Could jury nullification have saved a pro-marijuana activist from an 81-year prison sentence for selling pot?
Rich Paul of Keene, New Hampshire, is planning on appealing to the New Hampshire Supreme Court on the grounds that the judge misled the jury on what nullification is in his trial for selling marijuana to an undercover Drug Task Force informant. According to Free Keene’s coverage of the trial, judge John C. Kissinger emphasized that the jury had to follow the law as he explained it and didn’t mention jury nullification. Kissinger’s instructions to the jury were different than the ones given to the jury in the case of Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian woodworker who was acquitted of marijuana-growing charges thanks to jury nullification.
Paul, who essentially admitted that he sold marijuana to an FBI informant, had refused plea-bargain deals (including one that would have let him walk away with no jail time) because he wanted to stand up for his principles—weed is basically harmless and you should be allowed to smoke it and sell it to your friends. “Somebody had to stand up and say that this is wrong, and I thought I might as well be that guy,” he said in an email to VICE two days before the jury found him guilty. “I took the risk and now we’ll find out whether I bet my life well.”
some background on jury nullification:
Confusion about the legality of jury nullification is natural—essentially, it’s legal only because jurors can’t get punished for whatever verdict they reach. In the 90s, a juror from Colorado named Laura Kriho was charged with contempt of court for voting to acquit a 19-year-old charged with possession of meth and supposedly lying about her anti–drug war beliefs during the jury selection process, in what a lot of people read as an assault on the doctrine of nullification. Since then, though, the idea has become more mainstream—in 2010, the New York Times reported on prospective jurors in Missoula, Montana, voicing their concerns about sending an admitted weed dealer to prison, which led to the charges being dropped, and the mayor of San Diego recently said he supported nullification in a case involving a man running a medical-marijuana dispensary (legal under state law) who got arrested by the Feds.
In the past, juries in the South have used nullification to acquit whites accused of hate crimes against blacks, so the doctrine does have some nasty history behind it. A common critique, as expressed by the Straight Dope in a 2009 blog post on nullification, is, “If you want to change the law, do it at the ballot box, not in the jury room.” But change at the ballot box is complicated in 2013’s America. Even when states legalize marijuana, the federal government’s agencies can still crack down on people using and selling a legal (or semilegal) substance. Juries are supposed to represent the conscience of the community—is it so far-fetched to believe that many communities would find laws that send nonviolent criminals to prison for years repugnant? And shouldn’t they have some clearly defined mechanism for stopping that from happening?
Justice is not cheap in America so a fundraiser has started to help hire a lawyer for Rich Paul’s appeal. You can donate to his cause here
Reason #33 to move to New Hampshire
Porc 411, a phone communication system, used to report speed traps, check points, political events, and news as-it-happens, broadcasted via email as audio file attachments.
Reason #22 to move to New Hampshire
Government officials, from town clerks all the way up to the state governor, are accessible to the public and generally have a walk-right-in office policy.