An Arizona jury refused to enforce drug laws they thought were unjust
This type of ruling, known as grand-jury nullification, occurs when the jury refuses to enforce the law because it believes the law itself is wrong.
To the dismay of public prosecutors, an Arizona grand jury recently refused to prosecute multiple people in cases where there was enough evidence to show that they had clearly violated the law. Pima County’s 269th grand jury did not bring charges against people who were guilty as a way of speaking out against drug laws they felt were too strict.
“We left every day frustrated, and frustrated for society,” juror Rick Myers told the Arizona Daily Star. “There’s a whole lot of people getting charged for things that are not hurting other people.”
This type of ruling is known as grand-jury nullification, in which the jury refuses to enforce the law because it believes the law itself is wrong.
What struck most of the jurors as unjust was the absurdly minimal amounts of drugs which were presented as evidence in cases threatening felony charges. Some of the possession cases sought indictments for amounts as microscopic as 2/100 of a gram.
As part of a grand jury, members of the panel were given far more power than a standard courtroom. Instead, grand juries are put together before a case goes to court to decide whether the charges laid against defendants have enough merit to go before a judge. As a result, they are able to call witnesses and demand documents and other evidence that may be used to support a case.
In ordinary pretrial hearings, evidence is usually brought before a judge by the defense, which is expected to argue for a case to be dismissed before it can go to trial. Prosecutors prefer grand juries to the standard pretrial hearing because they are easier to control and often guided by the prosecution due to the lack of legal experience among its members.
This time, however, the jury was led by an expert in criminal law, Natman Schaye, who the jury elected as their foreman, effectively shutting out the prosecution’s influence. Their rogue status has earned them a nickname in the prosecutor’s office: “the Notorious 269th.”