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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 05 Mar 2014

-U.S. Seeks Ruling in Terror Trial to Prevent Jury Nullification


Jury BoxLast March, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, pleaded Not Guilty in a civilian court to conspiring to kill United States nationals. Additional charges were added to the indictment this past December of providing material support and resources to terrorists, and conspiracy to provide such support and resources. As the trial finally gets under way, federal prosecutors are now asking the judge to bar what they consider potentially inflammatory topics being mentioned by the defense, including discussion of certain U.S. military locations and activities, as well as arguing that the defendant’s speech was protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Consider that permitting this kind of filtering of defense language and arguments before they ever go before a jury has implications not only for this case in particular, but more widely for other cases.

U.S. Seeks to Keep ‘Potentially Inflammatory Topics’ Out of Terror Trial

In the terrorism trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former top adviser to Osama bin Laden, the specter of the Sept. 11 attacks has naturally loomed heavily during jury selection, which resumed on Tuesday morning.

But even the United States’ intelligence efforts after the attacks have now become an issue, as federal prosecutors moved to try to keep what it called “potentially inflammatory topics” out of the case.

The government, in a recent court filing, asked the judge to bar the defense from referring to topics such as the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; secret “black sites” run by the Central Intelligence Agency; National Security Agency surveillance; and drones.

Referring to “irrelevant concerns or controversies touching on national security would serve only to inflame the jury’s passion and prejudice it against the government,” the government said, adding that it would be a form of impermissible jury nullification.

In its filing, the government also asked that the defense be prohibited from arguing before the jury that Mr. Abu Ghaith’s speeches after Sept. 11, 2001, in which he endorsed the attacks and promised more of them, were protected under the First Amendment. Prosecutors say that also would be jury nullification, in which jurors ignore the law if they disagree with it and render a verdict based on their personal views.