Jurors in New Orleans refused to contemplate a felony cost for a person holding an oz. of hashish on Bourbon Avenue. You are able to do the identical. (P_Wei/iStock)
‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on hashish politics and tradition.
handful of jurors did a outstanding factor in a New Orleans courtroom final week. I hope you’ll give it some thought the subsequent time you’re referred to as for jury obligation.
On Tuesday, Jabar Kensey, a server on the metropolis’s well-known French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, went on trial for possessing an oz. of hashish on Bourbon Avenue.
A complete novel might unfold from that premise.
In the event you’ve ever dined at Antoine’s—and I’ve—you recognize it’s a singular New Orleans expertise. The 175-year-old institution presents a spectacular eating room fitted with plush inexperienced partitions, gilded mirrors, and an historic tile flooring. The black-tied waitstaff presents every diner a legendary stage of service. Previous New Orleans households kind private relationships with Antoine’s waiters that span a long time. Years in the past once I loved a plate of recent oysters, gents had been required to don a jacket always. In the event you had none, one was offered. As an unprepared younger lad, I made use of a loaner from the rack. (The coverage was quietly dropped just a few years in the past.)
C’mon, that is Bourbon Avenue
So once I say Jabar Kensey went on trial for possession, know that Mr. Kensey is a revered skilled in his house city.
Know additionally that Bourbon Avenue is world-renowned for its encouragement of minor vices. Vacationers are exhorted to guzzle booze overtly on the street. Public nudity is rewarded with cheers and trinkets.
Louisiana, America’s jail state
On the similar time, Louisiana is America’s most infamous incarceration state.
For many years the state’s (largely white) regulation enforcement institution has locked up an unconscionably excessive proportion of the state’s black inhabitants. Hashish has usually offered the excuse.
A number of years in the past Orleans Parish District Legal professional Leon Cannizzaro and different state officers had been uncovered for his or her indefensible remedy of Bernard Noble, a middle-aged truck driver sentenced to 13 years in jail for possessing two joints whereas driving a bicycle. We coated his case extensively right here at Leafly. It was like one thing out of Les Miserables.
Final Tuesday, Leon Cannizzaro tried to do it once more.
Merciless sentences are all too widespread
Cannizzaro likes to “triple invoice” defendants. He makes use of the state’s medieval three-strikes regulation to place low-level offenders in jail with double-digit sentences. Cannizzaro will get away with it partly as a result of his parish’s public defender workplace is cripplingly understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. Due to two prior non-violent convictions, Jabar Kensey confronted a possible sentence of 15 to 20 years in Louisiana’s notoriously brutal jail system.
So into court docket went Antoine’s waiter Jabar Kensey, his life on the road for holding a product that’s authorized and obtainable seven days per week in ten American states.
The trial begins…
Jury choice started. One after one other, residents of Orleans Parish appeared earlier than a prosecutor, a protection legal professional, and Choose Dennis Waldron.
One after one other, most of the jurors had been excused. Why? As a result of they believed it was unsuitable for the state to ship a person to jail for a decade for possessing an oz. of weed.
By the tip of the afternoon, 20 of 25 potential jurors had been dropped. No extra had been obtainable from the every day pool. Choose Waldron instructed Matt Sledge, a reporter for The Advocate, “vital” variety of jurors had been dismissed by the prosecutor as a result of they refused to contemplate a felony cost for hashish. Waldron stated many jurors spoke up in regards to the injustice of Louisiana’s archaic marijuana legal guidelines.
Confronted with a possible mistrial, the D.A.’s workplace lower a cope with Kensey. The Antoine’s waiter agreed to serve 12 weekend days in jail and forfeit $100 in money.
‘An applicable answer’
Kensey’s legal professional, Stavros Panagoulopoulos, instructed The Advocate that the jurors despatched a transparent message to Cannizzaro. “I feel the District Legal professional’s workplace heard [the jury’s] sentiments,” Panagoulopoulos stated. “Given the present local weather in our nation almost about marijuana, I feel this was an applicable answer.”
If widespread sense prevails, the Kensey case could assist shut the ebook on New Orleans’s shameful historical past of marijuana prosecution and over-incarceration.
Matt Sledge stories that no defendants had been tried solely on marijuana costs in Orleans Parish in 2017 or 2018. Bernard Noble was lastly paroled, to nationwide acclaim, in early 2018. Coincidence? Possibly. However the reality is, Noble’s case made Leon Cannizzaro’s title synonymous with cruelty and injustice. Why the D.A. would search to reprise his most notorious case is a thriller. Possibly it’s just like the fable about the scorpion and the frog: It’s his nature. Happily, this time the residents of Orleans Parish had been daring sufficient to push again.
‘Folks have the facility’ isn’t only a track lyric
Know this, my fellow jury-eligible residents: You might have the facility to cease the insanity.
Regardless of the persevering with enlargement of legalization, hashish arrests are literally rising nationwide. Prohibition is sunsetting, and deputies in prohibition states are getting their final licks in. Earlier this month the FBI launched its annual report on crime. In 2018, regulation enforcement made 663,367 hashish arrests. That’s multiple each minute. Greater than 90% of these arrests had been for easy possession.
For a few of us, a jury discover conjures up a sense of dread. Too many individuals seize any excuse to get out of it, which is a disgrace.
I’ve served on a jury. It’s fascinating. It’s inspiring. In the event you’re studying this, you’re a grown-ass grownup. You might have an obligation to make the wheels of justice flip in a righteous course. And because the individuals of New Orleans demonstrated final week, you’ve the facility to cease injustice in its tracks.