Doug Darrell beat the odds and walked home from his trial as a free man on Friday, a major win for the state’s new jury nullification law. Facing felony drug cultivation charges for growing marijuana plants behind his house, the 59-year-old Rastafarian saw all of the charges against him dropped after jurors in his trial successfully convinced their peers to nullify the case on the grounds that Darrell was simply trying to obey the customs of his religion.
“Many of us wondered what kind of precedent this would set,” said juror and FSP participant Cathleen Converse in an exclusive interview with Free Talk Live. “But after chewing on all of the possibilities and re-reading the definition of nullification, we all decided that the only fair thing to do was to vote with our consciences and acquit the defendant of all charges.”
Doug Darrell never had any run-ins with the law until 2009, when a National Guard helicopter flying below legal altitude while looking for drugs noticed that Darrell was growing marijuana in the back yard of his Barnstead home. Though the sighting could legally have been considered an invasion of privacy, federal drug authorities were notified anyway. Shortly thereafter, Darrell’s home was raided and the Rastafarian found himself staring down the barrel of a police assault rifle and facing multiple counts of felony possession of marijuana.
Darrell was offered several plea deals, including a final one that offered no jail time or fine in exchange for a guilty plea, but he refused to accept them on the grounds that doing so would violate a sacrament of his religion.
Under the policy known as HB 146, the defense has a right to instruct the jury to nullify a guilty verdict if they conscientiously object to the punishment. Darrell’s attorney, Mark Sisti, based his defense around this new rule and, after the trial went to deliberation, persuaded the presiding judge to inform jurors of this power not once but twice. Given the circumstances of Darrell’s case, it took less than six hours for them to reach a unanimous verdict – not guilty on all counts.
“Mr. Darrell is a peaceful man,” said Converse, “he never deals with the darker elements of society and he grows for his own personal religious and medicinal use. I knew that my community would be poorer rather than better off had he been convicted.”
Converse describes herself as a “straight-laced, little old lady” who moved to New Hampshire from South Carolina in June of 2004. In 2003 she joined the Free State Project because she felt that her family’s future “would be better spent among those who don’t think we’re strange for wanting to rely on ourselves, and to work together to bring more liberty into our lives sooner rather than later.”
It’s a groundbreaking win for the participants of the Free State Project who helped get HB 146 signed into law. As an organization, the Free State Project does not back any political candidates nor specific legislation. Founded in 2001 with the intent to attract 20,000 liberty-loving individuals to New Hampshire in order to restore the Constitutional principles of personal responsibility and freedom, members of the Free State Project have quickly grown into the most significant liberty-based activist group in the country.
“So far, over 12,750 participants have pledged to relocate to the state, and more than 1,000 have already moved, over a dozen of which are currently elected members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” said Free State Project President Carla Gericke. “Once here, participants are free to pursue their own causes and I’m excited to see that progress is being made.”