Rapper strikes plea deal for pot possession charge

Attorneys for Grammy- nominated rapper Mitchell Charles "Paperboy" Johnson and prosecutors have reached a plea agreement in his marijuana case.

On Oct. 3, the 34-year-old rapper pleaded no contest in Merced County Superior Court to one felony count of possession for sale of marijuana, receiving three years of felony probation, according to Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum.

Prosecutors dismissed a mis-demeanor charge of transportation of marijuana, because the amount Johnson possessed was about a half-gram less than an ounce, Slocum said.

Johnson's attorney, Salvatore Sciandra of Fresno, had no comment.

Johnson initially faced a maximum of three years behind bars. Slocum said the amount of marijuana was the main factor in reaching the plea agreement.

"We just made the decision that he should be put on probation and be given an opportunity to succeed. And if he doesn't succeed, he could face prison time, if he violates his probation," Slocum said.

Had the marijuana in John-son's possession been more than an ounce, Slocum said, he prob-ably would have faced an additional felony charge and most likely a stiffer sentence. The plea deal means Johnson will have to make regular visits to a probation officer and pay about $400 in fines, Slocum said.

"To be honest with you, less than an ounce is a $100 fine, and more than an ounce could be two, three or four years in prison. That's how dramatically different it could be."

Under terms of his probation, Johnson is subject to random drug testing.

Slocum said the crime was the first offense that Johnson, who is from Los Angeles, committed in Merced County. He was arrested June 13 after being stopped by Merced police in his black 1990 Honda Accord on the 2900 block of G Street. Officers who searched Johnson's car found the marijuana, according to Cmdr. Tom Martin of the Merced Police Department.

Police also sent a K-9 unit into Johnson's residence on the 3000 block of Queen Circle. A search of the home did not yield any drugs other than a bag with marijuana residue and a file cabinet that had a "strong odor of marijuana," Martin said.

Eyed by Merced's gang unit

Martin said in June that Johnson had been under investigation by the police department's Gang Violence Suppression Unit for several weeks and a search warrant eventually was obtained for his residence. After his arrest, Johnson reportedly told police he was "upset with himself."

Johnson previously had been hesitant to discuss the case with the media, although he denied the charges on his official Web site, stating that he "smokes Mary Jane" but does not sell it.

Slocum described Johnson's demeanor throughout the case as gentlemanly.

"He appeared at every one of his court appearances, and even before he was represented by counsel, he had to appear by himself," Slocum said. "I don't know if he appeared remorseful. Every time he just seemed respectful and solemn."