Sentences of synthetic marijuana sellers linked to teen's 2011 fatal crash vacated
A Glendale Heights woman who sold synthetic marijuana involved in a fatal car crash could end up spending less time in prison, as a federal appeals court ruled a judge made mistakes in determining her sentence.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the prison sentence of Ruby Mohsin on Sept. 20. Mohsin was sentenced in January to serve 21 to 27 months for conspiracy to sell a misbranded controlled substance from her Cigar Box store in Aurora. She reported to prison July 3.
Mohsin's store is where 19-year-old Max Dobner of Aurora bought synthetic marijuana, labeled as a kind of incense or potpourri, in June 2011. He smoked it about two hours before he crashed his car into a house near North Aurora. He died instantly.
One of his brothers has said Dobner called him after smoking the stuff, complaining of symptoms similar to a panic attack.
The Court of Appeals ruled Northern Illinois District Judge Charles Norgle erred when he accepted a recommendation that Mohsin's sentence be enhanced because she knew, or should have known, the product she sold had a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury. Prosecutors presented no evidence she knew that at the time she sold the product, the appellate panel ruled.
Norgle ruled that because Mohsin had administered prescription medications to one of her sons, who suffered from cancer, she should have known ingesting substances for purposes other than intended was risky.
"General awareness of the health risks of taking medications does not demonstrate a defendant's specific knowledge or awareness of the risks presented by a particular substance," the appellate ruling states. Furthermore, "knowing that someone will smoke a product to achieve a marijuana‐like high does not -- without more -- show a 'conscious or reckless risk of death or serious bodily injury.' The more was missing."
It also ruled Norgle should not have considered the testimony of a prosecution witness who said she had warned Mohsin that her son had become ill after smoking the items Mohsin sold. The judge improperly cut off the defense attorney's questioning of that witness, the appellate court said, as the defense tried to show the witness was saying something different from what she had said while testifying in a lawsuit against Mohsin.
The appeals court also vacated the sentence of her employee, Mohammad Khan, who had pleaded guilty to the same charge.
The court ordered Khan be released from prison while awaiting his new sentencing but denied Mohsin's request to be released.
No dates have been set for their resentencings.
Mohsin and Khan were charged in 2015. Both pleaded guilty in February 2017. Khan was sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison and started serving the sentence in mid-May.
Without the enhancements, Mohsin is eligible for a sentence of 15 to 21 months. And if she receives credit for accepting responsibility, she could be sentenced to 6 to 12 months, or possibly probation on home detention.