Last month I wrote about Rich Paul, a pro-marijuana activist in Keene, New Hampshire, who was facing 81 years in prison for selling marijuana. Rich had refused plea-bargain deals (including one that would have let him walk away with no jail time) because he wanted to stand up for his principles—weed is basically harmless and you should be allowed to smoke it and sell it to your friends. “Somebody had to stand up and say that this is wrong, and I thought I might well be that guy,” Rich emailed me. “I took the risk and now we’ll find out whether I bet my life well.”
Two days after he wrote that, the jury found Rich guilty, sending him to prison for a long, long time for a nonviolent crime.*
That’s not so strange, because Rich essentially admitted that he sold a whole bunch of weed to an FBI informant. His defense didn’t rely on convincing anyone he wasn’t breaking the law—he wanted to convince the jury that the law itself was wrong. In other words, he was leaning on the principle of jury nullification, which is the idea that juries can vote to acquit people who have clearly broken the law if they think that the law shouldn’t exist in the first place.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Rich admitted to me in a video recorded from jail. “Jury nullification is a long shot.” Even so, he’s planning on appealing to the New Hampshire Supreme Court on the grounds that the judge misled the jury on what nullification is.
Last year, New Hampshire adopted a law that allows defense attorneys to speak directly to juries and tell them that they have the right to judge the application of the law, not just the facts; that is, they can decide the law shouldn’t be applied in particular cases.