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Jurors Doing Justice & Jury Nullification | 14 Sep 2012

New Hampshire Jury Acquits Pot-Growing Rastafarian

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Jacob Sullum of Reason.com reports on a notable case of jury nullification yesterday in New Hampshire:

New Hampshire Jury Acquits Pot-Growing Rastafarian

A jury unanimously acquitted Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian charged with marijuana cultivation, after his lawyer, Mark Sisti, argued that a conviction would be unjust in light of the fact that Darrell was growing cannabis for his own religious and medicinal use. More remarkably, Judge James O’Neill instructed the jury that “even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case.”

That is New Hampshire’s model jury instruction on the nullification issue, but each judge has discretion whether to give it.

The jury, which deliberated for six hours on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, twice asked to hear the instruction again. Sisti, who has been practicing law for 33 years, says this is the first time he has persuaded a judge to tell jurors they have the power to vote their consciences. He hopes the new law will make such instructions more common, if not standard.

Defendant Doug Darrell’s case involved no victim. In spite of being offered a way out with no jail time or fine, he insisted on taking his case before a jury, even at the risk of significant time in prison:

The Belknap County Attorney’s Office, evidently eager to get rid of a case that involved just 15 plants and no distribution, offered Darrell a series of increasingly lenient plea deals, culminating in an offer that entailed a misdemeanor guilty plea with no jail time or fine. Darrell turned all the offers down, Sisti said, because “he didn’t think he was guilty of anything; it’s a sacrament in his religion.” Instead he went to trial on a charge of manufacturing a controlled drug, a Class B felony that carries a penalty of three and a half to seven years in prison. Darrell’s first trial ended in a mistrial last November due to prosecutorial error. His second trial ended in yesterday’s acquittal.

Click through for the entire article.

We applaud and thank both Mr. Darrell for his courage in insisting on a jury trial rather than taking a plea deal and his jurors for returning a just verdict in this case.

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