Free Stater Who Helped Acquit N.H. Pot Grower: Jurors Were Thinking About Nullification 'From the Beginning'


The week before last, I noted that Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian who admitted growing marijuana at his home in Barnstead, New Hampshire, had been found not guility of manufacturing a controlled drug after jurors received instructions about their power to acquit even if the prosecution has met its burden of proof. Although Darrell emphasized that he used mariuana as a sacrament and a medicine, one of the jurors recently told the Manchester Union Leader his religion was not a factor in the verdict:

"It was the fact that the system was coming down on a peaceful man, and it wasn't right," said Cathleen Converse, a 57-year-old retired accountant and grandmother who moved to New Hampshire with her husband in 2004 in the first wave of the Free State Project.

Converse was one of eight women on the jury that on Sept. 13 used a legal concept known as jury nullification to acquit Darrell, who is 59.

What disturbed jurors most was testimony that a Massachusetts National Guard helicopter hovering over Darrell's Barnstead home in 2009 had discovered the marijuana plants he was growing for what was described as religious and medicinal use, said Converse, who also lives in Barnstead.

"I was actually appalled," she said. "Because I live nearby, and a military helicopter over his house is over my house, as well."

She said nullification "was in everyone's mind from the beginning."…

As a Free Stater, Converse said, she was familiar with jury nullification and "gave a rundown" on the issue.

In an interview with Free Talk Live shortly after the verdict, Converse said:

Mr. Darrell is a peaceful man. He grows for his own personal religious and medicinal use. I knew that my community would be poorer rather than better off had he been convicted.

The rarely heard jury instruction that Converse and her fellow jurors received, which Belknap County Judge James O'Neill gave after Darrell's attorney, Mark Sisti, raised the issue of nullification, goes like this: "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." Sisti says he hopes the instruction will become more common as a result of a new law, taking effect in January, that explicitly allows a defendant to inform the jury about "its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy."

State legislators who support legalizing marijuana argue that the Darrell case should help their cause. "It's going to be slow and take a long time," Rep. Timothy Comerford (R-Fremont) told the Union Leader, "but I think eventually our laws are going to catch up with the public's view on this issue." Rep. Mark Warden (R-Goffstown) likewise said the acquittal "shows we need to start being more open-minded and start reflecting the ideas of our constituents." Sisti noted that widespread jury nullification during alcohol prohibition was a harbinger of repeal as "people decided not to be hypocrites anymore."

[Thanks to Richard Feldman for the link to the second Union Leader story.]