Skip to comments.Jury clears NH man of felony pot charge, use was part of Rastafarian religion
Posted on 09/19/2012 10:52:28 AM PDT by AlmaKing
A Belknap County Superior Court jury cleared a Barnstead resident of a felony drug charge last week, siding with a defense lawyer who encouraged the jury to nullify the verdict on the grounds that the marijuana use was part of his Rastafarian religion.
The decision on Thursday cleared Doug Darrell, 59, a piano tuner and woodworker, of manufacture of marijuana, a Class B felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 3 1/2 to seven years.
Under the principle of jury nullification, a jury can find a defendant innocent, even if prosecutors have proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
It's a really important development, said Concord defense lawyer Mark Sisti, who represented Darrell. Legislatures around the country are rethinking marijuana laws, and most New Hampshire residents have no problem with moderate use of the drug by responsible adults, he said.
We're moving along a path we should have been on years ago, he said. Key to the case was a decision by Superior Court Judge James O'Neill to instruct the jury about nullification, he said.
Another factor in the case could have been the presence of a Free State Project participant on the jury.
Juror Cathleen Converse of Barnstead said several members of the jury were uncomfortable with the case.
Mr. Darrell seemed to be the only victim here, said Converse, a retiree who moved to New Hampshire in 2004 from South Carolina. Almost everyone said this just shouldn't have happened to these peaceful people.
Rastafarianism is closely associated with reggae music, dreadlocks and Caribbean culture. According to the website rastafarian.com, it arose in Jamaica in the 1930s and promotes the spiritual use of marijuana and the rejection of Western society.
A Rastafarian since the 1980s, Darrell has no criminal history and has been married to his wife for 38 years, Sisti said. They have four grown children who are successful in their fields.
The couple use the marijuana plant more often for tea and medicinal rubs than to smoke it, he said.
This is the real deal here. This isn't some kid who listened to Bob Marley last week and decided to be Rastafarian, Sisti said. Darrell refused several plea bargains because they would require him to plead guilty to something his religions deems as sacramental, Sisti said.
He said Darrell was arrested after a National Guard helicopter, working on a grid with New Hampshire State Police, spotted 15 marijuana plants in July 2009.
At one point, the pilot was 300 feet off the ground, he said, citing testimony in an earlier suppression hearing.
Belknap County Attorney Melissa Countway Guldbrandsen said she brought the charge against Darrell because he was breaking the law. It wouldn't matter whether a defendant were an active drug dealer or someone like Darrell, Guldbrandsen would still bring the charge, she said.
Like Sisti, she said a key to the case was the judge's decision to instruct the jury about nullification. She was surprised that Judge O'Neill gave the instruction, which lent credence to Sisti's argument in favor of jury nullification.
I don't see it as being that significant in changing our practice and the practice of the court, Guldbrandsen said about the verdict. In January, a new law goes into effect that codifies current practice, which permits a lawyer to argue for nullification.
Sisti said O'Neill had earlier rejected the defense lawyer's argument for an instruction on nullification. But after Sisti made it part of his case and the prosecution argued against it, O'Neill accepted Sisti's request for an instruction.
Sisti said O'Neill's decision was courageous.
This isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card, Sisti cautioned about nullification. It's just another valid instruction that should go to a jury in the appropriate case.
1. Judge instructed the jury about jury nullification. 2. Pot use was not based on medical condition, and jury still acquitted. 3. Jury considered age and 'danger' level of pot user in acquittal decision.
"... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one MAKES them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. ......just pass the the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted -- and you create a nation of law-breakers -- and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."- p.411, Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED, Signet Books, NY, 1957 "...
my religion requires me to .... drink and drive or hm.... smoke crack... or slaughter puppies... or marry multiple wives!
where does this stop?
yeah, that’s the obvious conclusion.
Shades of the Zion Coptic Church.
I doubt you’d be able to convince 12 randomly picked jurors that those things are OK.
If we can’t trust the common sense of ordinary people we’ve got big problems.
Look who's president. We have big problems.
That being said, jury nullification is a extremely important facet of our judicial system.
Where does what stop? This guy is a working 60 year old who did not hurt you or anyone else.
What I find disturbing is government using 20 million dollar National Guard helicopters to fly over people's properties spying on their freaking gardens.
We've got thousands entering our borders illegally every day or so, yet National Guard helicopters are spying on people's properties in New Hampshire? All this over a few pot plants?
This is just more controlling, punitive intrusive government.
To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke...Ultimately, the American system of justice comes down to 12 people that weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.
Dude! Have you seen my Jow Walsh album?
This is the most important story of the day and the first good news I can remember in a long time. My guess is, the thread will peter out at less than 20 responses and of course, no coverage from what passes for the “conservative” media.
The people, through the mechanism of the jury, have the opportunity to put a check on what may be well-intended, but misapplied laws.
I don't know if it's the most important, but it's certainly up there. IMHO, all jury nominees should be informed about jury nullification as one of their options.
If you send a lawn service to a property without an edger, there's a chance the job will not get done properly or as effectively as it otherwise should have for want of a tool they should have had available.
Similarly, sending a jury into deliberations without all the tools they should have at their disposal inhibits their ability to do their job as effectively as they otherwise might.
Can’t argue with that........
"If a juror feels that the statute involved in any criminal offence is unfair, or that it infringes upon the defendant's natural god-given unalienable or constitutional rights, then it is his duty to affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and that the violation of it is no crime at all, for no one is bound to obey an unjust law." -- Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone
IMHO, a guilty verdict rendered by a jury who knowingly had the option of nullifying the case would carry much more moral and philosophical weight. Not only does it mean the prosecutor proved all of the elements of the crime, but the jury of the defendent's peers also gave tacit endorsement to the prosecutor's election to try the case.