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Jurors Doing Justice & Jury Nullification | 17 Mar 2014

-Jury Nullification and the Saint Patrick’s Day Four

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Jury BoxOn March 17, 2003, the United States was on the brink of war with Iraq, using as an excuse the ominous specter of weapons of mass destruction that even the government would later admit did not exist. Believing they had exhausted all other remedies working within the system to prevent the mass destruction and atrocities that are part and parcel of war, four American peace activists of Irish Catholic heritage, who were members of the Ithaca Catholic Worker community, went into a military recruiting center to perform non-violent, direct action to raise awareness against the war. These four people were Daniel Burns, Peter DeMott, and sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, daughters of John Grady who had been a member of the Camden 28, who were prosecuted for their direct action against the Vietnam War and all found Not Guilty.

Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law and advisor to the four, described the peace action in a Democracy Now interview about halfway through the second trial:

Two of the defendants, Peter De Mott, and Daniel Burns have given their direct testimony. They have admitted from the beginning that they went into the recruiting center, that they knelt down, that they read a very powerful statement, that they poured their blood around the vestibule of the recruiting center, including on the American flag, and they’ve admitted that ever since they did it. They have been proud of that. They knelt and prayed. They were taken away and arrested.

Daniel Burns explained why they took this action in the recruiting center:

In that room, and in all that literature, there’s no mention of blood. There’s no mention of killing or being killed or wounded. The recruiters, what they do is come into your high schools… They are preying on our children, and so, there’s no mention of the horrors that they are committing, and they do it with a smiling face. And in that room were cutouts of beautiful people in uniform, smiling, and we poured blood on them because that’s what they’re sending them to do. They’re sending them to go get killed or be killed and all these other horrors that go along with war, which we knew were going to happen… Going in there, we went and poured our blood, we knelt down, and we waited for the police. And then we were in jail for about a week, and then ‘Shock and Awe’ happened the next day.

Burns sums up the two trials:

We had a Darth Vader-type district attorney in Ithaca in Tompkins County, and we were in little Lansing Township which is mostly Republican. And he said to us—we were charged with a misdemeanor, “You plead Guilty to a misdemeanor, or we’re going to indict you on a felony and bring you to state court.” And so without even a flinch, of course we pleaded Not Guilty. And so we had a trial in state court with 12 jurors instead of 6 jurors in the town of Lansing, which had been overwhelmingly Republican. We would have gotten a conviction right away. But, again, the Republican DA tries to snuff out our voices and they get louder, and we go to a larger courtroom, and we were able to raise awareness against the war in that way…

So anyway, we had a trial there and the DA thought it was a no brainer. The assistant DA prosecuted it, and they could not get a conviction. 9 to 3 to acquit. 9 jurors out of the 12 said, “No, we’re not going to convict.” And so the DA, the macho man that he is (or was, unfortunately), drops charges only after the federal government has agreed to pick it up…

So the feds, they bring us to Binghampton. They hit us with a conspiracy charge. We’re facing 6 years just on the conspiracy charge alone. We were also charged with lesser charges, which were misdemeanor, which was damage to government property and trespass. We were found innocent—they could not get a conviction on the conspiracy charge. It was the first conspiracy charge since the Vietnam War.

So we beat the conspiracy charge. The media takes it, “Oh, they were found Guilty!” But they don’t mention it was of a misdemeanor.

The four were ultimately convicted of the lesser charges and each spent 4-8 months in prison. They presented various arguments in their defense, including the defense of necessity, arguing that because their actions were taken in order to prevent a greater harm, the lesser harm they caused was not illegal. Because defendants usually have to offer some sort of opening for jurors to cling to when voting Not Guilty, it is often difficult or impossible to know if a particular case involved jury nullification. Whether or not the jurors in these cases accepted these arguments is unknown, but it is possible that straightforward jury nullification played a role in either or both of these cases. If the necessity of defense was accepted, that can still be viewed as a permutation of jury nullification and certainly as a verdict from conscience.

Daniel Burns, Peter DeMott, and Teresa Grady tell the story in detail in the videos below. Check back throughout the week as we bring you more commentary on this anniversary in jury history.

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