Monday, April 23, 2007

A good case for jury nullification

Marijuana expert Ed Rosenthal, widely known as the "guru of ganja" won't be allowed to argue in his second drug trial on the same charges that he was growing marijuana for the City of Oakland under California's medical marijuana law. Rosenthal has already served his sentence of one day in prison, but his conviction was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for jury misconduct. Prosecutors plan to try Rosenthal again, even though he can't be sentenced to any more time. Facing a second round of courtroom antics, Rosenthal's best hope may lie with an activist jury.

Why are the feds bothering to spend time and money pursuing Rosenthal through pointless court proceedings?

It appears that the powers-that-be just don't like to let people slip through their grasp--even when any conviction they win in the case will have little more than symbolic value.

Kangaroo trial though this is, the bar against Rosenthal using a medical marijuana defense may have real impact. After the last trial, jurors freshly informed of his status as an official grower for Oakland, apologized to the man they had just convicted and called for a new trial. Clearly, they regretted their votes and would have probably decided on a "not guilty" verdict had they known all the facts in the case. Depriving the new set of jurors of the same information may result in a repeat performance--unless widespread publicity for the case can accomplish what the judge won't permit defense counsel to do.

Rosenthal's best hope is that jurors will have heard about this case and will be incensed by the prosecution. Then, hopefully, they'll engage in jury nullification--that is, they'll vote "not guilty" no matter what the law may say.

Of course, in the wake of widespread calls for nullification and the heartfelt denunciation of their own verdict by the last batch of jurors, prosecutors will be on the lookout for potential jurors who are, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about the war on drugs. They'll be plucked from the pool as soon as they're discovered.

But there are ways of surviving voir dire--the screening process--as attorney Clay Conrad has outlined in this handy guide for the concerned juror. It's not pre-ordained that every juror who follows the news must be rejected.

Hmmm. Do any of you Californians know somebody who has been called for jury duty?

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