We often discuss jury nullification in class, but usually such a controversial decision to refuse to convict someone on clear evidence of guilt comes at the end of a trial. Not in Montana this month when potential jurors announced that they would not convict a person of possession of a small amount of marijuana regardless of the evidence. In polling the potential jurors, District Judge Dusty Deschamps found only 5 of 27 were willing to convict someone on a small possession of pot.
Defendant Touray Cornell faced a felony charge after a search of his home found a couple of buds — a 16th of an ounce.
Judge Deschamps decided he could not seat a jury and the prosecutor and defense attorney promptly worked out a plea bargain.
One potential juror asked why the prosecutors were wasting county funds on such a prosecution.
Cornell entered an Alford plea and took the plea worked out during the break in the Missoula County District Court. Judge Deschamps was not so sympathetic, referring to him as “an eight-time loser” and sentenced Cornell to 20 years, with 19 suspended, under Department of Corrections supervision, to run concurrently with his sentence in the theft case.
Most courts expressly ban lawyers from making arguments of jury nullification in court. Here, in what is being called a “mutiny” by the jurors, it was the jury itself that stated its opposition to a conviction based on a small amount of drugs before the start of the trial.