NEW PORT RICHEY — Hands trembling, Amanda Gould rocked in her wheelchair and cried as she waited for the judge to address her case.
She faced up to five years in prison for smoking marijuana while serving probation on a DUI conviction. It was wrong, she says, but the marijuana gave her something nothing else could: relief from her chronic pain.
"I really just want to go home to my family and move forward," Gould quietly told Circuit Judge William Webb on Monday. "I just want this to be behind me now. I'm asking for mercy from the court, your honor."
Webb — despite saying last month that Gould should go to prison — granted her request.
Gould, who lives in Clearwater with her husband and four children, was to be released Monday from the Pasco County jail, where she has spent the last few months. Webb had said in a hearing last month that putting her back on probation would be a "waste of time," and that she "likes drugs and she's not going to stop using them."
Although Gould took a number of narcotics, her attorney, Marc Joseph, countered they were all prescribed to treat her myriad conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease and two dozen others. He also argued it was possible voters could approve Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Joseph pushed for probation, but Webb seemed determined to send Gould to prison.
The judge softened after hearing the pleas from Gould and her husband at her sentencing hearing Monday. He ordered that she serve community control, a more restrictive type of probation that functions like house arrest. That will be followed, he said, by another year of regular probation. Both terms can be shortened to six months each for good behavior.
Webb expressed concern that Gould, 36, would return to narcotics, which she stopped taking while in jail. He urged her, as part of her probation terms, to stay away from them.
"If she wants to commit to staying clean and sober, absent a significant and objective decline in her medical condition, I'm willing to put her back on supervision," he said. He wished Gould luck and urged her to pursue further education, telling her, "My hope is that you will, beyond simply living your life, do something positive with this."
Joseph said the sentence will give Gould "the chance to get things right."
Gould's husband, Christopher, has a recovery plan for his wife. It involves nutritional supplements, organic food, therapy and getting out of the "hamster wheel" of traditional medicine. Narcotic medications made his wife vomit and lose her hair — good riddance, he said.
Gould's pain has long shadowed her, leading to agony so great she has often considered suicide, her husband said. Unable to get up the stairs, the living room once became her bedroom. At one point, hospice came. Her family thought she would die.
She has been prescribed medications, including oxycodone, a ketamine compound lotion, as well as fentanyl, a powerful pain killer often used for cancer patients. Marijuana was an occasional refuge from the pain, something Gould felt was the only thing that made her a functioning mother. She stopped using it after she was sentenced to probation last year for a 2008 DUI in Pasco County. This summer, though, she couldn't take it anymore. "She went into survival mode," her husband said, and used it again.
"She felt worthless for her children. She felt worthless as a wife. When she did smoke, things changed," Christopher Gould said Monday before the hearing. "I know she broke the law. She knows she broke the law. But does the punishment fit the crime?"
After the hearing, he said he was ecstatic.