidence that this deer netting ever existed except the word of two police officers, long after the arrest was made? I am not going to accuse these officers of deliberately lying, but they could have confused any number of details -- did they see deer netting during some other raid? Or perhaps on some other part of Cobb's property? Or perhaps they use deer netting in their own gardens, and their memories are faulty? The human mind is not a camcorder, that is why we demand photographs or videos in these situations.

Shame on the judge in this case, for setting such a low standard of evidence. How does someone like this even remain on the bench?

Mr. Cobbs is entitled to a jury trial when the case is heard in Circuit Court. And the case is heard de novo, or all over again, not just on errors or constitutional issues as in Appeals Court or Supreme Court.

But I am glad that he wasn't charged with growing which carries a 5-year minimum sentence for any that's ridiculous.

But one more thing. Some here have said that the deer netting suddenly makes things different. IF they found a roll of deer netting in his garage with an amount cut off equal to the netting at the pot growing site, THEN that would be different. IF not, then there is no reason that another person couldn't have put the netting around the plants.

Either way, he should not be having his life turned upside down for this.

PODCAST: The Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead discussed the verdict in this case on WINA. Whitehead affirmed his commitment to appeal the judgement and put the case in the larger context of the "war on drugs." He also said we are now witnessing the demise of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

So what is the justification for this? Why was marijuana outlawed in the first place? I will bet these cops thought it was "for the children."

Marijuana was outlawed for two major reasons. The first was because "All Mexicans are crazy and marijuana is what makes them crazy." The second was the fear that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana - exactly the opposite of the modern "gateway" idea.

It was outlawed nationally by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The American Medical Association testified in the congressional hearings that there was no evidence that marijuana was a dangerous drug and no reason for the law. They pointed out that it was used in hundreds of ordinary medicines with no significant problems. In response, the committee told them to shut up and leave.

The only other "expert" on the subject was a psychologist named James C. Munch. His sole claim to fame was that he had injected some extract of cannabis directly into the brains of 300 dogs and two of them died. When they asked them what he concluded from this, he said he didn't know what to conclude because he wasn't a dog psychologist.

He also testified in court, under oath, that marijuana could make your fangs grow six inches long and drip with blood. He also said that, when he tried it, it turned him into a bat and then described how he flew around the room for two hours.

He was the only person in the US with any educational credentials who thought marijuana should be illegal, so he was appointed US Official Expert on marijuana, where he served for 25 years. See the short history of the marijuana laws at

Every major study of the marijuana laws in the last 100 years has concluded that they were based on ignorance and nonsense and do more harm than good. You can read the full text of those at under Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.

This case just illustrates one more way that the laws do more harm than good.

Typical police state stuff. Jefferson would high-tail it out of such a statist state, should he be unfortunate enough to somehow materialize in Virginia in 2011. Exactly the kind of tyranny he warned us about.

"Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potato as an article of food. Government is just as fallible, too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the Inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error" -- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787

But Virginia, your government is prescribing to you both your medicine and diet, jailing people with the excuse they merely possessed a few stalks of the plant medicine called (in Jefferson's day) Indian Hemp.

("Indian Hemp" is cannabis - something with which Washington and Jefferson were familiar.)

Remember people like Cobbs and the Gestapo sent after the two pot plants. And next time someone blithely sings, "Land of the free," think instead: "Hypocrites."

I would wish on prosecutors and the police commanders who decide to push these cases a similar fate: Their mothers placed in nursing homes against their will, but guys like that probably send their Moms there anyway...

Remember too that keeping marijuana illegal meant less competition for the wood pulp industry especially for paper making. Are any other media sources in C'ville covering this?

Lunsford's behavior in this is sickening. To go forward with prosecution with so little evidence, the strong possibility of fabrication(what else explains the 11th hour claims of 'deer netting with NO photographic or physical proof) shows clearly that they are more interested in protecting their own than ensuring that justice is served. This type of misconduct on the part of officers and prosecutors(allegedly) allows the continued draining of resources toward misguided efforts. They have to justify their SWAT teams and helicopters, so rather than EVER admitting they make a mistake, they simply fabricate evidence(it appears) and stay smugly satisfied that justice is done. Hopefully, she loses her job next time out over this. Bad cops are going to be bad cops--and that seems to be what we have here. It is up to the prosecutor to determine when there is this level of negligence and to not move forward. But if you do that, it is hard to get a new chopper--so let's railroad this one guy--is apparently what happened.


Why the delay of over one month to issue a citation?

Why the suspended driver's license?

Why a bias judge?

Why the SWAT team for two plants?

ACPD says they need more officers. Is this what they need more taxpayer money for? If so, I say they have enough warm bodies.

Why no photos of the crime scene?

This whole case is a joke!

This story needs to go national to put more pressure on Lunsford and the SWAT team that carried this out. It has all of the elements--excessive use of force, fabricated or non-existent evidence, possible perjury from law enforcement officers, sympathetic defendants, prosecutors and law enforcement closing ranks to protect their assets at all costs--all over what--two plants?

People need to lose their jobs over this and the only way that happens is if more pressure is applied. Hopefully the appeal process will generate more attention.

Well, let's look at the facts. And where we don't have actual facts, we'll just make 'em up.

FACT: The cops found pot plants in Phil's yard.

FACT: Someone planted the pot. How so? The extreme improbability of just 2 plants appearing all by themselves.

FACT: Well, we don't have any other facts. So now we'll reply on conjecture.

Scenario #1 Phil planted the stuff, and he knew he planted it, and he lied to the cops. That stuff about over-zealous law enforcement? Pfffft! Just a smoke screen (so to speak, heh, heh).

Scenario #2 Someone ELSE planted the seeds, and Phil knows who it is, but won't say. He'll just stick to his story that HE didn't do it, didn't know about it. But the way it REALLY came down was this: A well-meaning friend told Phil that a touch of Mary Jane would help relieve Phil's mom of her discomfort and pain. So Phil agreed; after all it was just 2 plants and if someone discovered them, he could plausibly say he did not know about them. Owing to the sincerity of his friend, Phil won't rat him out.

Scenario #3 Someone else planted the seeds, and Phil honesty doesn't know who it is. We can only guess the motive.

Scenario #4 Bird droppings carried seeds which included some that landed at just the right spot to produce the plants. It could happen. Couldn't it? Built in fertilizer, too.

Scenario #5: Phil's MOTHER, acting on information that the pot could help her, planted the seeds while he was out grocery shopping. She's pretty fragile, so 2 seeds is all she could manage. She told Phil she had actually planted tomato seeds, and asked him to put up the net for her. Phil will not rat out his own mother, now that we know truly what the stuff really is.

OK, show of hands: Which do YOU believe is more likely?

do we know if deer even eat pot? was there a "need" for netting if netting really existed? this is so flimsy as to be comical if it weren't so sad and upsetting.

It is a naturally occuring plant--so, of the options listed, scenario 4 is as likely as any.

More to the point, the burden should be on the state to prove the case. The fact that the evidence in this case seemed to either be non-existent or to disappear, only to be concocted days before the trial, after media pressure, points to a case that should have never been brought forward. The media pressure seems to have backed the prosecutor into a corner. Either admit that the case is flimsy(AT BEST) and do what you should--or push forward without any actual evidence that this was a manufacturing operation so as to protect your assets. If they were to admit that the raid was a ridiculous overreaction--then they would have to face the issue of how they are using their manpower and equipment--and there is no way they are going to do that--too much accountability.

If a couple of cops have to lie--so be it.

You missed the most obvious scenario - the plants were wild. In case you hadn't heard, cannabis grows wild across the US, often in fields of forty acres or more. Years ago, the cops did such things as try to eradicate the fields and try to get the farmers who owned the land to eradicate the fields. They didn't have the manpower to do it themselves and the farmers said it was so much work that they simply refused. Besides, the whole exercise was pretty pointless because the plants were wild plants (called "volunteers") left over from the time that the US Govt. encouraged farmers to grow hemp during WWII. Google "Hemp For Victory."

JSGeare --

Actually, the likelihood of two feral hemp plants appearing on this man's property is pretty high. Before marijuana prohibition, hemp was widely grown and used for a variety of purposes, due to its strong fibers. There are now feral populations all over North America, often called "ditchweed." The DEA has even admitted that nearly all of the marijuana they eradicate is actually feral hemp that was not being cultivated by anyone.

Caffeine is a gateway drug.

That could have bee a Jefferson strain.

I could be wrong, but as I understand it, the "feral" population tends to involve more than just one or two plants which appear in an isolated place. But hey! It's gotta get there somehow, so I introduced birds as a plausible non-human vector for the orphaned plants.

Actually, hemp seeds can be spread by several means. The primary dispersal mechanism is weather, which can push the seeds into new locations once they fall from the plant. Animals are a secondary mechanism, since various animals will eat hemp and wander off to "deposit" the seeds elsewhere. Either scenario is likely in Mr. Cobb's case, although I am in agreement that the seeds were probably spread by animal droppings, unless there is some sort of nearby field that the vice squad failed to notice or report.

In any case, hemp is a weed (hence the euphemism) and it spreads as readily as any other weed. There is no evidence that the plant was being cultivated by Mr. Cobb, except for questionable testimony about deer netting that has yet to be verified.

This is not the first time Denise Lunsford has shown herself unreasonably willing to squander THOUSANDS of taxpayer dollars to fight the failed, pointless War on Marijuana.

It didn't really make the news at the time, but back about April 26th of this year, the Albemarle Circuit Court had an all-day jury trial on a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana. Rumor had it that it took several hours just to find 12 people in the jury pool who would agree to enforce the law on marijuana. And after a full day of court time (and the hours of time for prosecutors, police witnesses, and the defendant's court-appointed counsel), the jury found the person guilty and imposed only a small fine.

Anyone who works in the criminal courts will tell you that a jury trial on a misdemeanor pot charge is extremely uncommon. Usually some kind of deal is made and the charges are pled out. The rumor at the time was that the defendant was a truck driver and would lose his CDL if convicted (required by law if convicted). He offered to plead guilty to any number of alternate misdemeanors, including SERVING JAIL TIME or being on probation, as long as they would leave his CDL in place. But Ms. Lunsford would not bend, and the wasteful spectacle of a day-long jury trial for a fine and license suspension was what resulted.

People have to understand that law enforcement resources are not infinite. When a military-style SWAT raid descends from the skies for a 2-plant bust, or a haughty prosecutor drags out a petty charge for a full day of court, OTHER CRIMES are being left unaddressed. The decision to pursue a full-tilt War on Weed is OF NECESSITY a decision to spend less time investigating and prosecuting burglaries, robberies, rapes, or serious drug offenses like dealing heroin and meth. These decision show misplaced priorities: cops who want the $$$ from federal grants and property forfeitures; cops who want the jacked-up arrest statistics from petty pot busts; prosecutors who feel more bound to take their spot in the Blue Wall and back up these petty arrests, than they feel bound to respect their constituents' wishes.

Commonwealth's Attorney is an elected position. So is Sheriff. So is City Council and Board of Supervisors (who hire the police chiefs). These policies get made and put into place by people, and those people are accountable to voters.

How many voters in Charlottesville and Albemarle County think the War on Weed should be Job #1? If they had an sensible alternative at the polls, would they take it?

I have know Phillip Cobbs for years and years. I worked closely with him for several years. He was one of the most respected men in the community. He worked with children for years. He was loved by the kids and his co-workers. I was shocked at the way the whole situation was handled. I'm surprised that his 90 year old mother didn't have a heart attack. Personally I don't believe he was responsible for planting or growing the TWO POT PLANTS. I 've seen it too many times. There 's a crime, someone gets blamed, convicted and punished, just to close the case. Then years later, it's found the person being punished is innocent. Well, all the damage is done. "The person's life is ruined forever. I think the SWAT TEAM SHOULD BE OUT SOLVING SOME REAL CASES. I'm sure the community will stand behind him 100%.

This is really about protecting their assets. The prosecutor's office and the police would rather railroad a man into a conviction, have officers lie(allegedly), fabricate evidence at the last minute, and spend in excess of $25,000 on a raid than admit that the case they have is flimsy and not worth prosecuting. How else can they justify the helicopters, assault rifles, full swat regalia and pseudo-military cop playthings. It is no fun to get a warrant, determine if a case is worthy of prosecution, and follow standards of evidence. Much more fun to go in in full gear and nail a couple of seniors for some weeds growing in their yard.

Hello, what about "PRIVATE PROPERTY"????????? Is NOTHING PRIVATE????? How is this anyones' business??? Hello?? How is Helicopters over our head ANYTHING other than TERRORISM and INTIMIDATION TACTICS??? Hello, GET A CLUE PEOPLE THIS STATE HAS TURNED INTO PINK FLOYD THE WALL , and its a real, cheap version. Don't fall for their hollywood stunts. Everyone forgets, BUSH, First thing he paid off was HOLLYWOOD!! Wake up people and check out Ron Paul, THERE IS NO OTHER MORAL CHOICE. Its really pretty simple. There is right and there is wrong. This is just freaking evil bullcrap. Do any of you think the rich and self important don't pay off the cops and government so they can all do whatever they want? Yet point all the fingers at regular joes so you can all tear them apart like a gang of mad dogs? You are letting the "Government" control you in everything that is important for FREEDOM. Even your thoughts. Stop and Just THINK FOR YOURSELVES, If someone tells you something, do your homework, check it out for yourselves and don't just look at the first page on google, use Scroogle, and a dictionary, Please people, try to remember just basic grade school stuff.

With time to think if I should enter in a 100% against my comment , [1 second] my friends had a job & a decision to make , 2 plants in it self he would have gotten a pass, but no he had large green house in the middle of know where & plants tended 100' from house. Yes he "tried 2" for his mother or practice run etc, only he knows. State police NOT plant plants, [they got 12,600 in 2 spots earlier elsewhere ] This outstanding man as we all are in front of the honorable judge, YES what a waste of money on ALL party's, But the man who says he lives off the land would have planted 100 next year or year round in green house after he fine tuned he depression craft. You all run down to 10 th & page or a old farm house & not know a thing what could come at you . Arms are mandatory, The biggest lost was money & his "wheels" The state of VA. will take care of all of it's people ! NO TIME & he could have got 5 years & he is appealing ! Surly on advice of the real crook his lawyer ! On appeal he could get 5 years , mother taken from crime scene , also his "farm " forfeited & more wasted money ! READ the law . quit while you are ahead or behind ! & please dopers chime in , I expect 30 comments of stupid stoned remarks.

@know it all " I expect 30 comments of stupid stoned remarks."

Are you counting your own?

"know it all" --

Could you please rewrite your post? It is completely incoherent, and if I did not know better I would think that you were actually speaking in favor of the paramilitary squads that terrorize American citizens.

-- B

The swat team did not take a digital camera or cell phone with them to document the plants "as found"? The plants had netting, we didn't take any photos of it but it was there because we say so.

Stop already. Who, besides the Hook says that SWAT teams were involved? It's just not true. Flak jackets? Really? Spencer might want to make it look more military than it is- but, flak jackets? Not true. Ballistic armor or "bullet proof vests"- yes, who wouldn't wear one. Overkill for a couple plants- yes- but this article reeks of a personal vendetta. Who on the staff was arrested? A family member? A friend? Give me a break.