More Evidence of Growing Citizen Resistance to Enforcing Ridiculous Laws Against Marijuana?

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Not guilty by reason of citizen sanity

In Charlottesville, Va. (where I spend most of my time) a jury just found Philip Cobbs not guilty of marijuana possession. As the superb local weekly The Hook reports:

Cobbs, a 54-year-old who takes care of his elderly mother, was arrested last summer after a marijuana eradication helicopter flew over his southeastern Albemarle home and spotted two pot plants near his house. A team of approximately 10 law enforcement agents drove up bearing semi-automatic weapons and confiscated the illegal plants. A month later, he received a summons to court.

His case was taken up by the Albemarle-based Rutherford Institute, which focuses on Constitutional issues. Cobb was convicted of possession in October, and appealed the case.

"I feel like justice finally was done," said Cobbs after a seven-person jury deliberated for about two hours– including a dinner of Domino's pizza–July 18.

Two plants and ten officers? Really? Evidently aware of the inherent stupidity of the case, the local prosecutor feared jury nullification. The Hook reports how he attempted to forestall that problem:

Before the jury was selected, prosecutor Matthew Quatrara read the opening paragraph of a New York Times Paul Butler op-ed calling for jury nullification: "If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote 'not guilty'– even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer."

That, instructed Quatrara, would not be the proper attitude for those chosen to serve on the jury.

Nevertheless, the judge and prosecutor had a tough time actually seating a jury in this case. The Hook interviewed several people who had been cut from the jury pool on the grounds that they disapproved of criminalizing marijuana use:

"I think this whole thing is a waste of time," said Richard Merkel, a psychiatrist and potential juror in today's marijuana possession trial against an Albemarle County man.

Merkel was among five people struck from the first group of 13—all because they had a problem with this country's criminalization of people using marijuana.

Aware that this attitude is growing among citizens, the judge ordered up a larger than usual jury pool:

This isn't the first time Albemarle has had trouble seating a jury in a pot case. Judge Cheryl Higgins, who, during a break, chatted with a visiting gaggle of Rutherford Institute interns told them, "The last marijuana case we tried, we couldn't even seat a jury because they were so biased against the marijuana laws."

In any case, the jury decided to let Cobbs go on the grounds that while the plants may have been on his property there was reasonable doubt that he had "dominion" over them and so did not "possess" them.

Another potential juror, University of Virginia psychologist Douglas DeGood, was struck from service because said he would not be comfortable convicting someone of marijuana possession. He added: 

"Pragmatically, I don't think it's an efficient use of the legal system." 

You think? And I would like to think that there was just a little bit of jury nullification.

NEXT: In Praise of the Corner Liquor Store

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  1. “The last marijuana case we tried, we couldn’t even seat a jury because they were so biased against the marijuana laws.”

    Well the solution to that is pretty simple. No more jury trials for drug offenses.

    1. Except that the 7th amendment to the Constitution guarantees that right. The war on marijuana will only be won if we allow the govt to take away ALL of our constitutional rights. God help us if we allow that to happen; it would open the door for Sharia law.

      “Right to a trial by jury”

      In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. “

  2. There’s hope yet. And it should get better as the population ages and the most uptight die off.

    1. The President is 50 y/o. Almost everyone at Woodstock is well over 60.

      We are much more “uptight” now than we’ve ever been before

  3. Is Matthew Quatrara the world’s dumbest prosecutor?

    They should all be required to explain jury nullification before a trial.

    1. Or maybe he opposes the law too.

      1. I wondered about that. The jury didn’t technically nullify which seemed to be what he asked of them.

  4. enlarging the pool of jurors? Holy kangaroo court.

    1. Seriously. So much for the fiction of “jury of your peers”.

  5. Why only seven jurors?

    1. Probably the most they could get who weren’t certain in advance of hearing the case to nullify.

    2. Misdemeanor possession charge. The DA didn’t go for manufacturing and felony possession with intent to distribute.

      1. 7 is 6 and an alternate. You need 12 for a felony charge in my state but only 6 for a misdemeanor.

        1. And even with a jury of only 6 (+alternate), they still had trouble weeding out the anti-Prohibition people. Imagine if there had to be a 12-person jury for misdemeanors, as in some states!

          Of course, this is a university town we’re talking about – would prosecution be easier elsewhere?

  6. Wow that’s some weak sauce from the CommonReich attorney. I thought that state made better draft picks than that.

  7. Having trouble seating a jury? It’s hard when people have such a bias against insanity.

  8. Mr. Bailey-

    As a resident of The Ville, my hat’s off to you for informing the world of this case. Cville just got a little better.

  9. Jury Nullification is a constitutional doctrine that allows juries to acquit defendants who are technically guilty but do not deserve punishment. – All non-violent ‘drug offenders’ who are not selling to children – be they users, dealers or importers – clearly belong in this category.

    If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy, then you must stop helping to enforce it. You are entitled to act according to your conscience: Acquit the defendant/s if you feel that true justice requires such a result. You, the juror, have the very last word!

    * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.
    * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury.
    * You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting – simply state that you find the accused not guilty.
    * Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

    “It is not only [the juror’s] right, but his duty ? to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” – John Adams

    We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for ? PLEASE VOTE TO ACQUIT!

  10. “If the law don’t fit, you must acquit!”

    1. How about:
      “If the law ain’t for shit, you must acquit!”

    2. Just make sure to order a Dominos at court expence first…

  11. If a prosecutor were ever to ask me (as a potential juror) whether I might be unwilling to vote his way, I’d reply: “The question is paradoxical. Why are you bringing this case in the name of the people if you don’t feel secure in the assumption that the people are behind you?”

    1. I’d say “maybe” during Voir dire and vote to acquit during deliberations!

  12. Tips for becoming a stealth juror: If you are called up to perform jury duty in a marijuana case, you will be asked by the prosecutor if you would convict someone for a marijuana offense. Say yes. During jury deliberations, vote not guilty. Do not give a personal reason for voting not guilty; just say that you don’t think that the prosecution proved its case. Your vote will result in a hung jury which will force the prosecutor to offer the defendant a better plea deal. If enough marijuana cases end in hung juries, prosecutors will not bother to try these cases. This strategy helped end alcohol prohibition.

    1. Excellent advice!
      For more information about “Surviving the Voir Dire process” refer to this FIJA information: http://fija.org/download/BR_YY…..r_dire.pdf

  13. “The last marijuana case we tried, we couldn’t even seat a jury because they were so biased against the marijuana laws.” said the Judge. Bias is a bit extreme. It was their pragmatic understanding of how ridiculous the law is. Bias would mean they are unfairly disdaining the laws.

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