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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 03 Aug 2011

The Sentence: A Take on the DeChristopher Case

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An editorial on the recent sentencing in the Tim DeChristopher case and ways the system was manipulated to tilt the playing field in favor of the prosecution:

The Sentence: A Take on the DeChristopher Case

I’m not suggesting that Benson wears jackboots, but the treatment DeChristopher got wasn’t much better than what he’d have received in a Third Reich tribunal. He was prevented from testifying—to any significant degree, anyway—that his motivation was to halt crimes against the environment, to thwart a land grab in which public-land leases were being sold at a fraction of their value (there are no “minimum bids,” and a good-old-boy system may exist among drillers), that he was prevented from later buying the properties he’d won, or that the Interior Department later invalidated most of the leases because environmental-impact studies had not been done and some parcels were within eyeshot of prized national parks.

Another example of unfairness was that the prosecution’s key witnesses said he’d been sent and read a regular flow of press clippings about DeChristopher and his group Peaceful Uprising. The content of those items, however, was never made available to the jury.

I attended the July 26 sentencing hearing expecting more of the same. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that DeChristopher and his attorneys were finally allowed to say what they would have been able to present at trial if we didn’t live in an age when judges can pre-censor exactly what a jury hears and deprive it of material facts needed to come to a fair verdict. The jurors’ historical options should have included the power to void the charges altogether due to the unfairness of the law itself … a basic principle of Common Law called jury nullification.

I won’t go into the details of DeChristopher’s eloquent address, but I thought it had fallen on completely deaf ears since Benson’s remarks that followed were a sermon on the necessity for all citizens to bend to the rule of law and operate only within the system to work for change.

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