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.