The Alabama Political Reporter reports that a black veteran with disabilities is currently serving a 60-month sentence in an Alabama penitentiary for a 2016 marijuana arrest.
- In 2016, Sean Worsley and his wife Eboni, from Arizona, were driving through Alabama. They had just visited Eboni’s family in Mississippi and were going to visit Sean’s next in North Carolina.
- Worsley was wounded during military service in Iraq, leaving him disabled with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and chronic back pain. He used medical marijuana, lawfully purchased in Arizona where medical marijuana is legal, to soothe the physical pain and calm his nightmares.
- While driving through Alabama, the Worsleys stopped to buy gas in Gordo, Pickens County. There, a police officer approached them, informing the Worsleys that their music was too loud, violating a city noise ordinance.
- The officer asked to search the vehicle, and the Worsleys, believing they had not broken any laws, assented.
- However, marijuana is not legal for any use in Alabama, and the state’s laws do not recognize lawfully purchased marijuana from any other state. When the officer noticed the smell of marijuana, Worsley showed him his card and explained both his disability and veteran status.
- In the arrest report, the officer wrote that he then “explained to him that Alabama did not have medical marijuana. I then placed the suspect in handcuffs.”
- Alongside the marijuana, the officers discovered some pain pills which Eboni used in a plastic bag. He informed them that this constituted a felony, and he arrested Eboni as well.
The Worsleys stayed in a county jail for six days. However, the Reporter explains that this “was just the beginning of their Alabama legal saga.”
- The Worsleys were released from prison on bond, but when they returned home to Arizona, the felony charges made it difficult to maintain stable housing. They moved to Nevada and leased a residence there.
- A year later, a bail bondsman called the Worsleys to inform them their judge was revoking bonds on every case he managed; if the Worsleys did not immediately return to Alabama, they would lose their bond and face additional charges for failing to appear in court.
- Once at the court, the Worsleys were separated in spite of Eboni explaining that Sean needed a guardian to help him make an informed decision; his traumatic brain injury left him liable to not fully understand the legal process.
- The court kept the Worsleys separated. Eboni says that Sean afterward told her that prosecutors said if he did not sign their plea agreement, he would be incarcerated for the rest of the year and Eboni would face the same charges.
- The Reporter explains, “Rather than see his wife go to jail he signed the agreement.”
- Sean Worsley’s plea agreement included 60 months of probation, drug treatment, and thousands of dollars in fines and court fees.
- Because the Worsleys lived in Arizona at the time of the arrest, the probation was transferred to Arizona, obligating them to break their Nevada lease.
- Additionally, Veterans Affairs would not support drug treatment for Sean Worsley because medical use of cannabis “does not meet criteria for a substance use disorder or meet need for substance abuse treatment.”
- Eboni lost her job as a certified nursing assistant due to the felony charge, even though she was never sentenced.
- By January 2019, the Worsleys either lived out of their car or with family or were homeless.
- However, Worsley lost his homeless veteran benefits with Veterans Affairs when Alabama issued a fugitive warrant for his arrest; he had missed a court date in Pickens County.
- Eboni faced declining health; in order to support her during recovery and spend less time working, Sean took out a title loan. Unfortunately, this ended with the Worsleys losing their truck and therefore their only home at the time.
- In 2020, Sean Worsley was arrested for owning marijuana without a medical use card. He had not renewed his card due to lacking money.
- Pickens County had Worsley extradited at a $4,345 cost, which they fined to the Worsleys’ expense, in addition to over $3,000 they already owed in fines.
- On April 28, a judge revoked Sean Worsley’s probation and sentenced him to a 60-month sentence with the Alabama Department of Corrections.
- Sean’s mother has hired an attorney to appeal the case. However, in the meantime, Sean Worsley is serving his sentence. He is currently in Pickens County Jail awaiting transfer to a long-term prison.
- He leaves behind Eboni, who is in the hospital for more heart surgery, and two children from a prior relationship, ages 12 and 14.
In a letter to the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Sean wrote,
I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for… I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.
State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) expressed shock that this series of events took place in Alabama.
- He explained that under a sentencing reform package he sponsored, which passed in 2016, marijuana possession was a Class D felony, requiring no prison time.
- In Sean Worsley’s case, the Gordo officer making the arrest determined that the marijuana was not for personal use and so charged him with a Class C felony instead. This officer is no longer with the Gordo department.
- Ward added that of the 23,000 inmates in Alabama corrections, only up to 70 were present for marijuana offenses alone, and “They got arrested for a whole truckload, semi-truckloads even, for trafficking.”