2011-08-06 "Pot grower: Government has gone too far" by JAMESON COOK from "JRC News Service"
MT. CLEMENS - A Clinton Township man facing charges of growing marijuana and illegal firearms possession contends the state does not have the authority to infringe on his right to those activities.
Jeffrey Szewczyk, 38, is representing himself against charges of manufacturing marijuana, maintaining a drug house and felony firearm in his trial in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. The trial started Wednesday following jury selection in front of Judge Edward Servitto and is scheduled to conclude Tuesday.
Szewczyk contends that God, not man, is his authority. He supports the 10 Commandments over thousands of government laws and regulations.
“I live by the Golden Rule; I treat my neighbor how I like to be treated,” he said. “In the Bible, it says I can serve only one master; the creator is my master.
“I’m just a peaceful inhabitant.”
Szewczyk’s case created a buzz in the courthouse this week, with talk that he is associated with the Sovereign Citizen movement, a radical anti-government organization. Szewczyk, however, says he has no association with the organization and doesn’t oppose government.
“How can I be against the government when the government is the people?” he said. “I appreciate the government. It is there to protect us. Without it, you would have mass chaos and anarchy. But I believe they have overstepped their authority.”
A few supporters have attended the trial, including a medical marijuana advocate, and an anti-government woman who was removed from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies for being disruptive.
Macomb sheriff’s deputies have been keeping a close eye on the courtroom and the case participants and onlookers.
Szewczyk hasn’t been able to make his anti-government arguments because Servitto has rejected virtually all of his attempts to introduce evidence that supports his contention the courts operate without authority. He submitted a proposed order that “fired” Servitto and his advisory attorney, Beverly Safford. He proposed as an exhibit his birth certificate from “One Heaven Great Register,” under the guise of the “First Apostolic Prothonotary.”
“The judge won’t let me introduce the state and federal constitutions, but he swore to them when he took office,” he said. “The judge won’t let me defend myself.”
He pointed to multiple state laws and Bible passages that support his right to grow marijuana, a natural product, but can’t show them to the jury.
Szewczyk showed high ambition for the trial, asking the judge to subpoena a wide range of witnesses, such as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, top officials in Macomb, such as Executive Mark Hackel, Prosecutor Eric Smith and Chief Judge Mark Switalski.
He is charged with possession of between five and 45 kilograms of marijuana or between 20 and 200 plants, punishable by up to seven years in prison. As an alternative to that charge, the jury could convict him of delivery or manufacture of less than 20 marijuana plants, punishable by up to four years in prison. He also is charged with maintaining a drug house, a two-year high-court misdemeanor, and felony firearm for possession of three shotguns and one handgun in his home on Winterset Street, near Metropolitan Parkway and Groesbeck Highway.
Police raided his modest one-story, red brick house last October following an anonymous tip that Szewczyk says came after a dispute with his neighbor’s landscaping workers who mowed immediately after the lawn was heavily fertilized. Szewczyk admitted he was angry and yelled at the workers because the fertilizer traveled to and damaged his vegetable garden.
A drug dog determined drugs were in the home, and officers seized about 63 plants, 50 of them Szewczyk says are under 6 inches and 13 of which are 1 to 2 feet high.
Szewczyk contended the pot in his basement “grow room” was for personal use for pain behind his eyes, although he has not been diagnosed with a disease.
He refuses to seek a patient or caregiver license under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed in 2008 that has resulted in many legal battles across the state. “I don’t believe I should have to get one,” he said.
A caregiver license would allow him to possess up to 72 plants, more than a pound of the drug for himself and distribution to five patients, under the law.
Szewczyk says his regular pot smoking was confined to his basement bedroom, isolated from his wife and four children ages 9, 12, 16 and 20.
His advisory lawyer said Szewczyk won’t ask her questions, but she is trying to help him the best she can.
“He learns fast; he’s a bright guy,” Safford said.
Criminal defense attorney Michael L. Steinberg, who is not associated with the case, said judges typically prevent defendants from using religious belief as a defense. Szewczyk will be limited to arguing the facts of the case, and Steinberg said he may have a chance.
“Having a (medical marijuana) card is an affirmative defense, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use medical marijuana as a defense,” he said. “The fact that he doesn’t have a diagnosis makes it a little more tenuous.”
The guns were accompanied by 200 shotgun shells and 60 rounds for the .44-caliber magnum. Szewczyk contends the guns were for personal protection because he believes the nation’s economic system could collapse at any time, and anarchy would ensue.
“As a father and a husband, I would be shirking my duty if I wasn’t prepared,” he said. “Why would I buy $3,000 worth of guns to protect $2,000 in marijuana?”
The unloaded guns were found in his bedroom area next to the grow room. The shotguns were purchased at a Gibraltar Trade Center gun show three years ago and have never been fired, he said. The handgun was purchased about 12 years ago, stolen about eight years ago, and returned to him about four years ago by Roseville police, he said.
In closing arguments he plans to tell jurors that the case against him is “fabricated.”
“They’re trying to put me in a false light,” he said.
The case has greatly affected his life.
“The government has destroyed the sanctity of my home,” he said.
The three minors were removed from his home soon after the arrest of he and his wife, Wonetta, 40, whose trial on the same charges is scheduled for Sept. 7. The three children are in foster care, and the Szewczyks visit three days per week.
Szewczyk believes the state Department of Human Services illegally removed his children because of the supposed “danger,” drugs and guns, which were removed from the home.
Wonetta Szewczyk works as a clerk at a company and Jeffrey Szewczyk works as a day trader.
Their adult daughter, Jessica, supports her father and has helped his defense preparation. She said her dad kept the marijuana away from his children.
“I don’t think he has done anything wrong,” she said outside the courtroom. “We’re just a normal family.”
Assistant Macomb prosecutor Steve Steinhardt, who is trying the case, said he is “confident in the strength of the case” and respects Szewczyk’s right to represent himself.
“The judge will instruct the jury on what the proper law is,” he said.