Pre-Trial Jury Nullification? Potential Jurors in Montana Excused After They State That They Would Not Convict On Possession of Small Amount of Marijuana

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.

Source: Missoulian

Jonathan Turley

44 thoughts on “Pre-Trial Jury Nullification? Potential Jurors in Montana Excused After They State That They Would Not Convict On Possession of Small Amount of Marijuana”

  1. eniobob,
    If he is that stupid to turn himself in without seeking an attorney’s advice in advance, maybe he he deserves what he gets.

  2. Heres one for you:

    A rapper who once worked with Diddy confessed to a 17-year-old shooting to clear his conscience, then found out his victim died and that he was admitting to murder.

    Trevell Coleman, aka G-Dep, told the New York Post he’s been plagued by guilt since the Oct. 19, 1993 shooting and wanted to make things right when he showed up at Manhattan’s 25th Precinct last week. That’s when he found out his victim, John Henkel, died.

    “I was surprised — for some reason, I really didn’t think that he died,” Coleman told the Post in an exclusive jailhouse interview. “When they told me, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not going home after this.’ ”

    Manhattan DA spokeswoman Erin Duggan said Coleman, 36, has now been charged with murder and faces life in prison.

    Six years after the shooting, G-Dep, whose performing name is short for “Ghetto Dependent,” signed with Diddy’s Bad Boy label in 1999. He recently signed with Famous Records.

    Coleman confessed over the objections of his mom and girlfriend.

    “I told my mom and my girlfriend that I wanted to confess, and they both told me to leave it in the past,” he said. “My girlfriend is pretty peeved.”

    He said he never knew Henkel and that he was on drugs when he committed the crime.

    “That’s just the life I was living back then,” he said. “I started to wonder if all the bad things that happened to me in my life were karma for what I did . . . you start to think ‘My happiness is because of someone else’s sadness.’

    “I’m just trying to get right with God,” he said.

  3. Did they have to retrieve the 1/16th of 1 ounce of pot from the nostril of a drug sniffing dog?

    The HenMan standard for going to trial:

    1/16th oz. of Plutonium: Yes

    1/16th oz. of Marijuana: No

  4. Bah. Let me be a contrarian here for a moment:

    1. I suspect that several people said “no, I wouldn’t vote to convict regardless of the evidence” because they knew it would get them out of sitting through the presentation of the case.

    2. How stupidly stoned were the rest of them?!? Don’t flatly say “No, I wouldn’t convict no matter what.” Think it to yourself, sit through the case, and THEN nullify!

    The cops got exactly what they wanted (for the moment). I hope that this bench trial and conviction is appealed somehow. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to be a travesty of justice for a judge to start the process of a jury trial, and then, when the desired outcome (conviction) clearly isn’t going to happen, he takes it upon himself to hear the case, find the defendant guilty and sentence him. I have to assume that if the judge proceeded in this way that it was somehow technically permissible, but it sure stinks.

  5. Catullus:

    “The jury members are to be commended for taking a stand against a ridiculous prosecution. Too bad they did not go to trial and win a complete acquittal and one is left to ponder why the defense accepted a plea “bargain” after the government was left with no ability to convict. “

    Exactly.

    22 out of 27 would not convict. That’s 80%. Does the phrase “a jury of one’s peers” have an application to this calculation?

    Conversely, if Bryan De La Beckwith’s jury pool was cleansed of KKK members was justice being served?

  6. Doesn’t this happen often with death penalty cases?

    This also happens in more subtle forms by excluding people with relevant expertise form juries. I had a professor in grad school who was an expert in eyewitness testimony–he was always dropped from panels. I’m originally trained as a clinical psychologist and did work related to custody in my younger days–defense and prosecution couldn’t wait to paint me as somehow biased when I was part of a panel for a case involving custody and what sounded like two dysfunctional spouses with intrusive families.

  7. If we will not tolerate per-determined results in a trial, why do we ask the jurors what they intend to do and then exclude them if we don’t like the answer?

  8. Quick, somebody call Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia … the people are actually expressing their will and we all know how he feels about the riffraff … damn rabble … today it’s marijuana, tomorrow … my god, what’s next?

  9. I have to agree that the jury did a brave an honorable thing. If the prosecution wants to get rid of this felon, they are going to need real evidence.

  10. This is Missoula (Montana), not Missouri. Dang! I was feeling some civi pride there for a minute 🙂 If I had been in the jury pool I wouldn’t have been able to answer the judges question, I’d have been laughing too hard.

  11. I hope everyone does not get the shorts in a knot….he did get 20 years….he did in fact plea…..the Judge did call him an 8 time loser……Does this mean he gets his own reality tv series…

  12. eniobob

    Thanks for filling in the blanks on why the defense accepted the government’s offer.

    Even knowing those facts, I would still not vote to convict as the defendant is merely supplying a substance that others desire and purchase of their own free will.

  13. The jury members are to be commended for taking a stand against a ridiculous prosecution. Too bad they did not go to trial and win a complete acquittal and one is left to ponder why the defense accepted a plea “bargain” after the government was left with no ability to convict.

    Personally, if seated on a jury in a trial such as this, I would vote “no” on conviction as with all “crimes” such as these, there is no actual offence to anyone except perhaps the defendant, and that by his own hand and nobody else’s. Volenti non fit injuria.

  14. “Because the case never went to trial, members of the jury pool didn’t know that Cornell’s neighbors had complained to police that he was dealing from his South 10th Street West four-plex, according to an affidavit in the case. After one neighbor reported witnessing an alleged transaction between Cornell and two people in a vehicle, marijuana was found in the vehicle in question.

    The driver and passenger said they’d bought it from Cornell, the affidavit said. A subsequent search of his home turned up some burnt marijuana cigarettes, a pipe and some residue, as well as a shoulder holster for a handgun and 9mm ammunition. As a convicted felon, Cornell was prohibited from having firearms, the affidavit noted”

    Deschamps sentenced Cornell to 20 years, with 19 suspended, under Department of Corrections supervision, to run concurrently with his sentence in the theft case. He’ll get credit for the 200 days he’s already served. The judge also ordered Cornell to get a GED degree upon his release”

    He is a very lucky man,IMHO.

  15. Back in 1994, a fellow named Byron De La Beckwith was tried for the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963. As the trial was about to get under way in Jackson, Mississippi, anonymous fliers were tossed in driveways all over the Jackson and Hinds County area describing in great detail how a juror should be able to reach a nullification decision and hang up a jury if necessary. The ploy. believed to be sponsored by the KKK, was not successful and Beckweth was convicted. That trial was dramatized in the movie Ghosts of Mississippi.

    Those unsuccessful attempts at jury nullification by white supremacist groups, including the KKK, was one of the last gasps of those groups to be relevant in a changing deep south state.

    On the other hand, the fact that most people in the jury pool were found to be reluctant to convict someone for a small amount of pot should send a message to law enforcement and lawmakers. Like prohibition, the war is lost and government just has not gotten the memo yet.

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