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. J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.,

    Thank you … I was afraid I might be interfering with one of your other shoes. 🙂

  2. Blouise, and others:

    As for your question about Jesus and autism…

    The word, “autism” has many definitions, many meanings, and some definitions and meanings exclude others of the many definitions and meanings.

    If, in the earliest sense as used by Eugen Bleuler, autism is a condition in which the self is an object of study, and if study of self is the path to knowing self in ways which facilitate being true to self, then my grasp of autism and the descriptions available to me of the the life of Jesus as a human being suggest to me that Jesus was exceptionally and directly truthful, perhaps so much so as to really upset some people who thought themselves unable to be comparably truthful.

    The following three quotations are from Robert Feldman, “The Liar in Your Life” (Twelve, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2009) and are used with written permission.

    “There’s a dirty secret I’ve been trying to avoid emphasizing in this book, but its about time we faced it. All of us are liars. Yes, that means you. And yes, it means me, too.” (page 258)

    “Parents of children with autism often report that their children are simply incapable of lying. While at first glance unrelenting honesty might be seen as a virtue, in fact it is at the heart of the social difficulties children with autism experience.” (page 73)

    “Consider the irony of the situation. Honesty in children with autism is viewed as a manifestation of their disorder. Subsequently, autistic children who were originally unfailingly honest but have begun to show signs of lying effectively are considered to be showing improvement in their condition.” (page 73)

    I found some Eric Hoffer quotes on the an Internet site, which shows up for me with Google search terms, “” and “true-believer” and one such quote is, “All active mass movements strive, therefore to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of life.”

    If ever there has been, is, or will be, a mass movement in Hoffer’s sense, would it not be of a socialization process which acts as Feldman wrote? The alternative to mass movements is individuals respecting individuality while collaborating in working toward openly shared, decent goals, doing so without coercion?

  3. Tootie

    What if the lawyer (during voir dire) specifically asks you the question: “Mr or Ms Catullus are you planning to ‘think it to yourself, sit through the case, and THEN nullify’?

    My conscience would be my guide in this case.

  4. J. Brian Harris,

    I am going to take a serious leap here and suggest Jesus and autism? I am referring to the teacher, not the religion supposedly founded on his teachings.

  5. Catullus:

    What if the lawyer (during voir dire) specifically asks you the question: “Mr or Ms Catullus are you planning to ‘think it to yourself, sit through the case, and THEN nullify’?

  6. tomdarch

    “Think it to yourself, sit through the case, and THEN nullify!”

    Exactly what I plan to do if I am ever empanelled to sit in on a “criminal” trial involving drugs the government does not approve of.

  7. LK:

    “if he had dedicated himself to living a life of good works and confined his religious conversion to keeping his mouth shut and finding his own personal Jesus”

    I can only imagine that he could not find anything wrong with what you just said,especially the part of “keeping his mouth shut”.

  8. gingerbaker

    i’m pretty sure “a jury of your peers” is just an expression but not guaranteed anywhere.

    as to why he took a conviction it was probably a plea bargain given what i read it sounds like he had a public defender. never go to trial with a pd. the old knife to a gunfight thing.

    they don’t seem to have any problem at a death penalty trial going through as many jurors as needed to find twelve who are ok with putting someone to death.

    i wonder how many people on death row who had their convictions overturned because of dna evidence had a public defender at their original trial?

  9. You can NOT regulate illegal drugs, only of they are legalized can you set laws for them.

    ALL drugs should be legalized…which does NOT mean that they should ALL be handed out.

    But these freaks that go on a killing spree because they are on something with bad effects need to be medicated with something else.

    If they have something else available maybe some of these assaults/murders could be stopped.

    Its pretty obvious after decades of the “War On Drugs” that it is not a solution to the problem.

  10. Dear Miss Takes,

    Paragraph 8 from the end,

    “The infant-child transition of typically just over 18 months”

    may be more viably put as

    “The infant-child transition at typically just over 18 months”

    If I can recognize and correct some of my mistakes, how about the corrections industry and its mistakes?

    If I have done wrong in the prior comment and this correction to it, and am, in accord with societal standards, punished, I will have to take my punishment like a little baby.

  11. Joseph Hallinan, in “Why We Make Mistakes” (Broadway Books, New York, 2009) mentions St. Brides, South Wales pediatrician, Yvette Cloete, whose office and home were vandalized because the vandals thought pediatrician and paedophile were the same word. Years ago, I came upon a story I have not verified, of a educator who was fired as a “pervert” for using the word, “pedagogy” in a document.

    I have never believed that anyone can ever be guilty of anything; I can never truthfully find anyone guilty, regardless of what any person has done.

    I have known people do not “believe in guilt,” who bunch into two distinct groups.

    By far the larger group are people who are indifferent to harm, especially to harm to others; I find it useful in the conventional language sense to deem those of that group to be terribly dangerous to both self and others.

    The much smaller group is comprised of people who, rather like me, never went through the infant-child transition, yet managed to complete college and do socially useful work. These people are exceptionally sensitive to harm and are among the very least dangerous, to self or others, people I have ever known.

    About twenty years ago, one liberal arts college graduate of the smaller group and I had the opportunity to talk in formidable depth and detail for more than a week. Toward the end of our mutual dialogue, the person said to me, in effect, “I know that I will never be able to tell other what it is like for us, but I think you may be able to do that some day. If you find that you can ever tell about us, please do so, for us and for everyone else.”

    So, since then, I have spent about twenty years learning whether I can tell what it is like to live a life as a perpetual infant in the sense of never learning to distinguish right from wrong in the conventional manner.

    Because my non-belief in guilt has tended to isolate me from people since I was a baby, I have been cautious about telling people much about myself, and spent most of my working-for-income life working with inanimate technology because technology never judges me, a life-style choice many autism spectrum people also have made.

    I observe that, if a person has not learned what can go awry in a particular class of event, the person may do something harmful for want of actually being able to understand how to avoid doing the harmful something. It is through people doing harmful things that we learn about the doing of harmful things.

    Alas, if we, in the conventionally traditional manner, punish the person who learned about something harmful, the person will become aversive to sharing what happened and the rest of humanity will be thereby comparatively impaired in learning how to avoid doing harm. Not only that, but harmfully aversive punishing is itself harmful, and generates a form of “Don’t do what I tell you to do” brain biology abuse.

    If traditionally conventional punishment (an aversive penalty imposed for an infraction of some societal expectation which was, in a particular exact context, impossible to meet, by the imposition of a forfeit in the form of aversive operant conditioning event) worked, surely a few thousand years of such punishments would have eradicated criminal behaviors. Not so.

    In the findings of my work to date, the tradition of conventional punishment of people as a forfeit for an infraction is itself a crime against humanity, a crime which ends up promoting that which it purports to curtail.

    So? Were I to be summoned for jury duty, I would needs be give an account of why, on inviolable scientific principles, I will find anyone and everyone perfectly innocent.

    As in the previously mentioned movie, “Man Facing Southeast,” the question remains. Is it psychotic to hurt people as a way of harm reduction or is it psychotic to help hurt people to be less hurting as a way of harm reduction?

    The mainstream (broad path that leads to perdition – whatever perdition may be) method is to hurt people who have been hurt even more than they already are. Yes, such ways do change a person’s behavior. Alas, I consistently observe that the mainstream method cause the need for itself, in an addictive-displacement fashion.

    So, I find that guilt is a trauma reaction to the indoctrination of time-corrupted learning as the inculcation of deception and dishonesty in little children who were previously unfailingly honest.

    Shame is the pain associated with the trauma of having to learn or have learned to be dishonest to avoid aversive (abusive) treatment for not being deceptive and dishonest.

    If the pain of the aversive punishments exceeds the pain of being deceptive and dishonest, a person intent on minimizing pain will opt for dishonesty and deception in accord with his culture’s norms. Such was not my decision, not as an infant, not before infancy, and not since.

    In my work, early infancy is a time of social naivety during which the infant is predominantly unaware of societal right/wrong norms. Later infancy, up to typically around 18 months of age, is a time during which the language skills needed for successful internalization of deception and dishonesty are acquired.

    The infant-child transition of typically just over 18 months, is the change process from being honest to being dishonest.

    Childhood, starting with the infant-child transition, is a time during which the repertoire of norms (psychological defenses as mental mechanisms which distort objective reality in the service of the delusional self-construct sometimes named the Ego in the Freudian sense) appropriate to a child’s social context is garnered.

    Adolescence is a time during which the use of reality-distorting psychological defenses is perfected sufficiently as to ensure transmission of the distortions of reality to the next generation.

    Adulthood is a time during which the reality distortions of psychological defenses are inculcated in the next generation.

    For thousands of years, this cycle has been virtually unmitigated in many regions of our earthly planet.

    Then autism happened.

    Will autism be the means for the nullification of dishonesty?

    I dropped a shoe. I have more shoes.

  12. eniobob: “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. …
    “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.”

    I’m not generally one to argue that a murderer should not spend his life behind bars. This time it seems that the perp is rehabilitating himself (better late than never) and would possibly have done more for society if he had dedicated himself to living a life of good works and confined his religious conversion to keeping his mouth shut and finding his own personal Jesus.


  13. BBB,

    Thanks. Then I would expect that most people would tell the truth rather than try to game the system (and violate their oath).

  14. Slartibartfast,

    “are jurors under any sort of oath when they’re being questioned?”


  15. raff:

    That is what the “jailhouse lawyers”will definitely be telling him,and not diminishing his crime for he did take a life. Sometimes Mothers do know best.

  16. rafflaw,

    It sounds like he’s at peace with what happened – maybe the possibility of life in prison is a fair exchange for salving his conscience in his mind.


    I think you raise a valid point, but you also need to include the class of people who felt an obligation to tell the truth in that situation – are jurors under any sort of oath when they’re being questioned?

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