Jury Nullification" Becomes An Issue In Some Pot Cases
A Montana man with a string of convictions and a reputation as a drug dealer was going on trial for distributing a small amount of marijuana found in his home — if the court could find jurors willing to send someone to jail for selling a few marijuana buds, reports the Los Angeles Times. Several potential jurors were excused by Judge Robert Deschamps when they said they could not vote for a conviction. "We've got a lot of citizens obviously that are not willing to hold people accountable for sales in small amounts, or at least have some deep misgivings about it," said the judge. "And I think if I excuse a quarter or a third of a jury panel just to get people who are willing to convict, is that really a fair representation of the community? I mean, people are supposed to be tried by a jury of their peers."
As marijuana use wins growing legal and public tolerance, some jurors may be reluctant to convict for an offense many people no longer regard as serious. "We'll hear, 'I think marijuana should be legal, I'm not going to follow the law,' " said prosecutor Mark Lindquist in Pierce County, Wa. "We tell them, 'We're not here to debate the laws. We're here to decide whether or not somebody broke the law.' " Drug-law reform advocates say juries should follow their consciences and refuse to convict — a concept known as jury nullification, widely used during Prohibition and in the Jim Crow-era South. "This is one of the first times in a number of years there's a general discussion around this powerful but rarely used jury tool," said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But going back 20 years plus, there's been some tumult in the courts where the issue is cannabis and the person being prosecuted wants to turn to the jury and say, 'Yes, I am guilty, and here's why.' "