Brock Lorber

More About: Drug War

We Had No Choice

In April 2006, Charlie Lynch opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Morrow Bay, CA after applying for, and receiving, permission from state and local bureaucracies. On March 29, 2007, armed agents from the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) raided Lynch's dispensary and Lynch was charged with five felonies. After a short trial, in which Lynch's attorneys were barred from referring to state law, the jury returned its verdict: guilty on all five counts.

The long train of events leading to the jury's deliberations is littered with outrage and lament, but certainly not surprising or unforeseeable. Cutting through all the illusions and delusions, every courtroom participant and observer would have to admit that the whole process involved going through the motions. I can imagine that the courtroom atmosphere was uneasy even for the most ardent cheerleaders of the so-called war on drugs.

Following the verdict, interviewed two of Lynch's attorneys and the jury foreperson. Regarding the verdict, the foreperson stated, “we had no choice but to find Mr. Lynch guilty.”

No choice. Why, exactly, was a jury empaneled if they had no choice?

Charlie Lynch made choices which led him to the courtroom. The US attorneys made choices in their prosecution, as did Lynch's attorneys and the judge. The bailiff, the clerk, the reporter, the observers, all made choices. If those choices led to the only people in the court, other than Lynch, compelled to be there against their will having no choice, why have a jury? Why not program a computer to give the correct answer: if A then B.

But, you may contend, humans are needed to weigh the evidence presented and use reason to prevent a travesty of justice. As computers do not yet possess reason, a human jury is required. Does “we had no choice” sound like reason to you?

Humans act. That is apriori, meaning the statement stands without question. The act of attempting to disprove it proves it. The difference between human action and animal action is reason. Where animals act on instinct, humans are either devoid of instinct or the conscious mind (free will) is capable of suppressing what little instinct we possess. Action without reason, then, is the act of an animal.

“We had no choice” describes past animalistic action where free will is not allowed or possible. Whether intentionally or not, that is how the foreperson described the action of the jury.

It may be the foreperson chose an unfortunate turn of phrase. She may have meant “the prosecution was more compelling” or “the defense was not credible.” While this is most likely true, it does not erase the fact that “we had no choice” is what she actually said. As “we had no choice” is not descriptive of human action, it is odd that an ostensible human would choose to use it to describe her past action. Human thought processes and reason would reject such a phrase.

Is it conceivable that humans would willingly subject themselves to trial by animal? Do we now accept that justice is a mere coin toss, an accidental result of animal instinct?

These questions are not new. Lysander Spooner treated them exhaustively in An Essay on the Trial by Jury; he archived the history and duty of juries through the signing of the Magna Carta into America in the 19th century (emphasis his):

The principles of the trial by jury, then, are these:

1. That, in criminal cases, the accused is presumed innocent.

2. That, in civil cases, possession is presumptive proof of property; or, in other words, every man is presumed to be the rightful proprietor of whatever he has in his possession.

3. That these presumptions shall be overcome, in a court of justice, only by evidence, the sufficiency of which, and by law, the justice of which, are satisfactory to the understanding and consciences of all the jurors.

These are the bases on which the trial by jury places the property, liberty, and rights of every individual.

These are low hurdles for humans to overcome. “Understanding and conscience,” however, are impossible tasks to complete with even the best trained seals or most loyal dog.

My quarrel is not with the verdict. Charlie Lynch made choices, the worst of which appears to be trusting a federal agent, and he will now suffer the consequences of his choices (life in prison if the mandatory sentences are upheld). My quarrel is that the verdict should be delivered by, described by their own foreperson, animals, rejecting reason and denying their own free will.


All of's coverage of the Charlie Lynch trial.


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