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Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice & Jury Nullification | 26 Mar 2014

-Jury Finds Woman Not Guilty of Registering to Vote

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Jury BoxA formerly incarcerated woman was acquitted last week of an offense that could have put her back in prison for up to fifteen years—registering to vote.

After serving time for a victimless drug offense, Iowa resident Kelli Jo Griffin believed, based on what had previously been the state’s policy, that her voting eligibility would automatically be restored once she completed probation. Unbeknownst to her, that policy was rescinded three years ago and replaced with a new process by which she would specifically have to apply and have her application approved to regain her eligibility.

Griffin registered to vote to show her stepdaughter how the process worked, by participating in an election in which 110 people voted in uncontested mayoral and council races. This was the offense for which the Iowa Secretary of State and Lee County Attorney would have taken this mother away from her family and imprisoned her at taxpayers’ expense for fifteen years. Her 12-member jury soundly rejected that attempt in just 40 minutes with a Not Guilty verdict.

Former Offender Acquitted in Iowa Voter Fraud Case

A former drug offender who believed her voting rights had been restored when she cast a ballot last year was acquitted of perjury Thursday, a public rebuke of Iowa’s two-year investigation into voter fraud.

The 12-member jury took less than 40 minutes to reject the prosecution’s argument that Kelli Jo Griffin intentionally lied on a voter registration form she filled out for a municipal election in the southeastern Iowa town of Montrose.

It was the first trial stemming from the state’s voter fraud investigation championed by Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz. And it highlighted Iowa’s status as one of just four states in which ex-offenders have to apply to the governor to regain their voting rights, under a 2011 order that has created confusion.

Griffin, a 40-year-old mother of three young children and one stepdaughter, would have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted since she was charged as a habitual offender.

Jury finds Griffin not guilty

A 12-member jury spent less than 40 minutes in deliberation Thursday morning before finding Kelli J. Griffin not guilty of perjury related to falsified voter registration information.

The State of Iowa alleged that Griffin, 40, a convicted felon who lives in Montrose, registered to vote and cast her ballot in the November 2013 Montrose city election with the knowledge that her voting rights had not been restored.

Convicting and incarcerating people for victimless crimes has an effect on social policy, albeit one that many of us may not be aware of. When someone is incarcerated, she cannot vote nor serve on a jury. Once she has completed her sentence, she is likely to remain ineligible to vote or serve on a jury, with restoration of that eligibility often depending on jumping through the right bureaucratic hoops if it is even an option at all. Even if a formerly incarcerated person does become eligible again for jury duty, she is likely to be eliminated during voir dire from potential service on a jury based on her conviction. If there is a Census while a person is imprisoned, she is likely to be counted as a resident of the location where she is incarcerated and not counted in her actual location of residence, thereby skewing political representation disproportionately in favor of communities whose livelihoods largely depend on prisons remaining full and have an economic incentive to vote accordingly.

By cumulatively disenfranchising disproportionate numbers of people who have unique experience with the legal system and incarceration, we remove their voices and experiences from the processes by which law and public policy is shaped, thereby skewing those processes further and further in favor of criminalization of victimless offenses, unconscionably harsh sentences, and vindictive stacking of charges by malicious prosecutors trying to bully their legal targets into foregoing their right to trial by jury.

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