Monday, December 27, 2010

the fully-informed jury association

LATimes | Last year in Illinois, which has no medical marijuana law, Vietnam veteran Loren Swift, who says he uses marijuana to relieve pain and post-traumatic stress, was charged in LaSalle County after police found 25 pounds of marijuana and 50 pounds of marijuana plants in his home. He was acquitted after only two hours of jury deliberations.

"Some of the jurors got up and they started hugging the guy," said Peter Siena, the deputy prosecutor who tried the case.

"It's becoming an increasing problem. People just don't seem to care about marijuana cases anymore," said Brian Towne, the LaSalle County prosecuting attorney.

The issue is ripe in Montana, which is home to the headquarters of the Fully Informed Jury Assn., a national group that encourages jurors to nullify laws they believe are unjust.

Jury nullification never became an issue in the Missoula drug case; there was never a jury. While Deschamps was wrestling with what to do during a recess, the defendant, Touray Cornell, agreed to accept a conviction on a felony count of distribution of his one-sixteenth of an ounce of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to 20 years, with 19 years suspended to run concurrently with the sentence on another conviction for conspiring to stage a set-up robbery at a casino.

The prosecutor, Andrew Paul, declined to discuss the case, except to say that Cornell's neighbors had been "complaining about his brazen drug dealing."

"The jury of course knew none of that stuff," Deschamps said. "What they knew was some guy here was charged with criminal sale of a very small amount of marijuana. Were they going to hang him for that?"

The judge, a former prosecutor, said he voted for Montana's medical marijuana initiative in 2004, which has become highly controversial in part because its beneficiaries have become so numerous: More than 12,000 residents hold cards entitling them to use the drug for sometimes doubtful medicinal purposes.

"My personal view, I think for the most part we should legalize marijuana and be done with it. Because I think it's created way more havoc and trouble than it's worth," Deschamps said. "But when you get some guy [like Cornell] that just comes and rubs it in your face.…"