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Virginia Woman Jailed for Pot Use Before Abuse Hearing Wants Charge Dropped

NBC Washington D.C. logo NBC Washington D.C. 9/23/2021 Julie Carey
© Provided by NBC Washington D.C.

Demonstrators are planning to gather at a courthouse in Loudoun County, Virginia, on Thursday to support a woman who was sent to jail as she testified about domestic abuse because she admitted to smoking marijuana before the hearing.

Katie Orndoff was testifying on Sept. 7 against her former partner, who was charged with striking her, when the judge interrupted her testimony and sent the jury out of the room.

Video released by the court and provided to News4 by Orndoff’s attorney shows the moment.

Judge James Fisher asked Orndoff whether she had taken any drugs or medications that day.

"You appear to be under the influence right now. For example, you just rocked in your chair again and it almost fell over. I want to know what you’ve taken prior to coming in here today that has affected your demeanor?" Fisher asked.

"I mean, honestly, I smoked marijuana. ... You can search my car," Orndoff replies, throwing up her hands.

After she further confirms that she used marijuana at home that morning, Fisher tells Orndoff that she's in contempt of court.

"I’m going to sentence you to 10 days in the county jail. I’m going to remand you to the custody of the sheriff," Fisher said.

Orndoff is stunned.

“Me?! What? Oh my god. I — what? No. I didn’t even do anything,” she cried.

Orndoff bonded out of jail after two days. Both the Commonwealth’s attorney and her lawyer filed a motion to vacate, to wipe away, the contempt charge.

Orndoff’s attorney approved the use of their client’s name and the courtroom video. News4 generally does not release the names of people who report domestic violence, unless they wish to be named. 

In its filing, the Commonwealth’s attorney argued there was no evidence of impairment.

"There were no slurred words, falling asleep on the stand, nor any difficulties in her gait — observations expected for someone under the influence of intoxicants," the filing says.

The case has captured statewide attention. Some say it illustrates how even though marijuana use is legal, it’s not always viewed that way.

"While it's certainly one of the most egregious cases we’ve heard about, it's not the only one. We hear every week from Virginians who continue to be singled out and discriminated against for their lawful use of cannabis," Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said.

It has been legal in Virginia since July to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana.

The Commonwealth’s attorney and alleged victim said they fear the case could discourage other women from reporting abuse.

"I will never feel safe reporting abuse again because doing so does not protect me," Orndoff wrote.

The defendant’s attorney said the judge’s assessment proves Orndoff is an unreliable witness. The attorney asked that the case against the alleged abuser be dismissed.

Ethics rules bar the judge from commenting on the case. But he did file an order of his own on Wednesday informing the Commonwealth’s attorney and Orndoff’s attorney that his decision is final. He said he will not schedule a hearing to consider vacating the contempt charge.

The demonstration in support of Orndoff was scheduled for noon Thursday.

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