This article is great coverage from the Keene Sentinel’s Phil Bantz:
Free Stater convicted for pot
Trial brings laughter this time, not chaos
By PHILLIP BANTZ
Published: Friday, May 01, 2009
An 18-year-old Keene activist was convicted Friday of possessing a small amount of marijuana during a protest earlier this year.
James Andrew Carroll represented himself during his trial in Keene District Court on a Class B misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession tied to his January arrest in Railroad Square in downtown Keene.
Between 30 and 40 people with ties to the Free State Project showed up to support Carroll during the trial. Many of them protested the state’s marijuana laws, holding up homemade signs outside the courthouse, before the trial was under way.
The Free Staters relocated to New Hampshire as part of an effort to recruit at least 20,000 “liberty-loving people” to the state, according to the project’s Web site. Carroll left California for Keene.
Armed with the works of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and printouts of sections of the U.S. Constitution, Carroll argued that marijuana possession is a victimless crime and said his rights were being violated.
“What’s accomplished by throwing a friendly guy like me in jail?” he asked one of the Keene police officers called to testify for the prosecution.
During the cross-examination of another officer involved in collecting the marijuana seized from Carroll, he asked: “When you touched the plant, did you feel harmed in any way?”
Carroll drew laughs from his supporters in the gallery at various points throughout the trial, and even got a chuckle from Judge Edward J. Burke when he joked that he’d stashed marijuana in the Nietzsche book he brought to court.
“He laughs. He knows marijuana shouldn’t be illegal,” Carroll said.
“I do have a sense of humor,” Burke said.
Carroll took the stand to be cross-examined by Assistant Cheshire County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin, who declined to question him.
Burke convicted Carroll after the brief trial and handed down a $420 fine, which Carroll refused to pay. The conviction carries a maximum fine of $1,200.
Carroll was also given the option of working off the fine through 42 hours of community service. He declined that option as well, saying any volunteer work he performed would be a personal choice, and not for the state.
Eight days in jail is Carroll’s only other option. He said after the trial that he would do the time and appeal the conviction.
Burke said he would rather see Carroll pay the fine with cash or community service, and gave him until Monday to reconsider his decision.
“I don’t like to do this,” Burke said of the possibility of sending Carroll to jail.
Meanwhile, Carroll’s trial turned out not to be a replay of the scene that played out at District Court during the April 13 arraignment of Manchester videographer Dave Ridley, when Free Staters and their associates protested Burke’s ban of photography in the court’s lobby.
The activists believed Burke was stepping on their right to record in a public space, and some chose to ignore the ban.
Court officials say the ban protects juveniles and victims of crimes walking through the lobby from being photographed without their consent.
There is no state law that addresses the use of recording devices in the corridors and lobbies of courtrooms.
During Ridley’s arraignment, seven people were arrested or given summonses for disorderly conduct.
A Free Stater and an activist with ties to the group recorded Carroll’s trial on video, but no one used a camera in the lobby and there were no arrests.
One of the protesters arrested during Ridley’s arraignment remains at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland. Sam Dodson, a Free Stater from Texas, has refused to tell the authorities his name to complete the booking process.
His attorney, Ivy Walker, a Free Stater from Rhode Island, has asked the state Supreme Court to move Dodson through the booking process and grant him a trial because the authorities have his fingerprints.
“The fingerprints are sufficient,” Walker said. “They need to release him or at least schedule a trial.”
The Supreme Court is expected to release a decision on Walker’s argument Monday.
Phillip Bantz can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or firstname.lastname@example.org.