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Montana Marijuana Prosecution Runs into Jury Pool "Mutiny"

  1. Balzafire
    No way would they convict someone of possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, member after member of a Missoula County jury pool told a stunned judge and prosecutor last week. As a result, the Missoulian newspaper reported, the judge in the case ordered a recess, and a plea bargain was reached in a drug trafficking case against Touray Cornell.

    Potential jurors repeatedly told the court they would not convict for a couple of buds found during a raid on Cornell's home in April. One juror wondered out loud why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, especially in a locale that approved a 2004 initiative making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

    After that juror questioned the prosecution, District Judge Dusty Deschamps polled the jury pool and found at least five others who agreed. That was in addition to two others who had already been excused because of their philosophical objections to pot prosecutions.

    "I thought, 'Geez, I don't know if we can seat a jury,'" Deschamps said, explaining why he called a recess.

    Instead, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Paul and defense attorney Martin Ellison worked out a plea agreement on the more serious drug trafficking charge. Cornell entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended. Since Cornell has already served 200 days awaiting trial, he should be out in a matter of months.

    "Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state's marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances," according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

    It was "a mutiny" by the jury pool, said Paul.

    "I think it's going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount," Deschamps said.

    Noting changing attitudes toward marijuana, as evidenced by the Missoula initiative and voters' approval of the state's medical marijuana law, Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

    "I think that's outstanding," John Masterson, who heads Montana NORML, said when told of the incident. "The American populace over the last 10 years or so has begun to believe in a majority that assigning criminal penalties for the personal possession of marijuana is an unjust and a stupid use of government resources."

    Deputy DA Paul said that normally a case involving such a small amount of pot wouldn’t have gone that far through the court system, but for the felony charge involved. But the response of the jury pool "is going to be something we're going to have to consider" in future cases, he said.

    by Phillip Smith
    December 19, 2010


  1. Killa Weigha
    Mutiny? Here's the closest thing to mutiny I can see...
    Get a clue, you dick.
  2. Alfa
    20 years???? Even with 19 suspended. Thats insane. If thats not abuse of law, then I do not know what is. The Jury seems to be very clear that they do not find it a crime.
  3. dadrone
    Why was there a trafficking charge?
  4. CaptainTripps
    According to the Norml website this is what the penality is in Montana.

    Possession of 60 grams or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $100 - $500 for the first conviction. For subsequent convictions the penalties increase to up to three years in prison and a fine up to $1,000. Possession of greater than 60 grams carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.
    Production or manufacture of one pound or less of marijuana is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a fine up to $50,000. For amounts greater than one pound or more than 30 plants, the penalty includes a two-year mandatory minimum sentence to life in prison and a fine up to $50,000. Subsequent convictions can double the possible sentence.
    Sale or distribution of marijuana carries a penalty of 1 year - life in prison and a fine up to $50,000. Sale to a minor carries an additional penalty of 2 years - life in prison and a fine up to $50,000. Any sale within 1,000 feet of a school also adds an additional 3 years - life in prison and a fine up to $50,000.
    All dangerous drug convictions require the offender to attend a dangerous drug information course. There is also the possibility of alternative sentencing such as fines, drug treatment, community service or probation if the court feels that incarceration is not warranted.
    The penalty for possession or sale of paraphernalia is up to six months in jail and a fine up to $500.

    This is like something out of the dark ages. I think the state motto is something like "be a roper, not a doper". Hard to believe that Montana is not some hard line Islamic country, with laws on the books like this. Perhaps if their laws were not so shocking to the concience they would not have this problem with juries.

    Great to see the potential jurors standing up for what they think is right. But the state got off easy as they did not have to have an expensive trial. If people who disagree with the marijuana laws were to keep their mouths shut and hang juries, it would have the effect of costing the state resourses. It only takes one person to hang a jury. They don't even have to do anything but say to the other jurors that they don't think the state proved their case. In fact that is exactly what they should say to avoid being accoused of juror misconduct.

    There is a lot of debate as to whether jury nullification is legal or not. One thing that would be illegal would be to commit purjury to get on a jury. I would never suggest that anyone break any law for any reason. One should research this in their local before taking any action.
  5. Moving Pictures
    He was selling the pot, I guess but a year is fucking nuts. He must have priors. Sale of less than an ounce even here in KY is a class A misdeminor. You can serve up to a year (I think) but no one ever gets that unless they have priors.

    Also, does anyone know if there is a difference between trafficking and selling drugs? I assumed trafficking had something to do with transporting the drugs to sell them but the law seems to use the terms interchangeably.
  6. EscapeDummy
    A certain encyclopedia states, "Drug Trafficking: The cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal drugs"

    So swim interprets it that selling drugs is a subset of trafficking. You can be arrested on a trafficking charge without any intent to sell, but could simply be helping someone cook up or grow drugs.
  7. CaptainTripps
    Originally published Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 10:06 PM
    Montana jurors raise hopes of marijuana advocates
    After five jurors expressed a problem with a marijuana charge, Montana prosecutors soon found themselves cutting a deal to dismiss the misdemeanor possession charge out of fear that they would not be able to find 12 jurors in this marijuana-friendly state to convict.
    The New York Times
    Marijuana fans are calling it the Mutiny in Montana.
    It all began last Thursday, when prospective jurors in Missoula were seated for a two-day trial of a repeat offender by the name of Teuray Cornell, whom the local police had arrested and charged with selling marijuana, a felony, and possession of a small amount of the drug, a misdemeanor.
    To seat a 12-person jury, Judge Robert Deschamps III of Missoula County District Court had called a passel of Montanans to serve, and 27 had arrived at court Dec. 16. So far, so good.
    But after the charges were read, one of the jurors raised a hand.
    "She said, 'I've got a real problem with these marijuana cases," ' Deschamps recalled Wednesday. "And after she got through, a couple more raised their hands."
    All told, five jurors raised questions about marijuana prosecutions.
    And so it was that Cornell soon became the lucky recipient of a case of almost-a-jury nullification, as prosecutors found themselves cutting a deal to dismiss the misdemeanor possession charge out of fear that they would not be able to find 12 jurors in this marijuana-friendly state to convict.
    Cornell did plead guilty to the felony, but by Wednesday what appeared to be a case of juror revolt, which was first reported by The Missoulian, was being trumpeted by pro-marijuana websites as another sign of the nation's increasingly liberal attitude toward the drug. The Cornell case had also pleased Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who said that jurors' objections to drug laws were "popping up more and more," especially in regards to marijuana.
    "There is no other criminal law on the books that is enforced so harshly and pervasively that almost half of Americans don't think should be a crime in the first place," said Nadelmann, whose group advocates for more liberal drug laws. "That's why this happens."
    Indeed, marijuana advocates see growing support nationwide, especially in Western states, where 58 percent now support legalization, according to an October Gallup survey.
    Montana legalized medical use of marijuana in 2004.
    Fred Van Valkenburg, the Missoula County Attorney, had no comment on the case. But Deschamps said he had "never had this large a number of people express this large a number of reservations" about a marijuana case.
    "This was something I'd never encountered before," the judge said. "It does raise a question about the next case

    Just some more info that clarifies a few things.

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