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September 2005
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Jury says NO

I mentioned this case briefly back in July. As part of a drug sting, police in Great Barrington, MA lured and arrested 19 young people for selling drugs (most were first time offenders and many were for small amounts of marijuana — one was just for connecting the officer with someone who could sell). The state has onerous 1,000 feet school zone laws (very difficult to know when you’re in a school zone) and the DA chose to apply the school zone mandatory minimums.
The first trial, for Kyle Sawin, ended up in a mistrial in July. They went back to trial and on Friday the jury found him Not Guilty.
Apparently both juries were concerned about the severity of the 2 year mandatory minimum, and felt that the sting looked more like entrapment:

Juror Jonathan Nix said that the panel was split when deliberations began, but that as it grappled with the issues surrounding the case, its members concluded that not enough evidence existed to convince them with certainty that the earliest transaction occurred.

“On the other two (sales), we felt that there was enough coercion to warrant an entrapment finding,” Nix, of Becket, said.

From the Berkshire Eagle’s editorial:

The Draconian nature of the school-zone law simply cannot be ignored. It makes no distinction between first and habitual offenders or the amount of drugs sold. It ties the hands of judges, who should be allowed to consider the differences in drug cases brought before them. It is clearly designed to protect school children, and while the Taconic lot is within 1,000-feet of two schools, the undercover operation took place in summer. It’s obvious unfairness will loom over any of the trials brought because of the Great Barrington sting.

First-time drug dealers should be penalized through some combination of probation, counseling and community service that will set them straight without ruining the lives of the young people charged. However, the district attorney’s all-or-nothing strategy, built as it is upon a bad law, means they will escape punishment and the counseling they clearly need.

Juries can send important messages — to District Attorneys and to lawmakers. This was a community that believed the law was improperly inflexible (a community petition to drop the school zone charges had gotten a lot of signatures), and that believed the DA and police had overstepped. The jury agreed and refused to convict — twice — despite having sufficient evidence that the drug sales had taken place.
Remember the power of the jury.
[A roundup of articles on the case from the Berkshire Eagle is here. Thanks, Adam]

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