Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

Jury Nullification | 03 Feb 2014

-Jurors Can Exercise the Power of Pardon with Jury Nullification


Jury BoxJesse Webster, with no prior criminal record, was convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine. Due to mandatory minimums, he was sentenced to life without parole. Judge James Zagel thought the mandatory minimum was too harsh-20 years or so was what he would have sentenced this man to for a first-time, victimless offense.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice claims to be looking for incarcerated people who are candidates for clemency. Of the thousands of men and women in prison for victimless crimes, the Obama administration in December only found 8 people it deemed worthy of restoring their freedom after government destroyed their lives.

Such is the “compassion” of the state. Does this seem fair to you?

As a juror, you have the power to exercise discretion and vote Not Guilty when a just verdict requires it. You can and should exercise jury nullification and refuse to harm someone who has not harmed anyone. Jury nullification is your power of pardon when you serve on a jury.

The right remedy for overly harsh drug sentences

In 1995, when Webster was 28 years old and living on Chicago’s South Side, he was convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine. Despite having no record, mandatory minimums in place at the time got him a life sentence without parole.

At the time, and again in a letter last fall supporting a commutation of his sentence, the judge said life was too much. Given discretion, Judge James Zagel said, he thought 20 years or so would do it, roughly what Webster has already served.

Webster remains in jail, penitent for having once been a drug dealer but sure that he deserves to one day step foot out of prison.

He is right, as are thousands more like him in who are in federal prisons across the U.S. serving unnecessarily harsh — and costly — prison sentences. The excessive sentences are not only destroying lives but overcrowding prisons and siphoning off federal dollars that could be better used to prevent crime and prosecute violent criminals.


FIJA in the News & Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 26 Jan 2014

-Jury Nullification Can End the Drug War Today


Cannabis Training University / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Cannabis Training University / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Thanks to David Downs for a link to FIJA in this recent article in the East Bay Express about the power of jury nullification as a tool to end the war on drugs.
This Powerful Jury Tool Can End the Drug War Today

A New Hampshire bill introduced in the legislature this month would require judges to tell juries that they are free to use a time-tested, and controversial power called “nullification,” the Wall Street Journal reported today.

“Nullification” means jurors can vote to acquit defendants if jurors don’t agree with the underlying law. For example, most Americans don’t agree with the War on Pot, which results in about 750,000 arrests this year. About 13,000 Californians were arrested on felony pot charges in 2012.

Click through for the entire article.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 26 Jan 2014

-Jury Nullification Is a Seldom-Discussed Safeguard


Jury BoxSome 43 years later and well beyond the statute of limitations for burglary, five of the eight peace activists who broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania on 8 March 1971 have come forward in the wake of the mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks of NSA documents. The documents obtained through the Media burglary revealed the existence of the FBI’s Cointelpro program, designed to infiltrate and disrupt the civil rights, black power, women’s rights, and anti-war movements.

“Our government is again conducting mass surveillance of Americans and again lying to Congress. We hope that by coming forward we can contribute in some small way to a debate that is essential for the health of our democracy.” said Keith Forsyth, one of the activists whose efforts at Media brought Cointelpro to public attention.

Some law-breaking benefits society enough that it shouldn’t be punished, says David Kairys in this Slate article. One seldom-discussed safeguard that is built into our legal system is jury nullification, a tool which jurors used to acquit the Camden 28 peace activists in the same era as the Media burglary took place.

Learning From the FBI Media Burglars

While we don’t usually sanction illegal conduct, we are also usually hesitant to embrace unquestioned obedience to government officials or laws. When government or any powerful institution goes seriously wrong, and the institutional mechanisms for correction don’t work, we need nonviolent civil disobedience. The Media burglars were whistle-blowers, in the best sense of the word.

The details of their actions, and others who claim the same mantle, are what matter. Which laws did they violate, for what higher ideal? What dangers did they avoid or create? What were their tactics, and the consequences of their actions? Whistleblowing that performs a vital social function, and embraces illegality as a last resort, should be an occasion for limiting prosecutions and penalties.

I’m not talking about establishing a new legal defense for illegal acts of conscience, which could take the disobedience out of civil disobedience and render it less effective as well as less risky. That would be too hard to define and limit, or to distinguish from excusing illegal acts because of good intentions. But the law offers another seldom-discussed safeguard: jury nullification. Juries are empowered to render “not guilty” verdicts even though the person charged in fact violated the law. Juries don’t have to explain their verdicts, and not-guilty verdicts cannot be appealed. The best example of use of this defense for political civil disobedience is the Camden 28 case, in which I was lead counsel. Hoover’s FBI used an informer to set up a 1971 raid on the Camden, N.J., draft board under the mistaken belief they would capture the Media burglars. All of the defendants were acquitted, including two who last week revealed they were among the Media burglars, even though they had in fact broken the law by breaking into a draft board and destroying its records.


FIJA in the News & Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 22 Jan 2014

-Jury Nullification: Another Path to ‘Not Guilty’


Jury BoxThank you to the Wall Street Journal‘s Ashby Jones for this informative article about jury nullification, focusing on New Hampshire’s HB 1452 which was recently introduced in the New Hampshire legislature. HB 1452 “requires the court to give an instruction to the jury regarding jury nullification and requires the court to declare a mistrial if the instruction is not given to the jury.”

Another Path to ‘Not Guilty’
New Hampshire Looks to Ensure Juries Are Informed of the ‘Nullification’ Principle

Not all juries are created equal. These days, nowhere is that clearer than in New Hampshire.

A bill introduced earlier this month in the Granite State’s House of Representatives would require judges to tell juries in every criminal case that they are free to exercise a long-standing but controversial power called “nullification.” That means jurors can vote to acquit defendants not only if they have reasonable doubt of guilt, but also if they simply don’t agree with the underlying law.

Just a quick clarification on the author’s comments about FIJA:

In recent years, libertarian activists—namely a Montana group called the Fully Informed Jury Association—have lobbied statehouses on the issue, pushing them to enact laws ensuring juries are informed of their nullification powers. A number of states, including Montana, Iowa, Alaska and Tennessee, have considered bills to expand the practice.

“There’s movement on this issue, and we’re thrilled about it,” said Kirsten Tynan, the organization’s executive director. “The prisons are filled, and too many people are going away for small crimes, victimless crimes. Juries need to know they can put an end to this.”

FIJA national is a strictly educational outreach organization, which does not do any lobbying. We neither support nor oppose any piece of legislation, candidate, or political party. FIJA volunteers at state and local levels are free to engage in activity as they see fit, and many have written, sponsored, or supported fully informed jury legislation in their communities. Additionally, we are not “libertarian activists”. We are juror education activists, and have activists and supporters from across the political spectrum.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 22 Jan 2014

-Jail Sentence Stayed in Non-Jury Conviction for Sign Ordinance Violation


Jury BoxWe have an update to the David Mongielo jail sentence for an alleged sign ordinance violation. Mongielo was scheduled to report to jail Wednesday afternoon to begin serving a 10-day sentence delivered Tuesday for allegedly breaking a term of the conditional discharge of a previous non-jury conviction for an alleged sign ordinance violation. The town of Lockport, New York specifies jail time as the punishment for displaying a sign whose message or format changes more than once every ten minutes.

Mongielo’s second sign ordinance conviction, which constitutes the supposed violation of conditional discharge, was also delivered by a judge, but was overturned because the defendant was not afforded the option of a jury trial. Nonetheless, based on this alleged second violation, a judge sentenced Mongielo to ten days in jail for the original offense. Mongielo was was scheduled to report to jail to begin serving that sentence today. However, that sentence has been stayed by another judge pending appeal. Mongielo also confirms the stay on his Facebook page.

Mongielo granted stay of sentence

Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III granted Mongielo a stay Wednesday afternoon, putting off the 10-day sentence that the Town of Lockport auto shop owner received the previous night. The stay is in effect until Murphy rules on the appeal.

Frank Housh, Mongielo’s attorney, filed an appeal Wednesday in Niagara County Court. Had Murphy not granted the stay, Mongielo would have reported to the Niagara County Jail, Housh said.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 22 Jan 2014

-Jail Time for Non-Jury Trial Sign Ordinance Conviction


Jury BoxWe have an update in the ongoing cases of David Mongielo, who is fighting a local sign ordinance that criminalizes and provides jail time for having a sign that changes too frequently to suit town officials’ whims. Mongielo was initially convicted of a sign ordinance violation in 2010 for allegedly having a sign that changes its message or format more than once every 10 minutes, an allegation that he has disputed. He was not afforded his supposedly Constitutionally-guaranteed right to trial by jury in this case. The judge who convicted him fined him and granted a conditional discharge and a suspended sentence of 15 days provided he not violate the ordinance again for a year. Mongielo was then convicted of a second violation in August 2011, again denied his right to trial by jury. This conviction, however, was overturned by County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, on the basis that he was denied his right to trial by jury. A new trial date for this second charge has yet to be set. Nonetheless, based on the alleged second violation of which he now stands NOT convicted (as it was overturned), and therefore to be presumed innocent, a judge has now sentenced him to 10 days in jail for violating the terms of discharge from his original conviction.

Years-long battle on sign ordinance brings 10 days in jail for Lockport auto repair shop owner

Lockport auto repair shop owner David J. Mongielo, who has faced a years-long battle over a sign ordinance violation and a subsequent sign charge that allegedly violated the terms of a conditional discharge, was sentenced to 10 days in Niagara County Jail by Town Justice Leonard Tilney Jr. on Tuesday.

Mongielo was not led out in handcuffs. Instead, he was allowed to get his family and business affairs in order and told to report to jail at 4 p.m. today. In the meantime, Mongielo’s attorney, Frank T. Haush, said he would seek a stay of the sentencing.

Tilney also dismissed the subsequent violation and planned jury trial, saying he would “not inconvenience 50 or so citizens” because he would not incarcerate Mongielo again, even if he were found guilty.

David Mongielo reports on his Facebook page that, “Niagara county Judge stayed sentence until investigation of Town Judge Tileny decision.”


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 20 Jan 2014

-Professor Paul Butler Calls for Jury Nullification by Martin Luther King Jurors


One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail, 16 April 1963

Because an unjust law is no law at all, you have the right and responsibility when serving on a jury to refuse to convict a defendant accused to violating an unjust law. Paul Butler, law professor at George Washington University and author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice, explains how you can exercise your vote as a juror to defend peaceful people against unjust laws through jury nullification.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 17 Jan 2014

-Nun and Two Others Face up to 30 Years for Peace Activism


By National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Jim Babb, we have a follow-up to our Summer 2013 report on the “Transform Now Plowshares” peace activists.

We previously brought you news that peace activists Sister Megan Rice, 83, Michael Walli, 64, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 56, were convicted this past May of willful destruction of government property and injuring national defense premises with the intent to interfere with the national defense after penetrating a government facility. The Y-12 complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is supposedly one of the most secure nuclear weapons complexes in the country. Activists acknowledged cutting the fence to gain access to the facility last July and walking unimpeded by security for over two hours before being confronted by a guard.

The group adopted the name “Transform Now Plowshares” referencing a Bible verse in the Book of Isaiah, commonly cited by peace activists, that, “They shall beat swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.” Upon accessing the facility, the peace activists unfurled banners, spray-painted peace messages, hung crime scene tape, poured blood on walls representing the blood of children killed by the weapons produced at the facility, symbolically hammered on the cornerstone of a weapons manufacturing facility, and prayed for peace.

The breach resulted in Congressional hearings that were a major public embarrassment for federal officials. Numerous embarrassing security lapses were exposed and federal investigators concluded that the National Nuclear Security Administration is plagued by ineffective management and an internal culture that prioritizes cost cutting over security. Government agents argued during the trial that the group put national security at risk with their actions, by delaying operations at the plant and damaging the credibility of the facility and of the Unites States with other countries.

Protesters were originally offered deals that did not include the high stakes security-related charge, but refused. In an emphatic statement turn down such plea deals, the group stated that, “We chose to exercise our constitutional right to a jury trial and refused to bow down to their threats. We remain convinced that making and refurbishing nuclear weapons at Y-12 is both illegal under U.S. and international law, and it is also immoral. Ultimately, we are required to follow the law of love and our consciences.”

Once they turned down plea deals and made clear that they would exercise their right to trial by jury, prosecutors stacked on a sabotage count that raised the stakes from the level of trespassing and property damage to felony charges that fall under the definition of “federal crime of terrorism”. By stacking charges against the defendants, government agents punitively increased the maximum prison term for which they were at risk from 1 year to 20 or more years each when they made clear they would exercise their Sixth Amendment rights.

In a 2012 motion, government attorneys requested that the court preclude the peace activists from introducing evidence in support of certain justification defenses including those “based on necessity; international law; Nuremburg principles; First Amendment protections; the alleged immorality of nuclear weapons; good motive; religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons; and the United States government’s policy regarding nuclear weapons.” The motion specifically referred to such defenses as “an indirect way to suggest jury nullification” in requesting the court to preclude the defendants from presenting evidence related to them.

It should be noted that while government attorneys went to great lengths to undermine any possibility of jury nullification, they were perfectly willing to engage in prosecutorial nullification in the form of a plea bargain, conditional (among other things) on the defendants foregoing their right to the benefits of trial by jury. When the defendants did not willingly cede their rights, the prosecution and judge then took other measures to deny the defendants their full right to the benefits of trial by jury, by preventing the jurors from being fully informed.

Also of note is the similarity of prosecutors’ requests to prohibit certain defenses to the successful strategies used in the Camden 28 trial some 40 years prior in the Spring of 1973. All defendants in the Camden 28 trial acknowledged they had technically violated the law, but were unanimously acquitted on all charges through conscientious acquittal by the jurors who heard the case.

While jury nullification was not directly mentioned by name during the trial, defense attorneys and defendants alike invoked the language of conscience and of protection of defendants against abuse of power by government. Defense attorney Francis Lloyd noted that the charges were not motivated by justice, but rather by retribution, pointing out that, “The shortcomings in security at one of the most dangerous places on the planet have embarrassed a lot of people. You’re looking at three scapegoats behind me.” Defense attorney Bill Quigley urged jurors to “protect all of us from the government gone overboard,” by voting ‘Not Guilty’. “Sometimes they overreach,” Quigley pointed out. Attorneys asked jurors to recognize the difference between symbolic political protest and an actual national security threat, pointing out that the peace activists carried no weapons, never tried to break into any buildings, and that even federal officials have said there was never any danger of protesters reaching sensitive materials.

Representing himself, defendant Greg Boertje-Obed informed jurors that they are “the conscience of the community” and ended his statement with a quote from the Book of Hebrews: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” Boertje-Obed had previously noted during arraignment proceedings the history of juries siding with peace activists: “ Juries have found [plowshare activists] not guilty and judges have ruled [so] on international law. There are precedents that juries do agree with these actions.”

Faced with the prospect of incarceration, Sister Megan Rice was not worried, commenting that “I’ve been in prison. There are wonderful people in prisons. It was really hard for me to leave after only six days with the women I was with only that time. I’ve been in other prisons for six months. And they’re wonderful people.”

All three peace activists are currently incarcerated pending sentencing, an event that is scheduled just days from now. Jim Babb passed along to us this article from Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones, who reports that this is just part of a pattern of heavy-handed government crackdowns on very minor offenses committed as acts of civil disobedience.

Nun Faces up to 30 Years for Breaking Into Weapons Complex, Embarrassing the Feds

It was the latest in a string of heavy-handed crackdowns on activists who’ve dared to engage in vital acts of civil disobedience. In 2011, for example, federal prosecutors charged internet activist Aaron Swartz with 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act carrying a maximum sentence of 35 years after he uploaded millions of papers from the scientific database JSTOR in a ploy to “liberate” publicly funded research; he hanged himself last January. Since September 2012, the journo-activist Barrett Brown has been imprisoned on a 17-count federal indictment related to his work exposing the surveillance of other activists by private government contractors. He faces a maximum 105-year prison sentence.

Even if the judge gives Sister Rice a more lenient sentence, as seems likely, she could still end up spending the rest of her life behind bars. “It’s of absolutely no consequence to her,” says her friend Ralph Hutchison, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “As a nun she believes strongly that she is called to be a servant of God wherever she is.”

A consolidated sentencing hearing for the three peace activists is currently scheduled in federal court in Knoxville, TN beginning at 9:00am on Tuesday, January 28, 2014. More information on the hearing and other related activities are available from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance.

Additional Information:
Sister Megan Rice Sentencing Memo
Mike Walli Sentencing Memo
Greg Boertje-Obed Sentencing Memo

United States Consolidated Sentencing Memorandum and Response to Defendants’ Motions for Downward Departure And/Or Variance


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 15 Jan 2014

-Wisconsin Assembly Passes 12-Member Jury in ALL Criminal Cases


Jury BoxFIJA National does not endorse or oppose any political party, candidate, or piece of legislation. We do, however, track for informational and educational purposes legislation regarding jury issues.

The Wisconsin State Assembly yesterday passed a bill replacing the current provision for a 6-person jury with a provision for 12-member juries in ALL criminal cases:

Wisconsin Assembly OKs bill establishing 12-person juries for all criminal cases

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Wisconsin Constitution requires a 12-person jury in all criminal cases and a law providing for a six-person jury in misdemeanor cases was unconstitutional.

The bill eliminates the six-person misdemeanor jury and sets the 12-person requirement for every criminal case unless the parties involved and a judge agree to reduce the number.

This measure passed the Assembly on a voice vote with no debate. It heads next to the Wisconsin Senate for consideration. We have not yet turned up a number for this bill, but will add it and a link to the measure as soon as we track one down.

Current Wisconsin law provides that:
“If the case is a misdemeanor case, the jury shall consist of 6 persons.”

FIJA co-founder and board member Don Doig explains the impact on the fairness of a trial for the defendant of halving the traditional size of the jury to just 6 members:

It is supposed to be difficult for the government to gain a conviction. If one juror out of twelve can hang a jury (8.3%), that effectively empowers a minority to protect their rights, obviously more so than one in six (16.7%). In addition to that, though, it is hard for one juror to stand alone. It is more likely that there will be two or three out of twelve wanting to acquit, than for there to be two out of six.

This is backed up by research. For example, a 1997 study by Professor of Law and Psychology Michael J. Saks and Professor of Psychology Mollie Weighner Marti entitled A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Jury Size indicated some important differences between 6-member and 12-member juries potentially affecting the fairness of the trial for the defendant. As opposed to 6-member juries, 12-member juries:
1. are more likely to include members of racial minorities,
2. deliberate longer,
3. may recall trial testimony more accurately, and
4. are more likely to deadlock than are 6-member juries. the impact on the fairness of a trial for the defendant of halving the traditional size of the jury to just 6 members:


Jury Nullification | 13 Jan 2014

-NH HB 1452: An Act Relative to Jury Nullification


Jury BoxFIJA National does not endorse or oppose any political party, candidate, or piece of legislation. We do, however, track for informational and educational purposes legislation regarding jury issues.

Michael Sylvia and Keith Michael report that as the 2014 legislative session kicks of in New Hampshire, there is a new jury nullification bill on the table in New Hampshire. HB 1452, introduced on 8 January 2014, is an act relative to jury nullification that “requires the court to give an instruction to the jury regarding jury nullification and requires the court to declare a mistrial if the instruction is not given to the jury.” Its full text is available on the New Hampshire state website here. The main provisions of this bill are as follows:

I. The court shall give the following instruction to the jury in all criminal proceedings: “The concept of jury nullification is well established in this country. If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision.”

II. A mistrial shall be declared in any case in which the court fails to give the jury instruction provided in paragraph I.

The New Hampshire bill status system as of this writing lists its status as in the Judiciary Committee, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday 16 January 2014 at 1:00 pm, located in LOB 208.

Those who have been following the status of jury nullification in New Hampshire may recall that related jury legislation was passed in 2012 that took effect in 2013. That legislation required that in all criminal proceedings the court permit the defense to inform the jurors of their right to judge the facts and the application of the law. This legislation, in contrast, imposes an instruction on the court relative to jury instructions in all criminal proceedings.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 13 Jan 2014

-Sentenced To Life In Prison For Selling Marijuana


Cannabis Training University / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Cannabis Training University / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Life in prison in the harshest sentence possible short of the death penalty in our criminal legal system. In every one of these cases, where a life sentence was passed on someone who had harmed nobody, a single juror in each trial could have prevented that sentence from being imposed with a Not Guilty vote, protecting the defendants from egregiously disproportionate punishment for the actions they engaged in, preventing the waves of social destruction from their conviction from rippling out through their families and communities, and saving tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in needless costs associated with wasteful prosecutions, incarcerations, etc.

Sentenced To Life In Prison For Selling Marijuana

Even as pot shops rake in millions in Colorado, and the possibility grows of the drug becoming legal in as many as a dozen other states, a handful of Americans are serving life sentences for selling marijuana.

At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.

James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.

Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.


FIJActivist & Jury Nullification | 13 Jan 2014

-Effective Juror Education Depends on Rapport


Just wanted to pass along to all activists this morning a reminder that effective outreach depends on how we deliver our message.

We got a call this past weekend from someone who got our number from a sign the caller described as being very prominent (bright yellow) that is currently located in a residential neighborhood. The caller states that people who have lived in the neighborhood and invested money in improving the neighborhood for decades have to look at it every time they go in or out of their houses and don’t appreciate that adornment in that particular location. Of the owners of the sign, the caller expressed his opinion that “They don’t seem willing to live with their neighbors cooperatively… I’d like you to know they aren’t doing your organization any good, even though you probably are a good organization.”

We each have the right to do what we want with our property. We each have the right to speak our minds on our own property. However, we should keep in mind that how we voluntarily choose to exercise our rights is key to whether or not we get our message across to others, whether or not they find us credible, whether or not they feel friendly toward the message, etc. This is why we encourage activists to be actively friendly and polite when offering literature, not to use what could be considered offensive language, not to behave belligerently or annoyingly, not to leave literature on car windshields or other places where it will most likely be encountered as an annoyance and considered litter, and so on.

Keep in mind as you craft your activist strategies this year that juror education outreach is not free speech activism. Free speech activism is great, but that is not FIJA’s mission. Our goals are to inform everyone of jurors’ full rights and responsibilities, to persuade them to use those tools to deliver just verdicts whenever they are on a jury, and to pass the message along to encourage others to do the same. Achieving our goals depends on establishing a good rapport with our audience. Not every use of our property rights or our rights to express ourselves are conducive to those goals. We can’t please everyone, but we should each give some thought to our particular situations, communities, and actions to maximize effectiveness in pursuing our goals.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 11 Jan 2014

-Would Fully Informed Jurors Have Changed Aaron Swartz’ Mind?


Jury BoxToday is the anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz who took his own life after being hounded mercilessly by prosecutors stacking up criminal charges against him in a matter that was settled privately to the satisfaction of the party who claimed to have been harmed. Rather than let the matter go when the aggrieved party made clear it did not want criminal charges to be pursued, government agents insisted that Swartz would not be offered any plea deal that did not involve jail time.

Had Swartz been confident that he would have had a fair trial before a fully informed jury, would he have felt he had another escape from malicious prosecutorial bullying than to end his own life? I hope that we will all remember this young man and how destructive malicious prosecution is not only to the people the come into the crosshairs of prosecutors’ sights, but also to those around them, as we do our best to ensure everyone has access to independent-minded, fully informed jurors willing to consult their consciences in delivering just verdicts that restore balance to the community.

Losing Aaron

For Bob [Aaron’s father] and Aaron, [prosecutor Stephen] Heymann was the face of the state. Aaron’s attorneys approached Heymann shortly after Aaron’s arrest, asking him to drop the charges. The meetings did not go well; Heymann refused to accept a settlement that did not involve jail time. At an impasse with Heymann, Bob and Aaron approached JSTOR. The company was much more open to negotiation, and in June 2011, the sides reached a civil settlement. Aaron paid a $26,500 fine. A spokesman said JSTOR considered the case closed: “We [have] no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter.”

Nonetheless, the criminal case slouched forward undeterred. As Aaron’s indictment neared, Heymann offered him a plea deal: If he agreed to one felony count, he could get three months in jail, followed by a period of probation and time in a halfway house.

Negotiations continued, but in the end Aaron told Heymann no. He would fight the felony charges and go to trial.

A few days before the indictment, Aaron’s attorney called the U.S. Attorney’s Office and agreed that Aaron would voluntarily surrender. But Bob says the prosecutors insisted on arresting him: “They strip-searched him. They took away his shoelaces. They put him in solitary confinement and left him there. They brought him out in handcuffs. And then, after his bond was posted, they left him in a cell for a couple of hours, with no explanation. It was just sadistic.”

Aaron was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, and “unlawfully obtaining information from” and “recklessly damaging” a “protected computer.” There would be 13 felony counts in all. At the time of the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could face 35 years in prison.

Aaron had ulcerative colitis, and his family feared that his health would deteriorate if he went to prison. He was growing increasingly depressed. “The endless plea negotiations, discussions of jail, what jail to go to, what the halfway house was going to be like…they were torture,” Bob says. “They were torture for me but far more torture for Aaron. He couldn’t deal. I dealt with the legal aspects of the case because it was very hard for him to do that. And, you know, it destroyed his feelings of security.”


Function of Juries | 10 Jan 2014

-Non-unanimous Judges Can Overturn Unanimous Jury Sentences in Florida


Jury BoxFlorida is another state where the judgment of a 12-member jury for life without parole instead of the death penalty can be ignored and replaced with death by a single judge. In this case, the lead shooter, convicted in 1978 with a jury recommending a death sentence, avoided execution until 2013. On the other hand, a party to that same crime who tried to talk the shooters out of killing anyone, refused to kill anyone himself, and refused to help cover up the killings had already been executed 26 years earlier AGAINST THE UNANIMOUS RECOMMENDATION OF HIS JURY for life without parole.

The criteria established by the Florida Supreme Court for a judge to overrule a jury and impose a death sentence against the jury’s recommendation, “the facts suggesting a sentence of death should be so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.” By overruling a UNANIMOUS decision by a 12-member jury, this judge effectively decided that 12 semi-randomly selected members of the community were ALL UNREASONABLE, and the Florida Supreme Court backed him up.

On appeal, the defendant’s case was heard by another judge. During the post-conviction legal process, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Enmund v. Florida that the death penalty was not appropriate for someone who neither killed nor attempted or intended to kill anyone. Based on this, the second judge vacated the death sentence in this case. It progressed again to the Florida Supreme Court where on a 7-2 split vote, the death penalty was reinstated against the 12-0 unanimous recommendation of the jury in the original case.

Executed Against the Judgment of 12 Jurors

Not surprisingly, the Court found no prohibition. Stating that White had done nothing to “disassociate himself” from the murders, the Florida Supreme Court reimposed the death penalty on him. Not all seven justices agreed—two of them thought that the Enmund case required a life sentence for White, and one came right out and said that the Florida Supreme Court had no business sentencing anyone to death, which was what it was doing by overruling Judge Klein. But two negative votes did not change the outcome for Beauford White. On a Florida jury, even a unanimous recommendation was not the final word about life or death. But a simple majority was more than enough for the Supreme Court of Florida.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 10 Jan 2014

-Alabama Judges Can Override Juries to Impose Death Sentences


Jury BoxDid you know that in Alabama, not only are independent-minded jurors screened out of capital cases through death qualification of juries, but that even when these rigged juries want to impose a penalty of life without parole, a single judge can override twelve verdicts from jurors? 95 times so far Alabama judges have served up harsher sentences of death overriding the life without parole sentences recommended by juries.

U.S. Supreme Court: Alabama judges can continue to override juries and impose death sentences

“Judges now override jury verdicts of life in just a single State, and they do so roughly twice a year,” writes Sotomayor.

Sotomayor argues that crimes are no more heinous and juries no more lenient in Alabama. But she cites a study by the Equal Justice Initiative finding a significant uptick in overrides during election years.

She writes: “The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.”


« Newer Entries - Older Entries »