Ed Rosenthal (center), wife
and daughter Justine acknowledge
supporters in S.F.
Chronicle photo by Brant Ward
Juries Should Leave Lawmaking To The Lawmakers
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Norah Vincent
Published: February 13, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Ban on medical marijuana is wrong but must be observed until it is changed.
Emotion has no place in a jury box. Neither does activism.
But try telling that to the federal jurors who publicly apologized for convicting "guru of ganja" Ed Rosenthal on charges of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy in San Francisco this month. They feel really bad about having done their civic duty. So bad, in fact, that they've demanded that the judge in the case grant a new trial, claiming that had they known Rosenthal was growing marijuana as part of Oakland's medical marijuana program, they would have acquitted him of all charges.
Their apology is unwarranted, their professed disdain for the judicial process reckless and destructive.
Rosenthal was tried in a federal court for breaking federal laws that criminalize growing or distributing marijuana, even for medical use. By his own admission, he was guilty.
The jurors heard all the relevant evidence and convicted him accordingly. They did the right and just thing. He is to be sentenced June 4 and faces 10 years to life in prison.
The fact that Rosenthal was growing marijuana legally under California law was immaterial, because federal laws trump state laws. The judge was right to exclude any reference to the California law; it wasn't germane or binding. What's more, though Rosenthal may have broken the law for the best possible reasons -- to provide relief and alternative treatment to the sick and dying -- he broke the law nonetheless.
Had the jurors been influenced by Rosenthal's good intentions, and had they acquitted him on these grounds, they would have reached their verdict for emotional rather than legal reasons, and that is not how juries should behave. Juries are supposed to be finders of fact, to weigh the evidence and consider whether defendants have broken the law, and on that basis alone to render verdicts. They are not supposed to consider whether they like or sympathize with defendants. Most of all, they are not supposed to consider whether they agree with the laws in question.
Some libertarians have argued that in cases like this, that is precisely what jurors should do: nullify a law they deem unjust by refusing to convict someone who has broken it. That is also precisely what the remorseful jurors have indicated they would have done had they known Rosenthal was growing marijuana for medical use. That would have been the only true miscarriage of justice in this case, a repudiation of our legal system and the rule of law it stands for.
The law that criminalizes medical marijuana is an idiotic law, and the federal government is wasting valuable time and resources enforcing it, especially by prosecuting innocuous humanitarians like Rosenthal. But the law is the law, and if we don't like the law, then "we the people" have an obligation to change it in the only way that laws are legitimately made in our representative democracy: through Congress.
Flouting laws we don't like by refusing to convict the people who break them is not the answer. When juries disregard the law, the law is rendered meaningless. And that imperils us all, making even the semblance of a fair trial almost impossible to secure, leaving us all at the mercy of 12 random people's whimsical notion of what justice happens to be on any given day.
That, far more than bad laws that we have the power to change, truly is tyranny.
Norah Vincent is a columnist in Yardley, Pa.
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