Moral absolutism is the belief that wrong is wrong and right is right, and never the two shall meet. The context of a crime is moot; it’s clear cut, black and white and without shades of gray. To a moral absolutist, the actions of a woman who steals food in order to feed her starving family are not justified — she broke the law, period.
Sometimes it’s hard to deny that someone committed a crime, especially when they admit to doing it, but what happens when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime? At what point do you surrender common sense for the sake of convicting a criminal? What is justice when you can’t justify punishing the guilty?
Meet Loren Swift. Mr. Swift was arrested in Illinois for marijuana possession with intent for distribution. Police found 25 lbs. of pot in his house and 50 lbs. worth of marijuana plants, which is quite a formidable stash by anyone’s standards. He had a miniature greenhouse for his horticultural pursuits and a room specifically designed for drying the buds for smoking. Police found several pieces of paraphernalia used for storing and smoking pot, along with a scale for measuring. Mr. Swift also confessed to police that he smoked pot and at no point did he ever try to deny it.
A jury of his peers recently found him innocent of his crimes.
Despite how insane that ruling seems on the surface, in actuality, the details paint a different picture. Mr. Swift is a 59 year-old Vietnam War veteran who needs a cane just to move around. At one point, they contemplated postponing his trial because doctors said that one of his feet would probably need to be amputated before his sentence would be passed. Swift claimed he smoked the pot to help alleviate the pain in his legs/ankles and to help with his post-traumatic stress disorder (he was a Vietnam veteran after all). He claimed that he never sold drugs to anyone, which the police admitted to having no physical evidence of in the first place, which is funny because that’s the main reason why he was on trial. Sure, his pot stash was ridiculous enough to assume he was going to sell it, but he could have been keeping it all to himself.
Regardless of its purpose, he smoked and possessed — I believe the technical term for it is “a shit-ton” — of pot. Medical marijuana is not legal in the state of Illinois, so his little “I need it for the pain” shtick won’t stick. He broke the law, period.
However, according to our current drug laws, if Mr. Swift was found guilty of this crime, the minimum punishment would have been serving six years in prison. Let me repeat that: If the jury found this 59 year-old, crippled Vietnam veteran guilty of possessing and smoking pot, he would have had to serve a MINIMUM sentence of six years in prison.
Given the circumstances, the jury exercised one of their not-very-well-known rights; the right of jury nullification. When a person is sentenced to a crime, it’s not only the convicted person on trial, but the law as well. If a jury finds a law unjust, they have the right to “nullify” it by acquitting someone, even when there’s insurmountable evidence to the contrary.
Did Swift commit a crime? From the law’s perspective, undoubtedly. Is the punishment worth a minimum of 6 years in a penitentiary? I would say hell no, especially when compared to other crimes of a more severe magnitude. Then again, our drug laws are broken as hell and beyond extreme in punishment. The only thing more messed up than this nation’s drug policy is the health care system… which is kind of ironic.
To read about the story, click [here].
Oh, and Happy Groundhog’s Day.