Monday, January 3, 2011

Activist Montana jury pool refuses to seat itself in cannabis case

In a previous post an anonymous commenter pasted the story still running in all the Lee Papers in Montana (the Rapid City Journal ran it, too) about the Missoula jury pool that refused to be seated in a District Court case where possession of "a couple of buds" of cannabis was one of the charges facing defendant Teuray Cornell.  A plea agreement reached in an accompanying felony charge mostly suspended a long prison sentence.

When asked whether they could remain impartial, many pool interviewees responded in the negative citing perceptions of Cornell as a black man trapped in a whites-created judicial morass.

From the Missoulian:

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg declined to comment on the effect, if any, of the incident on future prosecutions. But what happened so publicly in Missoula has been going on quietly in black communities for years, according to Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor and associate dean at Georgetown University's School of Law.  "It happens all of the time in the Bronx, the District of Columbia, Oakland - mostly in districts with a majority of people of color," said Butler, who explored the issue in his book, "Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice," and on a "60 Minutes" interview last year. "We (as prosecutors) were told that jurors thought drug cases were selectively prosecuted against blacks and didn't want to send another black man to jail," especially for minor offenses, said Butler.
Missoula is a pretty progressive place and simple cannabis possession is considered a low law enforcement priority.  But, could you imagine such compassion for a Native American person or one of Trooper Oxner's profiled targets in a Great Falls, Billings, or South Dakota courtroom?

Me either.

Is the action of this jury pool a viable method of change or just a blip on one court's docket?

No comments: