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Function of Juries | 17 Oct 2012

Occupy Portland Wins Right to [Some] Jury Trials


We recently brought you news of an Oregon Appeals Court ruling regarding denial of a jury trial in the case of Tawanna Fuller. This ruling called into question legal maneuvering used by government officials to visibly brand accused persons as criminals in public while reducing their charges to mere violations which could be denied jury trials once out of sight behind courthouse doors.

Such maneuvering was being used in dozens of Occupy Portland cases. When the ruling was issued, Occupy Portland cases scheduled for bench trials were halted while application of the ruling to the various cases was sorted out. According to The Portland Mercury, it appears that the ruling will apply to some, but not all of the Occupy Portland cases:

Occupy Portland Wins Right to Jury Trials—Will Dismissals Follow?

After more than eight months of fighting—and in what amounts to a huge, and hugely complicated, legal victory—many Occupy Portland defendants have finally won the right to jury trials.

This morning in the Multnomah County Courthouse, Judge Cheryl Albrecht ruled that a recent appellate court decision does indeed apply to some, but not all, Occupy cases. The decision is this: Occupiers who were originally arrested on criminal trespass charges that were later reduced to violations can now get both state-paid legal counsel and trials in front of a jury, not just a judge.

We applaud the wider access to jury trials that this ruling affords criminal defendants, but unfortunately, political gamesmanship continues to be used to deny some defendants in Oregon those rights which are supposedly guaranteed to them by the highest laws of the land. “The laws have become mere toys in the hands of politicians and government agents,” notes FIJA Director Iloilo Jones.

The Portland Mercury article continues:

Of course, not all occupiers will get jury trials. Albrecht’s decision does not apply to defendants originally arrested on charges—like interfering with a police officer—that also were reduced to violations. These cases will proceed without jury trials. (At one point, these cases were going to get trials under a previous ruling. However the DA responded to that ruling by dropping most of these charges for violations that didn’t qualify for juries or legal counsel. And now, occupiers with these charges don’t fall under the new appellate court ruling). That means cases like the one against Liz Nichols—the infamously pepper-sprayed occupier—won’t change.

The rights of defendants in Oregon in criminal cases couldn’t be clearer. Both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Oregon guarantee trial by jury to Oregon defendants IN ALL CRIMINAL CASES.

Per Amendment VI of the United States Constitution:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Per Article I, Section 11 of the Constitution of Oregon:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to public trial by an impartial jury in the county in which the offense shall have been committed; to be heard by himself and counsel; to demand the nature and cause of the accusation against him, and to have a copy thereof; to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; provided, however, that any accused person, in other than capital cases, and with the consent of the trial judge, may elect to waive trial by jury and consent to be tried by the judge of the court alone, such election to be in writing; provided, however, that in the circuit court ten members of the jury may render a verdict of guilty or not guilty, save and except a verdict of guilty of first degree murder, which shall be found only by a unanimous verdict, and not otherwise; provided further, that the existing laws and constitutional provisions relative to criminal prosecutions shall be continued and remain in effect as to all prosecutions for crimes committed before the taking effect of this amendment.

Government officials’ selective recognition and defense of defendants’ rights blatantly violates the laws under which the courts are supposed to operate. If government agents cannot even be trusted to abide by the laws which supposedly constrain them, they certainly cannot be trusted to administer and enforce the law justly against criminal defendants. This is why we must continue to demand that defendants have access to trials by jury and why we seek to educate all people about the role of independent jurors in delivering justice, not only by determining the facts in the case at hand, but also by exercising their traditional, legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt or unjustly applied laws.