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Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice & Jury Nullification | 07 Jan 2015

-Jury Finds Man Not Guilty of Weapons Charge

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IMG_1132cropThis week a jury acquitted Reuben F. Hairston of being a felon in possession of a weapon that apparently spent only a couple of minutes in his car and without his knowledge.
Jury finds man not guilty of weapons charge

In April 2012, Hairston gave two men a ride, but the two men asked to be let out of the vehicle less than a minute after they got into the back seat of Hairston’s car, Rice said. Illinois State Police agents pulled over Hairston just a few seconds later, Rice said, and found a gun in the back seat where the two passengers had been sitting.

“They got in and, basically, left a gun behind,” Rice said.

Prosecutors charged Hairston with being a felon in possession of a weapon after they discovered Hairston had a 2009 felony conviction from another county.

It seems possible that jury nullification may have been a factor in this acquittal, and rightfully so. Whereas prosecutors may be given perverse incentive to prosecute a man who, unbeknownst to him, had a gun someone else left in his car for a couple of minutes, never harming nor threatening anyone with it, reasonable people should understand that to punish a man under these circumstances not only serves no purpose, but would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm, and other similar charges are the sort of overly broad charges that can easily be maliciously leveled and prosecuted to gain convictions against otherwise innocent people. Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times reported on a highly suspicious set of cases in which weapons were conveniently “found” under suspiciously similar circumstances by a certain group of officers, allegedly relying on tips from informants who are conveniently never produced in court, with multiple judges finding officers’ testimony in multiple such cases to be not credible.

In Brooklyn Gun Cases, Suspicion Turns to the Police

The tip comes from a confidential informer: Someone has a gun. Ten or more minutes later, police officers find a man matching the informer’s detailed description at the reported location. A gun is discovered; an arrest is made.

That narrative describes how Jeffrey Herring was arrested last year by police officers in the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. It also describes the arrests of at least two other men, Eugene Moore and John Hooper, by some of the same officers.

The suspects said the guns were planted by the police.

There were other similarities: Each gun was found in a plastic bag or a handkerchief, with no traces of the suspect’s fingerprints. Prosecutors and the police did not mention a confidential informer until months after the arrests. None of the informers have come forward, even when defense lawyers and judges have requested they appear in court.

Taken individually, the cases seem to be routine examples of differences between the police account of an arrest and that of the person arrested. But taken together, the cases — along with other gun arrests made in the precinct by these officers — suggest a pattern of questionable police conduct and tactics.

Even if guns aren’t planted by law enforcement themselves, otherwise innocent people can be dragged through the nightmare of prosecution in cases like Hairston’s through no fault of their own. Matt Kaiser found the First Circuit Court in 2013 uncharacteristically sympathetic to jury nullification due to the unreasonable lack of an “innocent possession” defense in the case of United States v. Baird against an individual who unknowingly purchased a stolen firearm:

Did The First Circuit Encourage Jury Nullification in Stolen Gun Case?

Mr. Baird wanted an “innocent possession” instruction. He wanted to argue that he didn’t know the gun was stolen when he possessed it and that it got rid of it quickly after having learned it was.

The district court refused to give that instruction, relying on cases that said there’s no “innocent possession” defense in a possession of a stolen gun case, relying on United States v. Teemer, a prior First Circuit case on whether there’s an innocent possession defense to a felon in possession charge.

The First Circuit, reversing on the failure to give the instruction, acknowledge that Teemer held there was no such defense, but then said,

But that is not all Teemer said. While Teemer declined to create a “mandatory safe harbor” for innocent possession, it also acknowledged that “there are circumstances that arguably come within the letter of the law but in which conviction would be unjust,” such as if a felon snatched away a loaded gun from his school-aged son and then called the police to retrieve it. Therefore, although Teemer relied primarily on prosecutorial discretion and the common sense of the jury to weed out the cases warranting leniency in § 922(g) cases, we have simultaneously recognized that “extraordinary cases might arise where . . . . if the government were foolish enough to prosecute, some caveat might indeed be needed (e.g., an instruction on a necessity or justification defense.)”

Kaiser argues is hard to read any other way than “licensing a very limited kind of jury nullification”.

The point of our legal system should not be to terrorize and abuse as many people as possible as a make work scheme for police, lawyers, judges, and prisons. Rather, it should be to ensure justice above all else. While it may technically be possible to prosecute people under these sorts of circumstances, it is crucial that jurors understand that they are NOT required to be accessories to these kinds of crimes against our communities perpetrated by government officials under color of law. When justice and the technical details of the law come into conflict, jurors have the right and the responsibility to uphold justice with their Not Guilty votes.

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