Despite my disparaging view of the prosecution in the Alvin Schlangen case, the six-person jury had its own view, and it wasn’t the same as mine or others on this blog. After nearly four hours of deliberation on Thursday, it convicted the Minnesota farmer of five criminal misdemeanors.
1. Operating without a food handler’s license;
2. Storing eggs at temperatures above the mandated 45 degrees;
3. Distributing adulterated or misbranded food;
4. Violating a food embargo;
5. Selling custom processed meat.
Schlangen was immediately fined $300 and sentenced to 90 days of jail, with the jail sentence stayed. (I erroneously tweeted and put on Facebook the sentencing info without noting the stay of the sentence.)
Most problematic may turn out to be the one year of probation, during which time Schlangen is expected “to comply with all Minnesota food laws, including raw milk laws,” according to his lawyer, Nathan Hansen. “It was interesting that raw milk wasn’t mentioned in any of the charges, and at the end of the day, it was about raw milk.”
“Some of the charges were real hard to counter,” Hansen told me. “And the prosecutor worked very hard to get a conviction.” For example, the prosecution presented evidence Schlangen re-sold food to a food cooperative. Moreover, the prosecution brought in as witnesses the owners or managers of half a dozen other food producers to try to convince the jury that Schlangen was running a commercial operation involving meat, eggs, and other foods.
Hansen is also a member of Schlangen’s food club, and worries most about the strange after-the-trial effort by the judge to include raw milk in the prohibited areas for Schlangen while on probation. “Our supply of raw milk is in jeopardy,” he said.
He feels Schlangen’s food club will need to “narrow its focus” and not make available “foods people can get elsewhere,” like organic frozen veggies. He’s not certain at this point exactly what a new focus and organization might look like.
Why did one jury acquit Schlangen last September on many of the same charges, and this one, in a different county, convict him? We’ll never know for sure, but certainly the prosecution learned from the first Schlangen trial and the Vernon Hershberger trial (and acquittal on similar licensing charges). In addition to the factors Hansen mentioned, I suspect its seemingly random mention of an illness of a food club member–even though it wasn’t connected to Schlangen–had its effect on the “adulterated” charge and on the egg-temperature charge. It may also have colored the jury’s view of Schlangen in general.
So the food police finally got a hit, on an 0-and-2 count. Will they use their new-found lessons of how to persuade a jury to go after additional farmers in other states? Or, to put it another way, now that they at long last tasted blood provided by a jury of a farmer’s peers, will they want more?