A jury in New Hampshire has applied the principle of jury nullification and found a defendant not guilty of growing and possessing marijuana. Jury Nullification is an age old principle which allows a jury to find a defendant not guilty and release them even though they are technically guilty of the crime. This principle is applied in order to protect citizens from an overly zealous prosecution and to curtail the power of the government. In June of this year, the governor of New Hampshire signed into law which would allow a jury to be informed that they could apply this principle to a case. This law does not take effect until January of 2013 but has been discussed a great deal in New Hampshire. Last month, Doug Darrell, a 59 year old Rastafarian piano tuner and woodworker, a peaceful member of the community, and a man who had been married for almost 40 years, was put on trial for a drug offense which carried the possibility of seven years in prison. There was no doubt that Mr. Darrell was growing marijuana plants in the back yard of his house. A National Guard helicopter flying over his property spotted the marijuana plants growing in his back yard. Prosecutors offered Mr. Darrell a deal that would have avoided jail time but required that he plead guilty to a misdemeanor drug offense. Mr. Darrell, citing his religion and his view that marijuana is a sacrament, rejected the deal and went to trial. After hearing all the evidence, the jury decided to acquit Mr. Darrell and set him free. The jury determined that Mr. Darrell was a peaceful man and decided to vote their conscience and find Mr. Darrell not guilty. The jury was concerned about what kind of precedent it would set for the government if they would convict an otherwise law abiding man of such a crime. There is a national movement among civil liberty groups to push the notion of jury nullification to the forefront of the public debate as a way to curtail the power of government and put more power in the hands of the citizens. This case in New Hampshire is an opening shot which may start the debate moving forward.
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