Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 02 Oct 2014

-Are the Feds Dialing Back Punishment for Trial by Jury?


AG_851_Letter_MedFamilies Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) yesterday reported on a recent memo issued by outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder with regard to what is known as the “trial penalty”—the effective punishment of a defendant’s use of the Constitutionally guaranteed right to trial by jury, with prosecutors adding extra penalties for which the defendant is at risk if he or she turns down a plea bargain in favor of trial by jury.

AG Eric Holder: No More Super Mandatory Minimums to Punish Defendants Who Want a Trial

Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a memo prohibiting prosecutors from using the threat of enhanced mandatory minimum sentences solely to force criminal defendants to plead guilty in drug trafficking cases. These super-sized mandatory minimums, called “section 851 enhancements,” allow prosecutors to ensure a defendant’s mandatory minimum sentence is doubled or even increased to life in prison.

“FAMM applauds the Attorney General’s repudiation of this heavy-handed practice,” said FAMM General Counsel Mary Price in a statement. “The trial penalty is intolerable. This guidance to prosecutors makes it quite clear that massively enhanced drug mandatory minimums may not be invoked absent cause. While the practice of threatening defendants with the trial penalty to induce them to plead guilty should be abandoned altogether, this is a good start.”

The subset of the trial penalty in question in this memo is known as the section 851 enhancement. FAMM explains what the 851 enhancement is and how it is abused by prosecutors to coerce defendants to forego their right to trial by jury:

How the 851 enhancement works: If the prosecutor advises the court of its intention to “notice” a drug defendant’s prior convictions, the court must double the underlying mandatory minimum facing a defendant with one prior drug trafficking conviction. In some cases, if the defendant has two priors, the section 851 enhancement requires the court to impose a sentence of life in prison.

In short, the section 851 enhancement provides federal prosecutors complete discretion to seek, and requires judges to impose, life sentences for even non-violent drug offenders.

Prosecutors routinely used the section 851 threat to pressure defendants to plead guilty. If the defendant agrees to plead guilty, the government would not “notice” the priors and the defendant would serve the unenhanced mandatory minimum of five or ten years. If instead the defendant rejects the offer, goes to trial and is convicted, she suffers the “trial penalty,” and the section 851 enhancement transforms a sentence of five years into 10, a sentence of 10 years into 20, or even life without parole.

We know, of course, that a memo is far from a legally binding policy. Given that the memo explicitly acknowledges that the department has a long-standing policy that “[c]harges should not be filed simply to exert leverage to induce a plea” and yet it seems to be an acceptable practice so long as plausible deniability is maintained, one might question how effective another memo will be that merely restates a policy that seems to be ignored.

And, of course, Holder did not issue and enforce this memo in the culture of the Department of Justice years ago when he could have shepherded his prosecutors in proper implementation of it, but rather the memo is dated the day before he announced his resignation. If it is to be enforced, or even maintained in name only, that task will fall to some, as of yet unknown, successor who may or may not agree with it.

While perhaps there is a glimmer of encouragement to be taken from the fact that not undermining a person’s Constitutional rights by leveraging the threat of double the risk or more if they exercise them is now apparently a politically tenable position for a high-ranking government official to take—at least when he’s on his way out the door—the fact remains that this is cold comfort to those who have already been strong-armed into unjust plea deals and to those who may still be bullied by this or similar tactics in the future.

Ultimately, jurors have the final say in whether or not unaccountable prosecutors will continue to be allowed to leverage their power against peaceful people to coerce them to accept plea bargains rather than to take their cases before those who represent the conscience of the community. Jurors can rein in this abusive practice with just two words- Not Guilty. By refusing to convict people of victimless crimes, and otherwise refusing to aid and abet prosecutorial abuse by rubber stamping charges without understanding the full consequences of their verdicts, jurors can serve notice to prosecutors and judges that this kind of treatment of their neighbors under color of law but in direct opposition to justice will not be tolerated. In judiciously exercising the right of jury nullification, a single juror can immediately put a stop to an injustice. But beyond that, as a pattern of hung juries and acquittals becomes apparent over time, prosecutors are forced to determine at what point they have suffered enough embarrassing losses in the courtroom and eventually abandon the strategies and tactics that are undermining their credibility.


Function of Juries | 01 Oct 2014

-Prosecutor Drops Case without Explanation After Opening Statements



After hounding a defendant for more than two years, federal prosecutors abandoned their case against a Georgia man just after the trial began.

Feds Drop Case After Opening Statements

For two years, criminal defense lawyer Jay Strongwater could not persuade federal prosecutors to drop felony drug and gun charges against his client.

But after Strongwater delivered his opening statement at the trial of client Carlos Alfredo Arevelo last week, prosecutors pulled him and his cocounsel aside to deliver a stunning message: they were dismissing the case.

The prosecutors offered no reason for their change of heart, and a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Sally Yates would not comment.

The 22-year-old defendant, Carlos Alfredo Arvelo, had been at his sister’s boyfriend’s apartment for less than a day after being kicked out of his mother’s house after a fight with her over skipping school exams when federal agents showed up at the apartment requesting entry. When Arvelo did allow them access, their search reportedly turned up guns and illegal drugs.

Although the defendant had been there for less than a day and had his own belongings still in his car, and although the apartment resident absolved Arvelo of connection to the seized items, prosecutors initially were holding a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence over the defendant. Arvelo’s attorney says that although they backed away from this before trial, they were still insisting that the defendant must spend at least two years in jail. Then, after putting the defendant through two years of state-sponsored terror and imposing the massive expense of mounting a defense for a jury trial, they bailed out after opening statements without explanation.

Veteran defense attorney Don Samuel of Atlanta’s Garland, Samuel & Loeb said that in 32 years of practicing law, “I’ve never seen a prosecutor drop a case after opening statements.”

“It’s conceivable they will drop a case if a witness starts falling apart or admits to something,” he said. “It’s not unusual for a prosecutor to dismiss a defendant halfway through its case when a witness didn’t come through, or a witness is missing. … But the opening statement had to be pretty damn powerful for the prosecution to have a lightbulb go off and say, ‘Wow. We really don’t have a case.'”

“The prosecutor either was not adequately prepared and didn’t understand the facts, or it was articulated in such a way that the prosecutors realized the holes in their case. … Maybe Jay did such a powerful opening, he opened their eyes to something they previously had not quite understood.”

However, if there were no new facts that surfaced during Strongwater’s opening statement, prosecutors “should have dismissed the case long ago,” Samuel said. “They should not have made the kid go through the agony of this and try to force a plea out of him.”

This case reflects the lengths to which power tripping government agents are free to go in tormenting peaceful people with malicious prosecutions and wasting massive amounts of taxpayers’ and defendants’ own personal funds pursuing meritless cases against peaceful people. There will be no consequences for government lawyers in this case. They are free to pull this kind of life-destroying stunt again and again on other victims, who themselves have no recourse against such abuse.

Jurors should understand that when a defendant appears before them in a criminal case, they have often gone to great expense and great personal risk to do so, while prosecutors themselves are funding the case out of other people’s pocketbooks and are themselves at no personal risk. They personally have little to lose by vindictively bullying defendants, even when their case is entirely without merit. That is one reason why well over 90% of criminal cases never even make an appearance before a jury. Prosecutors strong-arm defendants—even innocent people—into pleading guilty by offering them known sentences FAR less severe than what they risk in a jury trial in which prosecutors have piled on more and more charges contrived only for the purpose of making trial by jury much more hazardous for the defendant than a plea deal. You, as a juror, must match defendants’ courage in exercising their right to trial by jury with your own courage and persistence in protecting peaceful people with your Not Guilty vote when a just verdict requires it.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 25 Sep 2014

-Montana Supreme Court Candidates Debate Jury Nullification


GavelIconThis is shared for educational and informational purposes only; FIJA National does not endorse or oppose any political candidate or party.

Jury nullification made an appearance in a recent debate between candidates for the Montana Supreme Court. The Great Falls Tribune reported on the event.

Supreme Court candidates square off in Missoula

The four candidates vying for seats on the Montana Supreme Court met during a lively forum at the University of Montana School of Law.

Incumbent high court Justices Mike Wheat and Jim Rice were joined by challengers Lawrence VanDyke and W. David Herbert at the event co-sponsored by the conservative Federal Society and the progressive American Constitution Society.

The event prompted lively debate over issues ranging from outside spending in nonpartisan Supreme Court races, rights of criminals, the controversial Barry Beach case and jury nullification.

Herbert repeatedly advocated for jury nullification, which is the principle that juries have the right to rule against the law if the law is “unjust or unfair.”

“Not all laws are fair and just,” Herbert said.

Herbert said juries have a “right and a duty not to enforce an unjust law.”

Rice disagreed, stating that Herbert’s advocacy of nullification seeks to overturn the fundamentals of our system of government.

“That is subversion of democracy,” Rice said.

Missoula is a particularly interesting venue for someone to claim that jury nullification is a subversion of democracy. Recall that back in 2010, Missoula, Montana was home of what was reported nationwide as a “jury mutiny” in which jurors effectively nullified a pot prosecution when so many of them said during voir dire that they would not convict defendant Touray Cornell for possession of a tiny amount of marijuana that it became impossible for a jury even to be seated. Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul prosecuted this case in spite of Missoula County Initiative #2 having been passed in 2006 by 55% of the voters of this county, to “make investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures, and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses Missoula County’s lowest law enforcement priority”. In this case, it was not the jury who was subverting democracy, but rather the county attorney’s office in pursuing the prosecution. Jurors, in refusing to convict, were acting to uphold the citizens’ initiative, passed by direct vote of the people.

Moreover, after 4 1/2 years of supposedly prioritizing marijuana enforcement at the bottom of its law enforcement priorities, Missoula’s county attorney announced in 2011 that he would once again bump these victimless offenses up in priority level. This change in policy was made possible by legislation initiated at the Missoula county attorney’s request specifically to allow government to overrule Missoula County Initiative 2, in which citizens democratically informed their supposed representatives that they wished marijuana priority to be law enforcement’s lowest priority:

Minor pot crimes to be enforced again, Missoula County attorney says

Marijuana once again is a priority for law enforcement in Missoula County.

So says Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who issued a reminder Friday about a new law that takes effect Saturday.

“We’ll be prosecuting the misdemeanor marijuana cases that we have not been doing for the last 4 1/2 years,” he said.

Under the new law, sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Berry of Roundup at Van Valkenburg’s request, “the power of initiative does not extend to the prioritization of the enforcement of any state law by a unit of local government.”

The law applies only to Missoula County, where in 2006, 55 percent of those voting approved Initiative 2 recommending that crimes related to marijuana be the lowest priority for law enforcement.

“Since no other community in Montana can adopt such an initiative and, I’m the person who sought the adoption of this law, it would be hypocritical on my part to continue to follow the lowest priority of enforcement policy in Missoula County,” Van Valkenburg’s announcement said.

The committee charged with oversight of the implementation of Initiative 2 disbanded thereafter in 2012 after issuing its final report for 2010 and 2011. In this report, the committee discussed the abject failure of the Initiative to be respected by government officials, and government’s successful efforts to subvert the democratically passed initiative:

During our several years of volunteer service, committee members regularly expressed disappointment that the initiative seemed to have no effect on reducing arrests of adults for marijuana in Missoula County.

With the exception of the County Attorney’s office, which only rarely handles misdemeanor marijuana cases, law enforcement officials declined to heed the voters’ recommendation as expressed in the initiative.

After failing to get out of committee in 2009, a new law (HB 391) was passed in 2011 which prevents Montana communities from enacting initiatives similar to Missoula County Initiative #2. The Missoula County Attorney testified in support of the bill in both sessions.

Jury nullification is a tool. It can be used in many ways, including to uphold the popular will of the people, and it should be used to do so when the popular will of the people is justice. This, of course, is not always the case, and when democracy leads government to violate human rights and perpetrate injustice, it is a proper function for independent jurors to check government abuses, no matter how popular, with their Not Guilty votes. But there is nothing inherently subversive of democracy about jury nullification. If we are truly concerned about the will of the people being subverted, we ought to focus our attention on the vastly more powerful government attorneys who prosecute criminal cases against the will of the people, and in essence, extrajudicially adjudicate them more than 90% of the time via plea bargains.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 24 Sep 2014

-Jury Nullification Educator Called for Jury Duty on Date of His Own Trial


Jury BoxWe’ve previously brought you news about the case of Luke Lamb, charged with felony unlawful communication with a juror over comments he made on his Facebook page, including providing a link to the FIJA website, to someone who requested information on jury nullification. The person who made the request happened to be a juror at the time.

Jury Nullification Comments, Link to FIJA on Facebook Prompt Jury Tampering Charge
Are Jury Tampering Charges in Lamb Case Politically Motivated?
Lamb Seeks Dismissal of Felony Charge for Jury Nullification Posting on Facebook
Jury Nullification Educator’s Case Continues

Lamb’s case is currently scheduled for 20 October, but now there is a new twist in this continuing saga—Lamb has been called for jury duty on the same day of this trial.

Greene County Politician Charged With Jury Tampering Called For Jury Duty

This week, the situation got even weirder: On Sunday, Lamb opened his mailbox to find a jury summons for October 20, the same day as his own trial for jury tampering.

Before you get all excited, there’s virtually no possibility that Lamb will be selected to sit on his own jury. According to Greene County Circuit Clerk Shirley Thornton, the fact that Lamb’s name was pulled is pure coincidence. She says the full list of possible jurors was sent from the administrative offices in Springfield to Greene County back in March, and Lamb’s name happened to wind up among 150 chosen for this particular trial date.

One thing we emphasize as we teach about jurors’ rights is that there is one person who is guaranteed not to be on the jury when you are on trial: YOU. So if you learn about jury nullification and never spread this information to anyone else, it is not going to do you any good. So far, though, this is about the closest I have seen any fully informed potential juror come to serving on his own jury.

Of course, it’s a given that he’s not going to be selected for his own jury, but it certainly adds yet another interesting twist to the already convoluted tale of this apparently malicious prosecution intended to shut him down in the midst of a political campaign. Lamb’s attorney explains:

“This entire case is absurd,” says Lamb’s attorney Patrick Watts. He’s ordered his client not to go on the record about the jury-tampering allegations.

While no law technically bars Lamb from campaigning, as his lawyer, Watts says he can’t allow Lamb speak publicly about his political beliefs, like alleged mismanagement of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office or the principle of jury nullification.

Watt doesn’t shy away from speculating that Greene County Sheriff McMillan is targeting Lamb for political retribution.

“The Sheriff is the one who led the investigation and wrote the reports,” he says. “What has the Sheriff done? He’s silenced his political opponent.”

“I would rather vote for Big Bird in the upcoming November election than a sheriff willing to seek imprisonment of his political opponent for expressing his public political ideas,” Watts adds. “Hopefully the citizens of Greene County take notice.”

More coverage of this story here:
From jury tampering to jury duty


Jury Nullification | 18 Sep 2014

-Candidate Suggests Jury Nullification of SAFE Act


IMG_1132cropThis is shared for educational and informational purposes only; FIJA National does not endorse or oppose any political candidate or party.

This Buffalo News report on candidate positions for New York’s 62nd State Senate District GOP primary shows that yet again jury nullification is making its way into mainstream news and political discourse. This time it is invoked with respect to New York’s SAFE Act, a law passed in 2013 that has been billed as the “toughest” gun control law in the United States and which created a vast array of new provisions criminalizing many administrative and other completely victimless violations.

Ortt and Arnold square off in 62nd District GOP Senate primary

While North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt places himself in the Republican mainstream, his opponent in the 62nd State Senate District GOP primary, Gia M. Arnold, comes at things from a more libertarian point of view.

Ortt and Arnold both say they’d like to repeal the SAFE Act, the state’s controversial 2013 gun control law, but only Arnold recommended jury nullification – basically refusing to accept the law – as a means to make the law a dead letter.

Forbes magazine estimated that as many as a million new “criminals” were created with signing of the SAFE Act. These were not criminals in the truest sense of the word—people who have harmed other people or their property. Rather, these would be peaceful whose behavior the day before the Act took effect was perfectly legal or a lower level offense, and whose behavior the day after the it took effect was suddenly illegally or redefined as a more serious offense for which harsher punishment was prescribed. For example, Dwayne Ferguson, an adamant proponent of the Act, ran afoul of the provisions he advocated for and with which he would likely have been better acquainted than most people. He has since become entangled in the legal system for alleged offenses which harmed nobody.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 18 Sep 2014

-Oregon’s Next Assignment: Learn About Jury Nullification


marijuana jury nullification thumbnailRhea Graham of Albany’s Canna Kitchen & Research writes in to the Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon about the legal red tape that comes along with so-called “legalization” schemes that involve taxing and regulating marijuana such as limits on the number of plants one may grow, where they may be located, and so on. Such schemes allow for plenty of opportunities for people trying to obey the law to be ensnared in the complex legal web created by the new “legalization” scheme and for government to continue to punish and imprison them. She gives readers an assignment to help remedy this problem.

Mailbag: Cannabis saves lives

Your next assignment is to learn about jury nullification. Jury nullification occurs when a jury acquits a defendant, even though they believe the defendant to be guilty. Members of the jury may disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case. Remember that!

Click through for her entire letter.


Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice | 17 Sep 2014

-Jury Takes 4 Minutes to Acquit Man Who Spent 10 Months in Jail


Jury BoxWatch the short video below to hear the story of Florida resident Ryan Wilson who was wrongly accused of being involved in a string of car and house fires. His jury took just four minutes to acquit him, but he had already been punished by being locked up for 10 months leading up to the trial. Wilson had apparently been charged and incarcerated on the word of his ex-girlfriend, who reportedly implicated him in the arsons in exchange for a $6000 reward. Prosecutors went forward with the case, even though her claims about how Wilson supposedly started the fires were reportedly inconsistent with the findings of the Fire Marshall who investigated the arson.

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Before being arrested, he had been injured on the job and was receiving workman’s compensation while he was unable to work due to a shoulder injury for which he had surgery. One of Wilson’s attorneys reports that once incarcerated, Wilson was not allowed to get post-surgical rehabilitation for his shoulder and suffered great pain even from just putting on a coat. In addition to damaging effects on his health, Wilson had nearly a year of his life stolen from him, months of time to recover and seek employment wasted as he languished behind bars, his belongings put out on the street by his apartment complex, and he is now homeless.

The one thing that wasn’t taken from him is many more years of his life. This is the fail-safe purpose of the independent jury: to sit as independent judges of the case at hand, whose livelihoods and careers do not depend on convictions, and whose primary function is not to punish people, but rather to uphold justice. In a legal environment fraught with vindictive prosecutors willing to push any case forward no matter how flimsy, the jury stands as the last bulwark against such prosecutorial abuse.


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 17 Sep 2014

-Jurors Beware: State Crime Labs Incentivized to Help Falsely Convict


Fence_of_Prison-BPOMany jurors are led to believe that evidence and results provided to them through state crime labs are objective data on which they can rely in determining the fate of the defendant. Earlier this year, we discussed the crime lab scandal at the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain in Massachusetts, in which a chemist who was socially wooed by prosecutors falsified lab results in favor of conviction for years, calling 40,000 convictions into question. Jurors should be aware that there are even stronger incentives for state crime labs across the country to help prosecutors secure convictions—their financial stability is tied to convictions. In this article Police State USA shares the results of a study by Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics.

State crime labs are incentivized to help produce false convictions

Like a puppy being rewarded for performing a trick, the government rewards crime labs for “verifying” that unknown substances are illegal narcotics; for finding a driver’s blood alcohol content to be over a certain arbitrary number; for determining that a package of drugs is over a certain arbitrary weight so a more draconian charge can be imposed.

The article takes this quote from the original study:

Funding crime labs through court-assessed fees creates another channel for bias to enter crime lab analyses. In jurisdictions with this practice the crime lab receives a sum of money for each conviction of a given type. Ray Wickenheiser says, ‘‘Collection of court costs is the only stable source of funding for the Acadiana Crime Lab. $10 is received for each guilty plea or verdict from each speeding ticket, and $50 from each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense.’’

In Broward County, Florida, ‘‘Monies deposited in the Trust Fund are principally court costs assessed upon conviction of driving or boating under the influence ($50) or selling, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance ($100).’’

Several state statutory schemes require defendants to pay crime laboratory fees upon conviction. North Carolina General Statutes require, ‘‘[f]or the services of’’ the state or local crime lab, that judges in criminal cases assess a $600 fee to be charged ‘‘upon conviction’’ and remitted to the law enforcement agency containing the lab whenever that lab ‘‘performed DNA analysis of the crime, tests of bodily fluids of the defendant for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, or analysis of any controlled substance possessed by the defendant or the defendant’s agent.’’

Illinois crime labs receive fees upon convictions for sex offenses, controlled substance offenses, and those involving driving under the influence. Mississippi crime labs require crime laboratory fees for various conviction types, including arson, aiding suicide, and driving while intoxicated.

The study further lists Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Kansas, Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin as states that connect crime lab fees to convictions, providing a strong incentive for those state crime labs that wish to stay in business to produce results that lead to the convictions they need to earn the fees that are their lifeblood.

This perverse incentive system is reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which provided that the commissioner who decided whether or not an alleged fugitive should be turned over to someone claiming to be his master “shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery”. By offering commissioners twice the fee for a returned slave as they would receive for freeing him, and allowing them to make this determination on no more “proof” than the sworn statement of the claimant, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was used to send many free blacks into slavery in addition to those people who the law unjustly defined as property.

Jurors should be aware of these incentives encouraging deceit and injustice against peaceful people. Remember, just as the judge isn’t an independent, objective third party in the courtroom, neither are state crime labs objective sources of evidence and analysis. Prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, and state crime lab employees are all beholden to the state for their paychecks and all of their livelihoods depend in various ways on keeping the courts and incarceration facilities teeming with a steady flow of people, whether they have harmed anyone or not. In court, jurors are the ultimate arbiters of the credibility and weight of the evidence and witnesses presented before them. They have no obligation to believe any evidence or analysis presented in court, and have every right to be skeptical about the independence and reliability of state crime labs.


Jury Nullification & Jury Rights Day | 16 Sep 2014

-Jury Rights Day: Jury Nullification Outreach in Camden, New Jersey


JRD_brightblue_square_438x441This Jury Rights Day report comes to us from Rev. Deborah Kalinowski, who singlehandedly hosted Jury Rights Day outreach in Camden, New Jersey in three shifts. We are particularly thrilled to see jury nullification outreach in Camden, which is home to one of the most notable cases of jury nullification in modern United States jurisprudence—the trial of the Camden 28. Supreme Court Justice William Brendan would refer to the Camden 28 as “one of the great trials of the 20th century.” How appropriate it is to celebrate Jury Rights Day in this community!

Thank you so much to Rev. Kalinowski for her efforts. We share her event report and photos from her outreach below. If you are interested in continuing jury nullification outreach in Camden or elsewhere in New Jersey, please join the New Jersey FIJA Facebook page or get in touch with us in the FIJA National office and we will help you connect with local activists.

Camden, NJ Jury Rights Day 2014 Outreach Report
By Rev. Deborah Kalinowski

I arrived at the Camden County Hall of Justice at 7:30 AM on Sept. 5, 2014 and set up in the common area (near some picnic tables) right in front of the building. I had a sign and plenty of FIJA literature to hand out. My husband, David, was nearby with his camera, ready to take some photos of the event. I began handing out brochures to folks who were on their way into the Hall of Justice. Two Camden police officers stopped by and spoke with my husband. They wanted to make sure he wasn’t photographing any of the court employees as they entered the building. He wasn’t, so all was well. The police had no problem with where we were set up to distribute literature. During the 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM shift, I gave out a total of 36 FIJA brochures to citizens, lawyers and court employees.

At 11:30 AM, I returned to the same spot in front of the Hall of Justice to distribute jury rights information to the lunchtime crowd. Between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM, I handed out 31 FIJA brochures. I noticed that more court employees and attorneys were coming over to me and asking for the literature during their lunch breaks.

My third and final shift at the Hall of Justice was from 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM. Fourteen more brochures found their way into the hands of eager court employees who were leaving at the end of their work day. One female court employee I spoke with told me that the courthouse employees do indeed get called for jury duty. This employee felt it was very important that she learn her rights as a juror.

During my three shifts, I distributed a total of 81 FIJA brochures at my Jury Rights Day event. That’s 81 new fully informed jurors added to the jury pool in Camden County, NJ! None of the 9 other people who had signed up for this event were able to make it, but I made sure the event went on anyway. This was my first time doing a courthouse jury rights outreach. It was a pleasant and positive experience because the folks who accepted literature from me were so receptive. I will definitely be doing this again in the near future!







Jury Nullification | 16 Sep 2014

-Jury Nullification Sure Sounds Like a Right


Jury BoxThere is no shortage of government officials and others opposed to the right of jury nullification who try to define it out of existence by revamping the rhetoric to call it a power or an ability instead of a right. In this letter to the editor in the Concord Monitor, Michael Hulser makes short work of this tactic to send this right down the memory hole.

Letter: Sure sounds like a right

Nicholas Cort wrote in your paper (Monitor letters, Sept. 10) that “juries in New Hampshire have neither the right nor the authority to find a defendant not guilty solely because they think the criminal law is unjust. It is true that they have the ability to do this.”

Merriam-Webster defines “ability” as a “physical, mental, or legal power to perform.”

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “power” as “the legal right or authorization to act or not act.”

Merriam-Webster defines “right” as “something to which one has a just claim.”

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “right” as “an interest or expectation guaranteed by law.”

Jury nullification (as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary): “A jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law either because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury’s sense of justice, morality, or fairness.”

If it walks like a right and quacks like a right, it’s a right.




Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 15 Sep 2014

-Marijuana Legalization in Colorado Gained Steam from Jury Nullification


marijuana jury nullification thumbnailIn this very short video, criminal defense attorney Chad Moody educates Oklahoma marijuana activists that “the marijuana movement writ large really began to gain steam when juries began nullifying in marijuana cases.” He explains what jury nullification is and how jurors can use it to uphold justice when the political system is not sufficiently responsive. “Don’t avoid jury duty,” Moody says. “Be grateful it has come your way!”


History of Jury Nullification & Jury Nullification & Myths and Misconceptions | 15 Sep 2014

-Jury Myths and Misconceptions: Can Jurors Be Punished for Jury Nullification Verdicts?


Jury BoxThis is part of a series of responses to myths, misconceptions, and misstatements about jury issues, including jury nullification and juror education outreach. There are no lawyers on FIJA’s staff or board of directors, and FIJA does not provide legal advice. These observations are provided for educational purposes and do not in any way constitute legal advice.

Last week I read an error-riddled article claiming that jury nullification doesn’t work. This gives me the opportunity simultaneously to correct the errors therein and also to dispel some more myths and misconceptions about jury nullification. The one I will tackle today is about whether or not jurors can be punished for exercising jury nullification. In the ill-informed article, the author claimed that jurors are liable to be punished by a judge for conscientiously acquitting, briefly name checking only the case of Laura Kriho in 1996 and presenting nothing else to substantiate the claim.

To briefly recap, Laura Kriho was the lone, holdout juror in the drug-related case of People v. Brannon in Colorado. She was initially charged with three counts of contempt of court after a fellow juror wrote a note to Gilpin County District Court Judge Kenneth Barnhill complaining about her deliberations and asking that she be replaced by an alternate juror. By this time, however, the judge had dismissed the alternates and instead declared a mistrial. Two months later, Kriho was initially charged for:
1. failing to volunteer information that was not directly asked for during voir dire,
2. informing fellow jurors about what she learned online regarding the potential punishment if they convicted the defendant, and
3. trying to persuade fellow jurors to nullify one of the charges against the defendant.

The author citing this case as evidence of jurors being punished for nullifying failed to mention that the second and third charges against her—including the one for discussing nullification—were withdrawn, with no punishment whatsoever. Further, had the author followed up on this case, he would have found that her conviction on the single remaining count was overturned in 1999 by an appeals court, as FIJA reported in its newsletter:


In the errant article, the author specifically said that jurors are “liable” to be punished for nullification, perhaps intending to suggest that it is likely that jurors would be so punished. Historically, that is simply not true. Kriho’s attorney, Paul Grant, point out that, “You have to go back to [the trial of William Penn in] 1670 to find a case in which the judge tried to punish jurors for returning a verdict he didn’t like.” Since the Kriho case, I am aware of only one other case in which a juror faced a serious possibility of being punished for her verdict—the 2005 prosecution of juror Carol Asher.

Asher was one of four jurors who maintained a Not Guilty vote in the prosecution of William Edward Clark, prosecuted in the state of Idaho over .15 of a gram of meth, the street value of which was in the neighborhood of $5. The evidence was found in a company vehicle which was not owned by Clark and which was used by many people. No evidence was ever presented which linked Clark to the drugs, Asher pointed out. In addition to the lack of evidence, Asher further had doubts about the legality of the search being performed without a warrant and without the defendant’s consent and mentioned this during deliberations. The jury foreman, she says, argued that the judge had already ruled that the search was legal and that the jurors could not consider that. According to Asher, she and the jury foreman had a different understanding about what their purpose was, with the foreman insisting they were to not to impede the state’s power and Asher arguing that their role was to uphold the law rather than to rubber stamp the prosecution.

In the course of deliberations, Asher mentioned that she answered to a higher authority than just the judge and was bound by her conscience to render a just verdict, to which the jury foreman reportedly responded that she could be charged with perjury. In the end the jury remained split and a mistrial resulted, upon which time the jury foreman reportedly tattled to the judge about Asher’s comments during deliberations. Despite three other jurors also agreeing the defendant was not guilty, Asher alone was subsequently prosecuted for felony perjury, putting her at risk for up to 14 years in prison. Asher’s case never made it to trial. Rather, it was hastily dismissed in early 2006 after an evidentiary hearing.

So what is the big picture here? In nearly two decades, there are just two jurors that I am aware of being prosecuted for their verdicts, with both prosecutions failing and courts upholding the long-standing tenet of our legal system that jurors cannot be punished for their verdicts. That means that still today jurors cannot be formally punished for their verdicts, and the risk of de facto punishment in the form of having to fight legal charges is extremely low, even for jurors who openly discuss jury nullification and matters of conscience. And that is just two in comparison to numerous cases of modern jury nullification (many of which I will detail in another installment in this series) of which I am aware, and many more that are likely taking place but are unknown due to the nature of the jury process.

Any miniscule legal risk associated with nullifying can further be mitigated simply by not discussing certain topics during deliberations. Jurors are not required to explain the reasons for their verdicts, and they can participate in deliberations by asking questions of their fellow jurors, actively listening to their responses, and if they feel the need to make some statements, they can make general comments that do not bring up the subject of nullification. Further, courts have also held that jurors cannot be dismissed for expressing doubt about a defendant’s guilt, so in cases where, for example, evidence is insufficient or entirely non-existent, witness testimony is questionable, and so on, expressing such doubt is a potential topic of deliberation.

Laura Kriho and Carol Asher are women of conscience and of courage, who stand as shining examples of the dramatic power of jury nullification, if we would only choose to use it. In each of the cases they heard, these women prevented an injustice from happening as they deliberated with just two words: Not Guilty. If they were bent on imposing injustice on these defendants, the prosecutors in these cases would have to go to the trouble and expense of starting over before another jury. It was not going to happen on their watches.

Kriho’s and Asher’s very prosecutions, and the speed with which Asher’s case was dismissed, speak to the intense fear and loathing government officials have, not only of conscientious acquittal itself, but of jurors’ right of conscience becoming common knowledge among the general public as it once was. If jury nullification were an ineffective tactic in reigning in government officials run amok trampling human rights and liberty, they would not be going to such great lengths to quash its mere mention, let alone use, in the legal system and to disparage it in the public discourse whenever it comes up.

Each and every one of you has the mettle and moral fiber necessary to claim this power as your own and to wield it for your highest purpose when serving on a jury: upholding justice, including upholding it above law when the two are in conflict. Do not be deterred by people invoking the chimera of punishment for acting in good conscience and doing what is right.

Colorado Contempt Case Highlights Attack on “Jury Nullification” Power
Kriho Wins on Appeal
Prosecution as Persecution: The Carol Asher Case
State of Idaho vs. Carol Jeanette Asher


Jury Nullification | 11 Sep 2014

-Numerous Calls for Jury Nullification for Shaneen Allen


IMG_1132cropFIJA does not advocate for or against any case in progress. This post is provide for informational and educational purposes only.

As we reported recently, Evan Nappen, the defense attorney in the prosecution of gun owner Shaneen Allen has publicly mentioned jury nullification as an option that jurors have in his client’s case. More and more voices are now calling for jury nullification as a just resolution to this malicious prosecution of a woman who has already served 40 days in jail for an administrative offense which harmed nobody.

The More Monmouth Musings blog writes about recent developments in two cases in New Jersey- those of Ray Rice and Shaneen Allen. Former NFL player Ray Rice was recently released by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after a video became public showing him knocking his wife unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator afterward. Atlantic County Prosecutor James McClain accepted him into a pre-trial diversion program, but this same prosecutor refuses pretrial diversion for Shaneen Allen, who neither harmed nor threatened anybody, but mistakenly violated New Jersey’s administrative rules when she errantly thought her Pennsylvania concealed carry permit was good there as it is in 30 other states.

Instead, McClain has chosen to make an example of this single mother of two, who has already spent 40 days in jail, offering her a plea bargain that would have put her behind bars for a minimum of three and a half years, and now pursuing a malicious prosecution against her that could lead to this peaceful and honest women being incarcerated for ten years. More Monmouth Musings calls for justice for Shaneen Allen, suggesting jury nullification as her best hope at trial.

Justice for Rice. Now let’s have some Justice for Shaneen Allen

Allen was pulled over for an unsafe lane change in Atlantic County last October. The single mother informed the police officer that she was in possession of a handgun that she was licensed to carry in Pennsylvania. She thought her Pennsylvania license to carry was good in New Jersey. It isn’t.

Allen was arrested for possession of the weapon and hollow point bullets. Why hollow point bullets? She told me that she bought them when she bought the gun because they were cheaper than the other bullets offered. Allen spent 40 days in jail before she made bail.

Like Rice, Allen has no previous criminal record. Yet McClain rejected her application for Pre-Trial Intervention. She faces ten years in State Prison if convicted. According to published reports, the plea deal offered would make her a felon and would also require jail time. Her best hope at trial is for jury nullification, as the facts are not in dispute.

Elsewhere, Downtrend.com also calls for jury nullification in this case:
Shaneen Allen Meets New Jersey Gun Laws, And Shaneen Is Losing

So – fighting back tears – Shaneen Allen plead “not guilty” and is going to trial in October.

Her last hope is for jury nullification.

If not, the life of this young phlebotomist will be destroyed. The lives of her two small children will be destroyed. And gun control groups will squeal with joy.

Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion has also recently spoken through his column in The Trentonian in support of Ms. Allen:
Utilize jury nullification to make America free again

I say Ms. Allen should “deter” the prosecutor from prosecuting cases like this by taking the case to trial and encouraging her jury to nullify the law. She should represent herself and speak directly to the “citizen members of her jury” in her opening and closing statements. She should explain to the jury how the NJ laws are wrong or being misapplied to her. She should encourage them to nullify the law she’s charged with violating simply by returning a “not guilty” verdict. A “not guilty verdict” would “deter” other prosecutors from persecuting others in similar circumstances.

Radley Balko of The Washington Post has also mentioned the possibility of conscientious acquittal for Ms. Allen:
Prosecution of Shaneen Allen moves forward

Yes, Allen broke the law. But she didn’t use her gun to harass, intimidate or threaten anyone. She didn’t shoot anyone. Her crime was driving across a state border. And even for that crime, she turned herself in. Now, barring an act of jury nullification, her life is about to be ruined. Her young children are about to be without parents for a critical part of their lives.

Andrew Kirell of Mediaite says of Ms. Allen’s prosecution, “This sounds like the perfect case for jury nullification.”

The No Lawyers—Only Guns and Money blog says that “Her case is a strong argument for jury nullification.”

While FIJA does not do any legal advocacy, we do work to bring general education campaigns fully informing everyone of jurors’ traditional, legal authority, including their right to conscientiously acquit when a just verdict requires it. Right now we are working with the New Jersey Second Amendment Society on a Fully Informed Jury Project. Currently this effort is taking place in Atlantic County, New Jersey every Monday morning, with additional locations possible in the future. Please click through if you would like to volunteer to help NJ2AS in its efforts distributing FIJA literature.


Function of Juries & History of Jury Nullification & Jury Nullification | 06 Sep 2014

-Jurors Wield Power to Judge the Law


Jury BoxThe Richmond County Daily Journal follows up its Jury Rights Day coverage with an informative and insightful editorial on jurors’ ability to conscientiously acquit via jury nullification.

OUR VIEW: Jurors wield power to judge the law

Jury duty.

It’s the setup to innumerable punchlines, a civic chore that some people dread and many try to avoid.

But jurors hold a special place in society, serving as a final check and balance on government power.

Consider the following scenario: An individual is charged with a victimless crime; a behavior our government formally and forcibly frowns upon, but one that has not injured any person or deprived anyone of property. The defendant faces a serious criminal charge that will result in many years behind bars.

By the letter of the law, the defendant may be guilty. But the jurors believe his or her behavior either shouldn’t be a crime or that the severe punishment for that crime is disproportionate.

Locking that person away may be the correct remedy under the law, but sometimes the law falls fall short of justice. So jurors can — and do — set statute aside and find the defendant not guilty.

Click through to read the entire editorial, and please share this around with family and friends!


Function of Juries & Jury Nullification & Jury Rights Day | 05 Sep 2014

-7 Films for Jury Rights Day


JRD_dkblue_square_446x444For more than 20 years since founding it in 1991, the Fully Informed Jury Association has celebrated Jury Rights Day as our signature event on September 5 each year. Jury Rights Day commemorates the conscientious acquittal of William Penn, who stood trial in 1670 for violating England’s Conventicle Act by publicly preaching the Quaker religion. Although ordered to do so by the judge in the case and despite being imprisoned without food and water, jurors in this case steadfastly refused to convict Penn. A higher court later ruled with regard to this case that jurors could not be punished for their verdict.

This landmark case firmly grounded in English common law rights that were carried overseas by the colonists, including freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly, as well as the fundamental right of jurors to render a general verdict based on conscience, including setting aside the law when a just verdict requires it. This is most commonly known as jury nullification, and it is the right of all jurors in every court in our country to exercise it to uphold justice still today.

Our first Jury Rights Day was marked by activists across the country spending an hour outside their local courthouses distributing FIJA’s educational literature and answering questions to fully inform as many people as possible. This year we have more than 30 events taking place nationwide to help ensure that everyone has access to fully informed jurors when they need them. If you are not able to make it out to one of these outreach events, or perhaps after you attend one, why not invite a few friends over to celebrate with a movie night? Here are seven films that would be timely for a Jury Rights Day screening, wrapping up with the one that I will be watching this Jury Rights Day.

The Classics
Courageous Mr. Penn/Penn of Pennsylvania
Originally titled Penn of Pennsylvania, this 1940s era black-and-white historical drama starring Clifford Evans and Deborah Kerr depicts the life of William Penn through the founding of the colony of Pennsylvania, including his famous 1670 trial, which is commemorated by Jury Rights Day. It is based on C.E. Vulliamy’s biography of Penn and reportedly was produced as a piece of British propaganda along with a series of other historical dramas to persuade the United States to join Britain in World War II.

I would like to be able to recommend this film wholeheartedly as the quintessential Jury Rights Day flick. But while it is adequate in covering the main points of Penn’s life, especially those related to Jury Rights Day, it falls rather short of what it could be, with characters who seem more like caricatures and a plot that plods along more as if churning out a stream of facts than telling a story. Nonetheless, it is rated 6.2 out of 10 by 65 IMDB users. It’s not unwatchable, and its plot is most apt for Jury Rights Day. If you don’t know the story of William Penn, it will certainly be informative.

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

Watch the first ten minutes of the film:

Twelve Angry Men
Nominated for 3 Academy Awards, the classic 1957 film Twelve Angry Men is probably the most well known jury-related film. It consistently ranks on lists of the top films of all time. Lone holdout Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda, refuses to be rushed into rubber-stamping the prosecution of the defendant whose very life rests in the jury’s hands.

This film has some great lessons for potential jurors, including the intensity of the psychology and interpersonal dynamics during deliberations, the need to be skeptical of the prosecution’s case, the gravity of what is at stake for the defendant as compared to the minor inconveniences for jurors, and so on. The story told in this film is an excellent illustration of the message on FIJA’s home page that:
“The primary function of the independent juror is not, as many think, to dispense punishment to fellow citizens accused of breaking various laws, but rather to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical abuses of power by government.”

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and YouTube.

View the trailer:

The Ox-Bow Incident
Make it a Henry Fonda double feature by pairing Twelve Angry Men with the Academy Award-nominated 1943 western The Ox-Bow Incident, a film adaptation of the Walter Van Tilberg Clark novel of the same name. There is no jury in this movie; rather, it is a film about just the opposite situation—the sort of “justice” that is delivered at the hands of an emotionally inflamed mob without the conscientious consideration of a jury. It makes a particularly stunning counterpoint shown back to back with Twelve Angry Men.

The film winds up with a stirring and timeless monologue on the law and conscience delivered by Henry Fonda. It is itself worth the price of admission and reads in part:
“Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It’s everything people have ever found out about justice and what’s right and wrong. It’s the very conscience of humanity.”

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

View the trailer:

The Modern Dramas
A Time to Kill
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sandra Bullock, this film adaptation of John Grisham’s first novel tells of the trial of a black man in Mississippi accused of murdering two white men who brutally raped and tried to kill his 10-year-old daughter. While some attempt is made by the defense to argue that the defendant was temporarily insane when he killed these men, it is presented more as something with which to give the jury an out rather than a defense that anyone actually believes. Rather, this is the story of a potential jury nullification case.

Usually when people think of jury nullification, they tend to envision the most obvious sorts of cases for conscientious acquittal—victimless offenses in which the state is trying to punish people who may have offended others’ sensibilities through their actions but who have not actually harmed anyone else or their property. In A Time to Kill, we are challenged to consider one of the tougher types of jury nullification cases in which the jury is asked to forgive someone who committed a real crime, but one with extenuating circumstances that might make strictly enforcing the law unjust.

Such cases are less common in real life, but are not unheard of. A few years ago, a jury acquitted a man who openly admitted to punching an elderly priest. In that case, the defendant said that he had only intended to confront the priest about sexual abuse he had inflicted on the man in his childhood, but things got heated and he lost control. A Time to Kill can open a conversation about the delicate balance between justice and mercy that jurors are asked to strike in unusual cases like these.

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.

View the trailer:

American Violet
American Violet is a 2009 dramatization of the real life story of Regina Kelly, winner of the ACLU’s Roger N. Baldwin Award for Liberty and one of scores of people arrested and charged in mass sweeps of poor neighborhoods, largely populated by people of color, in the town of Hearne, Texas. Falsely accused of being involved in drug trade, protagonist Dee Roberts is pressured to take a plea bargain even though she has done nothing wrong. Instead, she risks her freedom and her family and opts to fight back against the malicious and racist prosecutor’s office with the help of the ACLU not only in criminal court, but civil court as well.

This film is not so much about jury rights as it is a way to sensitize us all before we serve as jurors to the high pressure tactics used by prosecutors to get convictions, even against innocent people. When we sit on a criminal jury, we should have some idea of the dramatic odds against the defendant even being in the same room with us to begin with. More than 90% of criminal cases are settled without a jury, often with defendants pressured into plea bargains with threats ranging from more and more charges being piled up until they crack to the possibility of losing their kids forever. If they lose at trial, defendants may see prosecutors requesting particularly harsh penalties based in part on their assertion of their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to trial by jury, with the rationale that asking for a jury trial is evidence that they are not sufficiently remorseful about their offense to deserve mercy.

Jurors are often unhappy to be stuck in court being treated as herd animals and getting a pittance in compensation. Perhaps they were going on vacation this weekend. Or they don’t want to miss anymore work and have to catch up on it. Maybe there is a football game they want to get out of court in time to see. They may be in a hurry to do whatever it takes just to end the trial one way or another because it is an inconvenience. But I assure you that practically any inconvenience we face as jurors is NOTHING in comparison to the severe damage we can inflict in the lives of not only the defendant, but also the defendant’s loved ones and community if we do not give due consideration to our role in judging the facts of a case as well as the fairness of the law as it is applied in the case before us. American Violet helps illuminate just what is at stake.

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.

View the trailer:

The Documentaries
Bidder 70
In 2008 Tim DeChristopher disrupted a highly disputed Bureau of Land Management auction open only to certain corporate bidders for oil and gas leases, which the federal government itself would later invalidate as unlawful, of 116 parcels of public land in Utah’s red rock country. Outside the building where the auction was held, he felt that his efforts to stop it were insufficient so he ventured inside to see what more he could do. There he was invited to register as bidder 70 in the auction and won several parcels before the auction was shut down. Although it would later be invalidated as an illegal auction, DeChristopher would nonetheless be indicted for his conscientious act of civil disobedience. He pleaded Not Guilty to two victimless felony counts for violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making false statements, choosing to take his case before a jury in hopes that they would consult their consciences and acquit him.

The term “kangaroo court” would not be too strong for this trial. The defense was:
-forbidden from arguing a necessity defense that DeChristopher was faced with choosing between two evils and that his actions resulted in the lesser of the two to avoid imminent harm where no legal alternative was available,
-forbidden from informing the jury that the lease auction itself was deemed unlawful,
-forbidden from informing the jury that DeChristopher had raised sufficient funds for an initial payment to the BLM (which the BLM refused to accept),
-forbidden from presenting a case to the jury that DeChristopher’s motives were grounded in his moral convictions, and
-forbidden from informing the jury about other cases in which bidders did not pay for pay for oil leases they won but were not prosecuted the way DeChristopher was selectively prosecuted.

Bidder 70 includes quite a bit of material explaining how and why the role of the independent jury was so shamelessly circumvented by the prosecutor and judge. Included on the DVD but not in any of the streaming versions I found is a post-theatrical opening question and answer session with DeChristopher. This is worth looking up on YouTube as DeChristopher gets into great detail on why the prosecutor was desperate to exclude jurors who might have been influenced by FIJA literature that was being distributed outside the courthouse. In Q&A DeChristopher makes the point that:
“I saw this huge power of conscience because at the same time I saw that any atrocity would be possible if people let go of their conscience, I also saw the U.S. attorney freaking out about this notion. He was representing the United States of America. He had the entire power of the United States behind him. That’s the power he represented, and he felt vulnerable to the power of citizens using their conscience. He felt like citizens exercising their conscience, when exercising their moral duties, that could undermine all the power that he represented. And so it was like these two extremes hinging on the power of conscience—that when people let go of their own moral agency, any atrocity was possible, but when people held onto their moral agency and had faith in the power of their conscience, that there was no power and no institution which couldn’t be affected by that.”
Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sy-2WAvAHo

I often come across people who seem to want to have the courage to nullify unjust prosecutions, but who seem unwilling to do it without the government’s clear stamp of approval on jurors refusing to enforce the government’s own laws. To quote one of my favorite science fiction outlaws, Malcolm Reynolds, “That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.” There is just no incentive for government to give its subjects permission to disobey or refuse to enforce its laws. And that is why we have juries. They are to be an independent body that is not merely an agent of government but an outside arbiter of facts and law. There are many valuable words of wisdom in both the movie and the additional Q&A session about the need for jurors to act from conscience rather than abandoning their moral compass and mindlessly doing the bidding of the government.

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and YouTube.

View the trailer:

After you see the film, come back and check out the Q&A session post-NYC theatrical opening:

The Camden 28
“What do you do when a child’s on fire? We saw children on fire. What do you do when a child’s on fire in a war that was a mistake? What do you do? Like write a letter?” With these questions, Father Michael Doyle opens the documentary entitled The Camden 28. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan called this trial “one of the great trials of the 20th Century.” But have you heard of the 1973 trial of the Camden 28 Vietnam War protesters who broke into a draft office to destroy files of those being called up to fight in Vietnam? Most people have never heard of this remarkable case that began with every defendant openly affirming to their jury that they committed the acts of which they were accused and ended in mass acquittals on all charges against them.

This Anthony Giacchino film draws on historical documentation as well as modern day interviews of some of those involved in the Camden 28 trial to tell the story of the first anti-war trial of the Vietnam era to result in jury nullifications. Giacchino skillfully weaves together the intricate threads of this story from the planning and execution of this peace action, to its connections to other peace actions of the era such as the infamous Media, Pennsylvania burglary that exposed the FBI’s COINTELPRO agenda, to the mysterious informant who played a dramatic and surprising role in both their capture and the case in court.

The trial of the Camden 28 was remarkable not only in the overwhelming message sent by the jury through its Not Guilty verdicts, but also in the wide latitude allowed by the judge to tell the story as the jury needed to hear it in order to come to their verdicts. It is clear from motions in limine in modern day Plowshares trials of anti-war activists that prosecutors have studied the Camden 28 trial and know what information they must prevent the jury from having access to in order to secure convictions in these types of cases.

The Camden 28 is the film that I will be watching this Jury Rights Day. It is nothing short of a revelation of how our jury system was meant to work, and of how a healthy jury system operates. If you had told me a decade ago that I would one day be passionate about jury rights, I’d have thought you were off your rocker. But to see in action the extraordinary power of a few ordinary people to protect human rights and human life, to see their power to help steer the course of history away from a trajectory of great injustice, to know that we once had this and could again practically overnight if we would each claim our right of conscience and exercise it—that is what makes me passionate about juries, and I hope that it does you as well.

Available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.



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