Yesterday the Fully Informed Jury Association spoke with Rich Paul, a New Hampshire man accused of multiple counts of victimless drug offenses who is pursuing a jury nullification strategy in his trial. Paul openly acknowledges sales of several ounces of marijuana and one sale of a compound that’s legal (which has apparently been misidentified by government officials as LSD). He has so far turned down two plea deals, including one that involves no jail time, instead choosing to take his case before a jury and seek a full acquittal for offenses that have harmed nobody. Paul discusses the political nature of his trial, with charges being levied against him in an apparent attempt to coerce him into spying for the FBI inside a political organization of which he is a member.
Fully Informed Jury Association: Please give us a brief rundown of your case.
Rich Paul: I am charged with, I believe, four counts of delivery of marijuana and one count of delivery of purported LSD. The marijuana charges- each delivery was a quarter pound, except for one, which was two ounces- and what was actually sold and delivered in the other count was a drug called 2ci which is legal. I expect to have that count acquitted on the facts, and the other counts-the marijuana counts-I’m going for jury nullification.
FIJA: What led you to pursue jury nullification in this case?
RP: Well, actually, my decision to make those sales in the first place was predicated on, if I get arrested-and, I knew obviously, that I was taking a risk- if I get arrested, this is my chance to strike a blow against the War on Drugs, because usually this kind of charge is faced by some scared kid who doesn’t know his rights, and he’s just afraid. When I got into this fight and moved to New Hampshire, dedicated my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor to it, and I’m going to take the risk and I’ll either be the winner or I’ll be a martyr.
FIJA: Ed Forchion mentioned during his legal process in New Jersey that “there’s a pothead on every jury”. He seemed very confident that he would at least get a hung jury. What are your expectations?
RP: My expectation is that I will get an acquittal, actually. Basically, the two people I’m going to be talking to the most are going to be two ministers. Usually the defendant will challenge religious people, but in this case, I thought that if nothing else, they would understand conscientious conviction and taking risks for what you believe in.
FIJA: So the jury has been selected?
RP: Yes, the jury has been selected. We’ve got a group-and this is what I was hoping for-a group that is mostly born right around 1950, so that makes them 18 when I was born in 1968. I figure they’re the most likely to have smoked weed and not gone to prison, and to have thought that the world would not have been a better place had they gone to prison.
FIJA: Do you have legal representation or are you representing yourself?
RP: Actually, I am being represented by a public defender, and I think that’s unique in jury nullification history because normally public defenders won’t argue for jury nullification because it’s common law-it’s not statute. We in New Hampshire got a statute passed that makes jury nullification black letter law so basically that opens up a public defender to make that argument.
FIJA: Is your public defender on board with that?
RP: She’s been great. She’s going to be making the nullification argument. I will be taking the stand and making as much of it as I can, but then she’s going to have to do the rest on close and open.
FIJA: Did the recent law passed in New Hampshire influence your decision to go this route, or would you have done it anyway? In other words, if that law hadn’t been passed, would you still have sought jury nullification?
RP: I probably would have tried to go this route anyway. I would have had to go pro se to do it, and I think that would have been much more difficult because my attorney thought of a lot of things that I did not, so I’m really glad I had her here. I would recommend that if you’re going to go pro se, hire an attorney to sit next to you and give you some advice if you possibly can.
FIJA: Did the long history of juror education activism in Keene, New Hampshire and specifically at the Cheshire County Superior Courthouse influence your decision?
RP: I’ve taken part in that activism, so that and my decision to do this flow from the same source. And also my rally- I’m standing in the middle of the Keene town square right now and we just smoked a joint in protest of the drug war. We do that every afternoon at 4:20. We’ve had up to 150 people out there doing it. I’d hoped to go for jury nullification on my arrests from this rally, which I’ve gotten arrested out here twice, but in New Hampshire, unfortunately, they have ways of snaking you out of a jury trial on misdemeanors so I had to try it again with a felony. (laughs)
Not that I was actively trying to get into this situation. I just wasn’t trying as hard as I could have NOT to get into this situation. I figured sooner or later they would probably come, and that was my chance to win the political battle.
FIJA: And from what I’ve read, it sounds like it definitely is a political case.
RP: Oh, absolutely. The other thing that’s interesting here is that when I was first picked up, I was interviewed by the FBI. They offered to put me back on the street and let me continue selling pot so long as I would wear a wire into the Keene Activist Center, which is a political group. We have nothing to do with drugs. I happen to be a member, and obviously I smoke weed. But it’s not a criminal organization-it’s a political organization. They tried to get me to wear a wire in there and entrap my friends into selling these things so that they could be blackmailed in turn. That’s how this whole thing started. They didn’t want me because I was smoking weed. They wanted me because I’m an anarchist and they thought they could get information out of me.
FIJA: Is that something that is going to come up during the trial?
RP: We’re going to make as much of an issue of it at trial as possible. It’s hard to say how much the judge is going to let in. We expect the prosecutor to hammer us with relevancy objections. I think we will be able to talk about it somewhat because I put a videotape up on YouTube that contains my giving the spiel. Basically, it’s a confession, but then it goes on and talks about my arrest and my experience with the FBI and all that. I was hoping that the prosecutor would be silly enough to actually put that statement into evidence and he did. I think it’s going to help me for the jury to hear it, and to hear it without the possibility of his objecting because it’s a videotaped statement. Whatever I said is whatever I said.
FIJA: And is there a possibility that something you’ve said about jury nullification will get introduced that way?
RP: Well, I did talk about jury nullification in that statement. It’s posted on CopBlock if you want to have a look at it. That videotape will be admitted as evidence. And, of course, I didn’t say anything in it that I didn’t intend to say on the stand anyway. It’s just that way I got mostly the whole thing out. The only thing I didn’t get on it, unfortunately, is I didn’t talk about my medical use of marijuana, but that will probably come out at trial if I can get it in.
Rich Paul’s trial begins today at 11:00 am EDT at the Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene, New Hampshire. It has apparently been delayed a few hours as another marijuana-related trial runs longer than expected.