Plea deal almost goes up in smoke after 'nervous' defendant gets high before court

Luis Angel Lopez was heading to jail and he was nervous. His attorney tried to reassure him and demanded he follow through and turn himself in to the jail officials by 5 p.m.

"Yes, I will," said a hesitant Lopez.

Lopez is accused of breaking into a home in 2019 and stealing a TV. Twenty-one months later, Hillsborough judge Michael Williams was accepting his plea deal on burglary and grand theft charges. But right from the start, there was a problem. Judge Williams asked Lopez a series of standard questions about his state of mind and things quickly went off the rails.

"Are you under the influence of any drugs or alcohol that would prevent you from understanding today’s proceedings?" Williams asked.

Lopez sluggishly responded, "I mean I smoked a little marijuana, but I understand the proceeding." 

Williams then asked, "When was the last time you smoked?"

Lopez hesitated and said, "Maybe like 30 minutes ago."

"Wonderful", replied a frustrated Judge.

And just like that the plea deal just went up in smoke. Lopez tried to explain why he did it.

"I was just nervous that I was going in, so I was just smoking," Lopez explained.

That explanation only annoyed Williams who threatened to pull the plug on the whole deal.

"I'm about ready to reject your plea and go to trial and you can roll the dice with a jury," he said. "How do you think it looks to an appellate court that you smoked marijuana before taking your plea?"

"Bad" replied Lopez.

"Yeah, that’s the legal term," quipped Judge Williams.

At one point, the prosecutor, Nathaniel Mendoza, stepped in and tried to rescue the deal.

"Marijuana can impair driving performance for up to three hours. I don't know if he would be okay by this afternoon if his head would be clear," snickered Mendoza.

Judge Williams chuckled at the suggestion.

"You may be right Mr. Mendoza," said Williams.

And with that, Williams scheduled a do-over with a drug-free defendant.

"I need you to show up for court and not smoke marijuana right before you get on Zoom, you understand?" asked Williams.

"Yes sir", Lopez sheepishly replied.

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