You just parked the car after a long day at work. Tired, you grab the mail and drag yourself inside, ready to kick back on the couch and smoke a bowl of some medical grade flower you picked up at the local medical marijuana dispensary. As you exhale the dank weed smoke and begin sorting the mail, you see an envelope from the government, and time seems to stop. Hoping against hope that it’s something else — any other kind notification — you open the envelope, and out fall the folded pages. Great. You’ve got jury duty.
“I just wanted to relax,” you think to yourself, “now I find out I have to waste a day, at minimum, down at the courthouse?” Instead of deciding what to do when high, your stuck at the courthouse.
Few people look forward to jury duty. But, the next time you get that dreaded piece of mail, here’s something to keep in mind. In addition to performing an invaluable civic duty, which is directly responsible for keeping our legal system in check, your next round of jury duty could be your first opportunity to take part in a jury nullification.
What is jury nullification, you ask? Roll up a blunt, spark it then continue…[nggallery id=321]
A jury nullification takes place when jurors acquit an individual they concede has broken the law as it is currently written. It is essentially a statement by the jury that, although the prosecution has effectively proven that the defendant committed the crimes they are accused of, they do not agree with the criminalization of the actions in question. For example, a jury that did not believe cannabis meets the criteria for classification as a Schedule 1 substance could acquit a medical marijuana patient being charged with possession. Sometimes, the jury simply doesn’t believe that a particular case warrants prosecution, even if they agree with existing laws.
So why is jury nullification so effective? Because it cannot be reversed by a judge, and protects the defendant from re-prosecution for the same crimes under the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution. Even if, as Dave Chappelle once satirically requested, the prosecution had a video of the defendant — singing about the crime in progress while holding two forms of government ID, and surrounded by friends, police, and his grandmother — a jury nullification is the real world equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
But how would a jury nullification help fight the War on Drugs? Most notably, jury nullifications could act as a deterrent from over-zealous anti-drug crusaders in the law enforcement community. In 2010, the FBI reports that 750,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana. Not enough to sell. Not public consumption. Just possession. Imagine how much smaller that number would be if police/prosecutors had to worry that their cases would essentially be thrown out by jurors. The first such refusal to convict a defendant of possession would likely create a domino effect, considering that marijuana acceptance in the U.S. is only growing, and soon it could become commonplace. Obviously, the change wouldn’t take place overnight, but it’s not hard to see how effective jury nullification’s can be.[nggallery id=322]
While the practice can be used maliciously, the most common example being white-jurors’ refusal to convict white defendants for violence against African Americans, jury nullification is a rare tool against the ever-increasing power of the prison industrial complex. Of course, it’s a tool that doesn’t come without a fight.
Judges and prosecutors notoriously do everything in their power to prevent jury nullification from taking place. An 1895 ruling by Justice John Marshall Harlan, affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1969, cleared judges and prosecutors of any responsibility to notify jurors of the nullification option. Additionally, it allowed judges to prevent either legal team from informing jurors about their right to nullify a verdict. District attorneys even use the voir dire pre-trial screening to prevent the possibility by dismissing jurors who refuse to confirm they will rule based on existing law. Lying during the voir dire questioning can also lead to removal from the jury, not to mention criminal charges, so lying your way onto a jury in hopes of nullifying a law isn’t an option. Regardless, despite the constant attacks and attempts to erode its power, jury nullification has survived.
So, next time you get summoned for jury duty, remember that you might be handed a rare opportunity to fight back. You can not be deceptive when you are questioned but, if you make it onto the jury, know that the courts affirmed your right to tell fellow jurors about jury nullification as recently as last month. And, if it’s drug-related, just acquit.
With the Obama Administration waging an increasingly hostile war on our medical marijuana community, what better way to send a message to the executive branch than with the first jury nullification in sixteen years. It seems likely that President Obama wouldn’t mock or ignore a question about that during his next YouTube town hall meeting.
Need further convincing, or just want more information? Check out Jury Independence Illustrated, written, illustrated, and freely-distributed by Go The Fuck To Sleep author Ricardo Cortés.