Friday, January 30, 2009

Maybe *This* Is How The War On Marijuana Ends

A rural Illinois jury has found one of their peers innocent in a marijuana case that would have sent him to prison. Loren Swift (pictured below) was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, and he faced a mandatory minimum of six years behind bars.

According to Dan Churney at MyWebTimes, several jurors were seen shaking Swift's hand after the verdict, a couple of them were talking and laughing with Swift and his lawyer, and one juror slapped Swift on the back.

The 59-year-old was arrested after officers from a state "drug task force" found 25 pounds of pot and 50 pounds of growing plants in his home in 2007. The Vietnam veteran walks with a cane, has bad knees and feet and says he uses marijuana to relieve body pain, as well as to help cope with post traumatic stress.

This jury exercised their right of jury nullification. Judges and prosecutors never tell you this, but when you serve on a jury, it's not just the defendant on trial. It's the law as well. If you don't like the law and think applying it in this particular case would be unjust, then you don't have to find the defendant guilty, even if the evidence clearly indicates guilt.

In jury nullification, a jury in a criminal case effectively nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her. There is intense pressure within the legal system to keep this power under wraps. But the fact of the matter is that when laws are deemed unjust, there is the right of the jury not to convict.

Jury nullification is crucially important because until our national politicians show some backbone on the issue of marijuana law reform, it's one of the only ways to avoid imposing hideously cruel "mandatory minimum" penalties on marijuana users who don't deserve to go to prison.

Prosecuting and jailing people for marijuana wastes valuable resources, including court and police time and tax dollars. Hundreds of thousands of otherwise productive, law-abiding people have been deprived of their freedom, their families, their homes and their jobs. Let's save the jails for real criminals, not pot smokers.

The American public is very near the tipping point where a majority no longer believes the official line coming from Drug Warrior politicians and their friends at the ONDCP, gung-ho narcotics officers protecting their profitable turf, and sensationalistic, scare-mongering news stories used to boost ratings. They are starting to see through the widening cracks in the wall of denial when it comes to marijuana's salutary medical effects on a host of illnesses and its palliative effects for the terminally ill and permanently disabled.

People are coming to realize that not only have they been sold a lie when it comes to marijuana -- they've been sold a particularly cruel lie, a self-perpetuating falsehood of epic proportions that has controlled U.S. public policy towards the weed for 70 years now. The extreme cruelty of the lies told about marijuana by drug warriors is in the effects this culture of fear and intolerance has in the real world -- effects like long prison sentences for gentle people who are productive and caring members of society.

Because citizens are coming to this long-delayed realization, we are going to be seeing more and more cases like this where juries have chosen not to punish people for pot. As this consciousness permeates all levels of society, it is going to get harder and harder for prosecutors to get guilty verdicts in marijuana cases -- and that's a good thing.

Maybe this is how the war on marijuana ends... Not with a bang, but a whimper, as cousin T.S. would say.




What You Can Do

• If you ever serve on a jury where the defendant is accused of a marijuana crime, don't forget about jury nullification. Tell the other jurors you don't have to convict, even if all the evidence points to guilt, if you don't agree with the application of the law in this instance. And if you can't swing your peers to your way of thinking, at least you can cause the jury to return a hung verdict.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Drug Policy

Change The Climate: Time to Tell the Truth About Marijuana

Drug Policy Alliance: Alternatives to Prohibition and the Drug War

Marijuana Policy Project

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

"Jurors should acquit, even against the judge's instruction... if exercising their judgement with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction the charge of the court is wrong." ~ Alexander Hamilton, 1804

"It is not only the juror's right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement and conscience, though in direct opposition to the instruction of the court." ~ John Adams, 1771

19 comments:

jamesinsf said...

I am so glad to hear about this victory for this clearly disabled man who is living with chronic pain. He is using marijuana as medicine, because it works.

It is delightful that the people were educated about jury nullification. I am surprised that more juries do not use this strategy to void or otherwise legally transcend unjust laws.

steven said...

I live in the county that Mr Swift lives in and I must say it shocked and made us jump 4 joy because in LaSalle county they hate the weed more then any other drug

acacia72 said...

I think Mr. Swift has suffered ENOUGH considering all his weed was confiscated and also having had to endure a costly jury trial. On top of that, he will not be able to possess more than a joint or two at a time(no more than he can eat/dispose of quickly) as the cops will probably have him under surveillance from now on. BUT something good did come of this; I (and others) learned about jury nullification which I (and others) will be able to utilize if necessary!

pinkpackrat said...

Thanks for getting the word out about jury nullification. I'll remember...great post BTW-- it's turned me into your newest fan and follower:-)

Matt said...

not sure how this works in the USA, but Canada laws were changed on cannabis to avoid jury trials. fearful obviously that 1 - 12 people would be a toker. good odds up here. are specific charges only available to be heard by jury in the US when it comes to cannabis?

Christie O'Brien said...

Woohoo! Score one for our side ;)

jcr said...

I would go a little farther and say that it's not just the right of the jury to acquit when the law is unjust, but their duty to do so. That's why have juries; it's to ensure that when someone is accused, it's the people and not the government who decide whether he deserves punishment.

darter22 said...

Jurors today have the same obligation to serve the cause of justice that a juror would have had in 1964 to not convict Rosa Parks for the "crime" of not going to the back of the bus.

Tolley Jenkins said...

Matt said:not sure how this works in the USA, but Canada laws were changed on cannabis to avoid jury trials. fearful obviously that 1 - 12 people would be a toker. good odds up here. are specific charges only available to be heard by jury in the US when it comes to cannabis?

Matt, the US Constitution guarantees every person charged of a criminal act a right to trial by their peers. I'm shocked that Canada has no similar requirement.

Katharine said...

I hadn't really given much thought to jury nullification. Now you've got the wheels turning in my head. Thank you muchly!

Terri K said...

I love it! Another small step towards Freedom!!

Chuck said...

Awesome article! I'm becoming a real patriot for our sovereign rights. I'm adding this jury nullification bit to my list of goodies!

remo_253 said...

Jury Nullification is an important right that. The judicial system goes to great lenghts to make sure you DON'T find out about it.

From the Wikipedia:

"Recent court rulings have contributed to the prevention of jury nullification. A 1969 Fourth Circuit decision, U.S. v. Moylan, affirmed the right of jury nullification, but also upheld the power of the court to refuse to permit an instruction to the jury to this effect.[23] In 1972, in United States v. Dougherty, 473 F.2d 1113, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling similar to Moylan that affirmed the de facto power of a jury to nullify the law but upheld the denial of the defense's chance to instruct the jury about the power to nullify.[24] In 1988, the Sixth Circuit upheld a jury instruction that "There is no such thing as valid jury nullification."[25] In 1997, the Second Circuit ruled that jurors can be removed if there is evidence that they intend to nullify the law, under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 23(b)"

A great book on the subject is "Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine". It can be found on Amazon.

A good site with information regarding the rights and duties of a jury is the Fully Informed Jury Association" (www.fija.org).

Katharine said...

Remo, thanks for the link!

JamaGenie said...

Thanks for the heads up on jury nullification. Obviously keeping marijuana illegal is no longer "for the people, by the people". See the following for how police chiefs across the country feel about legalizing it: http://hubpages.com/hub/Police-Chiefs-to-Obama-Legalize-Marijuana

smitty said...

A primary reason the idiotic prohibition of alcohol-a dismal failure of an experiment in social policy-was ended relatively quickly, was individual citizen action in the form of refusing to provide the government with convictions regarding 'crimes' involving sales and consumption and possession of alcohol.

While the government needs 12 jurors to vote guilty, in order to secure a conviction, justice requires only one lone vote (though acquittal by 12 not guilty votes is preferable) of not guilty. Though the facts of the case may be damning, the law itself is to be in question by individual jurors too: is it a law not in conflict with the Constitution? Is the law just? Is the law being properly applied?

We the people are the ONLY possible reliable check and balance upon government stupidity and misbehavior...and the most reliable peaceful means is through jury nullification.

The blame for the silliness of the criminalization of private adult matters is properly placed upon US...as we are generally lazy, uninformed, uninterested, and unwilling to make the effort to act as free individuals to perform the constant duty required to maintain Liberty against the always present danger posed by the natural governmental inclination to grasp ever increasing power over our lives and property.

IF we would refuse to continue to act as rubber stamps in the prosecutions regarding matters not truly criminal in nature-such as prostitution, the choice of what we ingest in our bodies, gambling, and the like-then the urge to conduct such prosecutions would gradually disappear, as no government prosecutor wants to lose any cases.

Once this stage is reached-as with alcohol prohibition-it is only a short wait for the absurdity of keeping a law on the books-that is neither observed nor able to be enforced-is realized by legislators, and repeal becomes inevitable.

Trouble is, most of us make every effort to avoid serving as jurors, somewhat insuring that the pool from which jurors are selected is composed of, shall we say, not the brightest bulbs on the string...exactly the sort of pliable rubber stamps the government judge and prosecutor wishes to see in the jury box.

This is why America imprisons a greater share of its people than any other country...when it was the 'commies' that did that, it was a bad thing...now that it is us, we are indifferent to it...even though the reality is that predators that really should be locked up, are released to make room for pot cultivators, prostitutes, importers of lobsters considered too short in length, and on and on...


It is true that it is highly unlikely, and probably impossible that a judge will allow an attorney to raise the issue of jury nullification.

There is another way...the defendant-and his allies-can do an end run around the kangaroo court via the First Amendment.

I had plans to do exactly that in my cannabis case in 2002. I published and printed 10,000 copies of an informative booklet with the intent of mass-mailing them to every household in my county, in order to attempt to educate potential jurors.

Because I witnessed enough corruption on the part of the court, the police and the prosecutor, to demonstrate that a fair trial was just a fantasy, as well as other critical considerations, I abandoned the plan and ended up doing a plea-bargain in order to avoid the possibility of prison for myself and a loved one. In return for my guilty plea to a reduced felony, and a six-figure check presented to the Sheriff's office, I was able to "purchase" the dismissal of charges against my loved one (baseless charges that acted as an incentive to make a deal with greedy corrupt authorities) as well as a suspended jail sentence and two years probation for me. This adventure in American criminal 'justice' commenced in September 2002, and finally ended in August of 2005. Completion of sentence was August of 2007. The whole sordid story could easily be book length...



It is also possible to utilize print/radio/television advertising to educate the jury pool, as well as just offering printed information to people as you circle the courthouse on the sidewalk. Exercise that First Amendment as much and as well as you can afford to.

Here is a bit of information from my booklet:

Today judges in all criminal cases, federal and state, tell the jurors at the end of the case before they leave the courtroom to vote, "you are here to judge the facts, you must obey the law as I give it to you."
That is a lie.
Neither constitutional nor legislative enactment so states. All "jury instructions" in criminal cases are merely helpful suggestions. See United States v. Norton, 846 F.2d 521 (8th Cir. 1988).
Judges are always careful to conceal this fact from juries. Most jurors think this is the "law," though this was never the intent of those who wrote the Constitution nor has it ever been a statute (law) or legislative enactment of any kind, at least at the federal level.

-----

Now, it should be common sense that people need warned that they must conceal from the court that they are aware of this sort of information, and if questioned about it by the court, they must even lie about it, in order to serve on the jury. Some may object to such lying, but remember, judges, prosecutors, and police regularly lie-and cheat-in order to obtain convictions, especially in cannabis cases.

They (the authorities) sure don't "play" according to the rules, and we are assured of only losing if we aren't willing to bend-or even break-rules when it is appropriate to do so. And it is appropriate to do so. I shall illustrate with an example from history:

In slave times it was a crime to assist runaway slaves (the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850). Those who did so and were apprehended and tried, often found that jurors with a conscience wouldn't convict, despite the facts and/or the law...

Back then, conscience dictated that it was clearly wrong for people to "own" other people as property; just as wrong is the modern notion that the government "owns" our bodies and our lives through the criminalization of peaceful personal behaviors that are properly beyond the scope of governmental intrusion.

Laurie said...

So can a lawyer remind the jury about jury nullification during the trial? If so, why don't they all?

remo_253 said...

Laurie,

Read "Juror's Handbook" at www.fija.org. Quoting from it:

"Resourceful defendants and their attorneys have tried every conceivable route around this immovable roadblock. All have been thwarted. Without exception,
the appellate courts will not allow a defense attorney to use her closing argument to tell the jurors about their power to nullify, or to urge them to use it."

"In one especially outrageous case, the jury deliberated for hours in a criminal tax case
before sending the judge a note asking: "What is jury nullification?" The defendant was convicted shortly after the judge falsely told the jury that "there is no such thing as valid jury nullification.....""

Brian said...

I was unaware of the allowance of a "Jury Nullification" for any kind of court case. Thanks for the information.

Do you know of any statistics that show arrests and court cases of medical marijuana users in states that have legalized it's use?

Thanks

Brian