New Hampshire Jury Nullifies Major Felony Marijuana Case

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Following the adoption of a new state law on jury nullification in June, a New Hampshire jury nullified its first major felony marijuana case on September 14 when jurors decided to free Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old father of four grown children who was growing illegal plants in his backyard. Activists hailed the decision as a significant victory for the jury nullification movement, which aims to revive awareness about the power inherent in juries to protect citizens from overzealous prosecutors and bad laws by nullifying cases. Darrell, a Rastafarian piano tuner and woodworker who has been married for almost four decades, was arrested after a National Guard helicopter spotted some marijuana plants on his property in Barnstead. State prosecutors charged him with cultivation, a felony that could have carried up to seven years in prison. It was clear that he had been growing the marijuana – nobody disputed that. Eventually Darrell was offered a deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time and fines in exchange for a misdemeanor guilty plea. He refused, however, citing his religion and its view that marijuana is a sacrament. So the case went to trial. Jurors, led by liberty-minded activist Cathleen Converse of the Free State Project, decided Darrell should be set free. u201CMr. Darrell is a peaceful man, he never deals with the darker elements of society and he grows for his own personal religious and medicinal use,u201D Converse said during an exclusive interview with Free Talk Live, a freedom-oriented talk-radio program. u201CI knew that my community would be poorer rather than better off had he been convicted.u201D So, to prevent that, she helped convince other jurors to do as the defense suggested: vote their conscience and declare Darrell a free man. u201CMany of us wondered what kind of precedent this would set,u201D Converse continued. u201CBut after chewing on all of the possibilities and re-reading the definition of nullification, we all decided that the only fair thing to do was to vote with our consciences and acquit the defendant of all charges.u201D Jury nullification, of course, is a time-tested practice that goes back to before the American Declaration of Independence. Essentially, it occurs when members of a jury decide to free somebody even though prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did indeed violate a criminal statute. Juries have historically relied on nullification for various reasons including to reject unjust or unconstitutional laws, to free defendants in cases where laws have been misapplied by overzealous officials, and more. During alcohol prohibition it became commonplace as jurors refused en masse to convict their compatriots for drinking illegal substances. Before that, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay informed a jury in 1794 that jurors have u201Ca right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.u201D Numerous other Supreme Court justices and Founding Fathers have touted the practice, too. And despite being largely overlooked today, activists across America are trying hard to build awareness about it. In June, those nullification advocates secured a major victory. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed HB 146 into law allowing defendants to inform jurors about the jury's u201Cright to judge the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy.u201D That law does not officially take effect until January, but it has already made waves throughout the state's judiciary system. u201CIt’s a really important development,u201D Darrell's defense attorney Mark Sisti told the New Hampshire Union Leader, adding that most state residents have no problem with moderate marijuana use by adults and that legislatures across America are rethinking their laws on the controversial plant. u201CWe’re moving along a path we should have been on years ago.u201D

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