Crime, Culture

Jury Acquittal After Man Admits To Growing Cannabis For Medicine

Georgia jury reaches full acquittal after learning the suspect was growing cannabis for medicine.

Javonnie McCoy was growing marijuana when the cops came to his Middle Georgia home. He was caught red-handed with it. Almost a pound of it, in fact. He admitted it to police, and later he looked jurors in the eye and said, yep, it was mine. I used it as medicine.

The jurors let him go, with a full acquittal. He was minding his own business and wasn’t hurting anybody, they reasoned. He just doesn’t belong in prison.

The jury’s decision earlier this month in Dublin, Georgia, may have been due to a muddled prosecution of a muddy case. Or it may have been jury nullification, another case of citizens saying prosecutions for cannabis are not worth law enforcement’s time and effort — or the impact on otherwise law-abiding people’s lives.

It was the second such win in the Laurens County circuit for Atlanta attorney Catherine Bernard, a conservative Republican who’s also a staunch civil libertarian. Late last year, another client of hers ‘fessed up to a jury that he had sold a couple of nickel bags to an insistent undercover drug cop. That client was cut loose after just 18 minutes of deliberation.

And this is no liberal soft-on-crime region. Donald Trump won the county 2-1.

Bernard also helped get North Georgia authorities to drop charges against the parents of a 15-year-old whose parents allowed him to smoke pot to help combat severe seizures.

Ultimately, what may have kept McCoy out of an orange jumpsuit was that his lawyer urged the jury to empower themselves. She told them they are not potted plants or an unthinking arm of government. They, in fact, are the government. She read to the jury a section from the Georgia Constitution that says, “The jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.”

Bernard said the judge chided her for bringing that up, but it seems the words sank in.

The case started when police were called to McCoy’s mobile home four years ago. McCoy’s half-brother had allegedly attacked him with a stick and McCoy grabbed his .22 rifle, the one he uses to hunt squirrels, and shot his sibling in the shoulder.

Police found several potted plants in McCoy’s bedroom and tagged him with several charges including aggravated assault and manufacturing marijuana, a felony that can bring 10 years. The case stalled in the system and McCoy decided to go to trial. Right before the trial, the state dropped the assault accusation but kept the pot felony charge. (Prosecutors did not respond to my messages.)

McCoy was offered eight years’ probation, Bernard says, but chose to fight the case.

During trial, McCoy decided to testify. He had little choice. He was caught red-handed. He said his attorney told him, “Talk to them. They will connect with you.”

He gulped and sat in the witness box, telling jurors that 15 years ago he was mugged and beaten into a coma. He has suffered migraines and depression and ended up self-medicating with pot “because Zoloft turned me into a zombie.”

Prosecutors “tried to make it look so bad, that I was selling it. But I had nothing to hide,” McCoy told me, explaining his decision to testify. “The jurors had their eyes on me, I had my eyes on them.”

“Marijuana makes you eat,” McCoy told the jury. “It made me feel calm. It made me relax. It helps with my pain.”

He is a country guy who lives by “hustling” — painting, landscaping, selling fish, driving people to the store.

Ultimately, he said, “We had a jury you could relate to. Truck drivers, mechanics, construction. People who worked. They saw I wasn’t bothering nobody. That’s what I believe they felt.”

Bernard said she doesn’t coach defendants before testifying because juries pick up on that. “I think they appreciated his honesty.”

People in Dublin have respect for the law, Bernard said. But this was about fairness, about properly using law enforcement resources.

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