“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
–Charles de Montesquieu
Most of our readers are aware that America is on a dangerous path, but many still believe we can fix the system through votes and elections. The anything-but-Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, absurdly broad interpretation of the Constitution’s commerce clause…. all are symptoms of a troubling concentration of power in the hands of the federal government, contrary to intentions of the founders of our Constitution.
Montana’s medical marijuana community was ravaged in March of 2011, when government-sanctioned thugs, under the guise of public safety; dramatically (agents wore hazmat suits and were armed with machine guns) raided the businesses and homes of medical cannabis growers and patients across the state. Patients were thrown to the ground, handcuffed and frightened; as they watched helplessly as officers from every unrelated government agency imaginable- from the EPA to OSHA– seized assets, destroyed plants and medicine, and confiscated confidential medical records of tens of thousands of Montana’s ill. Although several indictments have resulted from investigations associated with the raids, the vast majority of them will happen in coming weeks and many Montanans will question the logic and morality of imprisoning professional and otherwise law abiding productive citizens for mandatory minimum sentences of 35 years or more. Because the federal government continues to maintain the absurd “Reefer Madness“-esque policies of 1937, juries won’t ever hear that the defendants were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The juries won’t hear Obama’s campaign speeches promising to stop prosecuting patients in states with medical marijuana laws. The juries won’t likely read the infamous Ogden memo, the one that changed the medical marijuana world. What will they hear? They will hear chilling tales of money laundering, organized crime, distribution of dangerous drugs, and conspiracy- and by legal definition- each defendant is likely guilty. Jurors will be advised that based on the evidence presented- not personal opinions of the law itself- a verdict must be reached. What about when the offense itself inspires far less horror than its punishment?
One of the government’s best kept secrets, sadly; is that juries not only have the power, but the right to acquit when the law is clearly unjust. Although the courts won’t advise juries of this additional option, termed jury nullification; it has been recognized since the founding of our nation, as one last check in our system of checks and balances to protect us from unjust laws and tyranny. Jury nullification generally refers to a jury’s decision to acquit a defendant even though the jurors believe the accused to be factually guilty of the crime.
Increased use of jury nullification historically portends change on the horizon. Almost universally unknown among jurors, this option in the hands of an informed jury could easily tip the scales of justice in favor of reforming irrational statutes. . Despite the court’s consistent refusal to inform juries of their veto power, the use of jury nullification was a major factor in the end of prohibition of alcohol, the repeal of the 18th amendment.. In December of 2010, Montana witnessed an extreme example, a sort of pre-jury nullification, termed the “great Montana marijuana mutiny” when Missoula prosecutors were unable to seat a jury willing to convict the defendant who had been charged with possession of only a few measly grams of cannabis.
Trials of defendants charged with marijuana crimes are prime candidates for future use of jury nullification. Despite documented evidence supporting the substance’s medical use, a 6000+ year history of safety, and state laws providing for its use, the federal government has refused to remove cannabis from the dreaded list of dangerous Schedule I narcotics and has participated in a deadly bait and switch with America’s ill. A majority of citizens are no longer willing to accept the propaganda supporting the failed “war on drugs” and are well aware that in reality, it is a war on us.
Education is key. As is, the chances a jury will acquit my friends who will be soon indicted and convicted quickly in the court of public opinion are very slim. Perhaps if members of juries were more informed, our legislators would lack the audacity to force their personal “morality” on the state. For more information on jury nullification, check out the website of Fully Informed Jury Association, an activist group founded by two Montanans. September 5 is Jury Rights Day, in commemoration of the William Penn case in 1670 which firmly established protection for the jury, and firmly established the right of the jurors to refuse to accept bad government laws. Celebrate by writing a letter to the editor to educate the public. Educate your friends. When you receive a summons for jury duty, consider it an opportunity, not a punishment. We need more informed jurors.
Jury nullification is not a right, but a RESPONSIBILITY. We only have a duty to obey and uphold just laws that promote peace, tranquility, and the common good. We have no obligation to uphold laws that favor special interests, corrupt politicians, or self-serving bureaucrats. Jury nullification is the last peaceful means of defending our Constitution- and the effects are permanent as the fifth amendment prevents trying the defendant again.
Montanans placed medical marijuana on the ballot in 2004 because the legislature failed to do so, and 62% voted to approve its use. The legislature ignored the issue for a few sessions until enough tea people had been elected that they knew they could force their social agenda upon the entire state. The federal government is clearly complicit, as once again, promises of the Obama administration have been broken. We continue to spend billions of dollars imprisoning non-violent marijuana offenders. I have no hope for our federal or state governments, my bets are on the people. We need to nullify the entire war on drugs and stop our government from taking our friends as political prisoners. The founding fathers would certainly agree.
Jurors should acquit, even against the judge’s instruction…if exercising their judgement with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction the charge of the court is wrong.
— Alexander Hamilton, 1804
It is not only the juror’s right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement and conscience, though in direct opposition to the instruction of the court.
–John Adams, 1771
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1789
It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made
by men of their choice, if the laws are so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they… undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.
— James Madison