Skip to main content

Montana Marijuana Prosecution Runs into Jury Pool "Mutiny"

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #664)
Politics & Advocacy

No way would they convict someone of possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, member after member of a Missoula County jury pool told a stunned judge and prosecutor last week. As a result, the Missoulian newspaper reported, the judge in the case ordered a recess, and a plea bargain was reached in a drug trafficking case against Touray Cornell.

not business as usual at the courthouse in Missoula (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Potential jurors repeatedly told the court they would not convict for a couple of buds found during a raid on Cornell's home in April. One juror wondered out loud why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, especially in a locale that approved a 2004 initiative making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

After that juror questioned the prosecution, District Judge Dusty Deschamps polled the jury pool and found at least five others who agreed. That was in addition to two others who had already been excused because of their philosophical objections to pot prosecutions.

"I thought, 'Geez, I don't know if we can seat a jury,'" Deschamps said, explaining why he called a recess.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Paul and defense attorney Martin Ellison worked out a plea agreement on the more serious drug trafficking charge. Cornell entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended. Since Cornell has already served 200 days awaiting trial, he should be out in a matter of months.

"Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state's marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances," according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

It was "a mutiny" by the jury pool, said Paul.

"I think it's going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount," Deschamps said.

Noting changing attitudes toward marijuana, as evidenced by the Missoula initiative and voters' approval of the state's medical marijuana law, Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

"I think that's outstanding," John Masterson, who heads Montana NORML, said when told of the incident. "The American populace over the last 10 years or so has begun to believe in a majority that assigning criminal penalties for the personal possession of marijuana is an unjust and a stupid use of government resources."

Deputy DA Paul said that normally a case involving such a small amount of pot wouldn’t have gone that far through the court system, but for the felony charge involved. But the response of the jury pool "is going to be something we're going to have to consider" in future cases, he said.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Seeing this pop up on Google's first page of 'marijuana'-related news stories is great for those of us hoping for sanity to finally prevail against the endless failings of prohibition.  And, yes--screening a jury to weed out those who are not afraid of a certain plant is a violation of constitutional rights and a gross misuse of public office.  How it could be seen as anything else is beyond me.

Despite my own and others growing frustration with our government's backwards approach to the safest and "most therapeutically-active substance known to man", it is stories like this which force those in office to act logically and set precedent for others seeking to somehow evolve the laws by which we are expected to abide. 

While the Deputy DA is considering the future implications of this little mutiny, here's something else to keep in mind:

Roughly thirty thousand Montanans now have the legal right to use cannabis for medical purposes, with more and more signing up every day.  But the irony is that the mere existence of legitimate medical treatments involving cannabis precludes it from being a schedule I narcotic in the first place. 

Our federal government cannot simply decide to ignore the statutes of their own laws whenever they see fit, that is why we have a court system with extensive checks and balances.  And that is why our failed prohibition against cannabis is going to be over, as soon as the federal government is held accountable and the statutes of the Controlled Substances Act are properly enforced with regards to cannabis, peyote, LSD, DMT and all other substances known as entheogens in psychiatric, medical and other academic circles.  These substances all have proven medical value and have proven to be less harmful to users than alcohol or nicotine.  Our laws should reflect this reality, not the delusions of Richard Nixon.

The reality is that our Controlled Substances Act is full of out-dated philosophies and bad assumptions which have helped edge our country near the abyss of another great depression.  Proper regulations and laws based on science, on the other hand, have the ability to create prosperity and help those in need at the same time.  Portugal has already proven this on the international stage, while states like Montana have been forced into leading the way here at home.

Missoula is a prime example where the entire community has already benefited greatly from the proliferation of cannabis-related industries, which could also help to explain the jury's resistance to see cannabis as some type of 'evil drug.' 

The Montana state legislature has an opportunity to lead the way forward in sensible drug policy reform by clarifying what the acknowledged medical utility of cannabis ought to mean with regards to other laws.  Currently, we have laws which acknowledge its medical utility for some people; while others are forced to live according to laws which simply ignore the reality of the situation.   

Viewing the same plant as both medicine and an illicit substance is obviously a ridiculous position, which can only have one possible conclusion.  Luckily, it is the same conclusion which will lead to extensive economic growth and the development of safer, less expensive and more effective medicines for a wide variety of ailments.  All while enabling more tax dollars to be spent on education, renewable energy and other truly worthy investments.

For more on this and related topics, please visit my site at:

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 7:10pm Permalink
DanDan (not verified)

Boom Baby! This makes me want to take jury duty in hopes of being able to make a difference in a marijuana trial!

End these biased and injustifiable laws! Give us freedom!


I am a morally fit man who does no harm upon others or society, but I am apparently a criminal because somebody decided marijuana automatically qualifies me as a deviant to all of society. This is messed up... 

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 4:42am Permalink
PabloKoh (not verified)

If you are chosen for jury duty always tell the truth.  When they are asking you questions in jury selection tell them your honest views and be proud of your answers and beliefs.  You can do far more good by telling a prosecutor to stop wasting your time, the courts time and all the money prosecuting non-violent cannabis consumers than by hiding and hoping to be chosen for the actual jury.  It takes a leader and lots of courage to stand up and tell a prosecutor that he is wrong and the laws are wrong.  Remember, behind you there are 40% of the other potential jurors who agree with you that may be too afraid to stand up to the system.

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 12:09pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

In reply to by PabloKoh (not verified)

The truth is, you are no obligation to tell them anything other than that you are able to fully understand any charges and are able to make a CONSCIENTIOUS evaluation.

It would be far better to actually get to sit on a jury and then use your unassailable rights as a juror to vote your conscience WITHOUT GIVING ANY EXPLANATION.

You can also REFUSE to answer any questions or give any reason whatsoever other than that in good conscience you could not vote for a conviction.

If you are the only person on the jury that votes for acquittal that hangs the jury you will have extracted justice for at least one individual in the drug war. The state will be faced with a re-trial (expensive and doubtful) or dropping the charges. This will ultimately force change as convictions will become impossible.

So, do justice -- but keep your mouth shut.

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 4:43am Permalink
lost-on-pot (not verified)

the sad fact is.....a plea deal was reached because these people couldn't hold their tongue till the deliberation phase. if these people really cared they would have held their tongues, been seated ..then nullified it... !!

this poor person is now a convicted felon  ..what  a shame

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 6:28pm Permalink
Lékan (not verified)

I thought before that America is most freest place to live on earth!But you are still growing to be freed people!!!

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 7:44pm Permalink
LDude (not verified)

The Cannabis community needs to step up and begin protesting at the court house,educate yourselves about Jury Nullification,then sit in on a few trials,see how things work, then make signs promoting jury nullification,signs protesting the waste of resources,signs protesting the unconstitutional "war on drugs". Walk up and down the sidewalk where potential jurors will pass, pass out information. This is what I plan to do, anyone care to join me?

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 1:14pm Permalink
Fred Lazarus (not verified)

I have been saying this for awhile,

simply do not convict anyone for any Marijuana law violation.

Get on the Jury and automatically vote for acquittal.

From one Joint to a Million pounds,acquittal!!!

Make it so they can't get a conviction!!!

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 8:20pm Permalink
Mikail (not verified)

Seems like you're all missing the point; "He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended" means when the LEOs catch him again for pot, speeding, jay-walking, etc, his suspended sentence gets reinstated and off to prison he goes.

NOT a victory, just another DA making mockery of the justice system.

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 12:02am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

Would have saved the poor bastard from having to go back to prison for as many as 152 days.Depending on what prison system he finds himself in.When I hear things like there is no parole in the federal system anymore It makes me wonder whether your country has lost it's mind.Now I find my country led by the same kind of zealots that led to the boondoggle that is the Amerikan "justice" system.Mandatory minimum sentences are the kind of stripping of power from the courts that only a ideologue who believes he knows better than everyone else would approve.It is unfortunate that both of our countries have fallen into this religious revival that has our leaders doing insane things "for our own good".It may give the individual a sense of righteous indignation while telling a prosecutor to shove that tiny piece of MJ where the sun don't shine but it doesn't do the guy being railroaded any good at all,or less than it could if you just keep quiet and vote not guilty.There's no jail time at all involved then as there never should have been in the first place.

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 7:38pm Permalink
Just turned 30 (not verified)

From the article:

Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

This guy is quite smart for a member of the legal establishment, and we should listen to him. If 40-50% of citizens are against marijuana prosecutions, and it only takes 1/12 of the jurors to refuse to convict for a hung jury to be declared, who are we to let such "marijuana offenders" serve time??

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 12:38am Permalink

A marijuana mutiny? According to a prosecutor in Missoula County, Mont., potential jurors made it clear they wouldn't convict anyone for possessing a few buds of pot. District Judge Dusty Deschamps found it impossible to seat a jury, and decided to work out a plea bargain for the man in question.

Sun, 01/02/2011 - 12:12pm Permalink

Jury nullification has a long and (mostly) illustrious history in this country, and we should be proud of a legal system that allows members of the public to directly serve as its conscience.

However, it does have a dark history - during the civil rights era it was used to allow members of the KKK and other racist groups to get away with murder.

Mon, 01/10/2011 - 5:59pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.