A New Hampshire Rastafarian facing felony marijuana cultivation charges was declared not guilty on Friday because a jury believed that punishing him for the offense would be unjust.
59-year-old Doug Darrell was arrested in 2009, after a National Guard helicopter flying over his home found he was growing 15 marijuana plants in his backyard, according to WNTK. At Darrell's trial, PRWEB reports, jurors nullified the case against him.
Jury nullification occurs when a jury concludes that a defendant is technically guilty, but fails to convict the defendant on the grounds that the law in question is unjust. While jury nullification is legal, judges frequently do not inform juries of this power, and may prohibit defense attorneys from doing so, according to the University of Missouri.
At Darrell's trial, however, the jurors were fully informed of their nullification power, the Laconia Daily Sun reports. As per the recommendation of defense attorney Mark Sisti, Judges James O'Neill read aloud to the jury:
"Even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case."
Sisti argued that convicting Darrell would be unfair, given that he was growing marijuana for personal medical and religious use.
After deliberating for six hours, the jury unanimously declared Darrell not guilty.
Juror Cathleen Converse, self-described as a "straitlaced little old lady," explained her reasoning in an interview with Free Talk Live.
"Mr. Darrell is a peaceful man," she said. "He grows for his own personal religious and medicinal use. I knew that my community would be poorer rather than better off had he been convicted.”
Prior to the trial, Darrell turned down several plea deals, including one that included no jail time or fine, Reason.com reports. Sisti said his client insisted on a jury trial because "[Darrell] didn't think he was guilty of anything; [marijuana is] a sacrament in his religion."
Informing jurors of their nullification rights will likely become the norm soon in New Hampshire. In June, Governor John Lynch signed HB 146, a bill that explicitly allows defense attorneys to tell jurors about jury nullification.
The law will take effect in January.
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