Jury Nullification: Farmer Found Not Guilty in Raw Milk Case

March 4th, 2013

The organic food, natural supplement, and holistic medicine industries have been under attack by the government for quite some time. Oddly enough, raw milk has become a central focus of this struggle, as regulators believe it to be unsafe, whereas many nutritional experts claim that it has serious health benefits. The government asserted its position in the debate by effectively criminalizing the sale of raw milk, much in the same way as it has done with hardcore drugs like methamphetamine or heroin.

The criminalization of the sale of milk taken straight from the cow has caused some legal absurdities to take place. Organic food stores are routinely raided in SWAT fashion, with guns drawn. Farmers often meet the same fate; an Amish farm was even shut down for doing this, despite the religious freedom implications. However, a Minnesota jury just turned the issue on its head by nullifying three raw milk related misdemeanor charges during the trial of Alvin Schlangen, a local organic farmer.

The Dubious Case for Banning Raw Milk

The Center for Disease Control claims that raw milk has caused 93 outbreaks of bacterial infection from 1998-2009. The outbreaks claimed the lives of two people. While deaths due to bacterial infection and disease are serious, it’s important to put these numbers into perspective. There are countless legal pharmaceuticals that kill more people than that each year, simply due to known side effects. Most products that people consume will cause an occasional fatality due to an allergy or industrial contamination.

However, some health food enthusiasts are convinced that raw milk contains crucial probiotics that support health in a variety of ways. Bodybuilders often consume it in pursuit of nutrients that support muscle growth. Some parents believe that their children benefit from the consumption of raw milk during developmental stages. After all, milk comes that way naturally. Natural food enthusiasts consider pasteurization to be a dangerous processing technique that may lead to long-term health problems.

The Role of Jury Nullification in Overturning Prohibitions

Prohibiting the sale of raw milk fails as a policy to stop people from consuming it. Furthermore, the science doesn’t suggest that it’s particularly unsafe to begin with, so it may not be a good idea to discourage its consumption. As such, putting real farmers in actual jail over this issue is an absurd policy.

Luckily, jurors have the right to deny the prosecution a conviction, not only in cases where the defendant is innocent of the crime, but also in cases where the law itself is unjust, even if the defendant did in fact commit the acts in question. This legal principle is called “jury nullification.” When it came to the case of Alvin Schlangen, a jury of his peers didn’t feel comfortable sending a farmer to rot in jail with murderers and thieves, just because he sold raw milk to those who want it in their diets.

This is a huge victory, not only for food freedom, but also for jury nullification activists across the nation. The best way to toss out old laws is for juries to refuse to issue convictions based on them.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.