This week we have learned of a courageous New Jersey resident who is openly pursuing a jury nullification strategy in a medical marijuana jury trial coming up at the Ocean County Courthouse in Towns River, NJ. Jon Peditto is a photographer and marijuana grower and activist who was arrested in 2012 and charged with several counts regarding completely victimless marijuana-related offenses.
Despite knowing how biased courts are against jury nullification, and after turning down several plea bargains and the option of having his offenses handled through drug court (which circumvents the right to trial by jury), Peditto is opting for trial by jury and is openly pursuing a jury nullification strategy.
In this interview with Ken Wolski, Executive Director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, Peditto discusses his case in detail, including why he is opting to exercise his Sixth Amendment right instead of forfeiting it to go through the alternative drug court.
Exercising one’s right to trial by jury virtually guarantees that if one is convicted, one will suffer substantially more punishment than what one would suffer under a plea bargain. We refer to this as the arithmetic of injustice.
The cost of trial by jury is the difference between the sentence imposed under a plea bargain (i.e. what the prosecution thinks is a just sentence for the offenses committed) and the sentence imposed if one is convicted in a trial by jury. All of that extra punishment is for no other purpose than to bully defendants into forfeiting their Constitutionally-guaranteed right and to punish and make examples of them if they refuse to knuckle under to abusive authority.
“To get in there and talk to a jury, they’re gonna add decades to your sentence. They’re gonna add decades. They don’t want anybody talking to juries. I absolutely am sure of this,” notes Jon Peditto.
“Most attorneys won’t go to trial, mainly because they never do and they’re uncomfortable doing them. It’s actually work. They have to work for a living, which is something they don’t like to do like most people. Let’s get this done fast. So plea bargaining is the new America. Again, I can’t tell you how dangerous this is,” Peditto emphasizes.
Peditto speaks of his experience with the judge in his case, who so far seems a bit confused that he is not taking plea deals. “Why am I not taking these plea deals? One after another after another. I can see the confusion on his face. But I think now we’re getting to the point where he knows that I just want to talk to these twelve people. And I want to send a clear message, not just to the state of New Jersey but to everybody, that juries will NOT convict peaceful marijuana cases,” Peditto says.
Jon has previously shared his thoughts on jury nullification in cannabis cases on the Garden State Cannabis website. He noted that cultivating 15 marijuana plants in New Jersey is classified as a Class A felony, 1st degree, putting this completely victimless offense legally in the same category as murder, manslaughter, and rape.
“Even without juries being informed of jury nullification, cases have been won here in New Jersey with jurors, after watching defendant testimony, deciding for either moral or personal reasons not to convict, concluding that the charges were unjust,” Peditto said.
Peditto’s case is a sobering reminder of why it is CRITICAL to educate everyone about jurors’ full legal authority and their responsibility to deliver just verdicts, even if it requires setting aside the law to do so. We are currently looking for volunteers starting immediately for juror rights outreach both at the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, New Jersey, and at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey. If you would like to join one of these efforts please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-442-7800. If nobody is available to take your call, please leave a message letting us know which courthouse you are interested in volunteering at and your contact information and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you!