Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

Function of Juries & Sixth Amendment | 08 Oct 2014

-Memo to Mississippi and New York: Trial by Jury Is NOT Optional!


Fence_of_Prison-BPOMuch public concern has been expressed over the increasingly broader indefinite detention provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Nonetheless, indefinite detention is often considered a mostly hypothetical abuse, which is for now confined to far off places like Guantanamo and for non-U.S. citizens like the 149 remaining Guantanamo prisoners, 79 of whom are cleared for release. To some people, such abuses seem remote.

But in recent days, indefinite detention perpetrated by abusive state governments right here in the United States has come to prominence in public discourse. Consider the following news stories. The first documents the case of a 16-year-old high school student, who was jailed for nearly three years without trial, nearly 800 days of which he spent in the brutal environment of solitary confinement, and who was subsequently bullied by the judge to try and coerce a plea deal for time served. When he turned it down because he maintained his innocence, the case against him was dismissed.

Accused of Stealing a Backpack, High School Student Jailed for Nearly Three Years Without Trial

We look at the incredible story of how a 16-year-old high school sophomore from the Bronx ended up spending nearly three years locked up at the Rikers jail in New York City after he says he was falsely accused of stealing a backpack. Kalief Browder never pleaded guilty and was never convicted. Browder maintained his innocence and requested a trial, but was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed. Near the end of his time in jail, the judge offered to sentence him to time served if he entered a guilty plea, and warned him he could face 15 years in prison if he was convicted. But Browder still refused to accept the deal, and was only released when the case was dismissed. During this time, Browder spent nearly 800 days in solitary confinement, a juvenile imprisonment practice that the New York Department of Corrections has now banned.

The second story regards a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Mississippi, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center against Scott County Mississippi, which has been found to be holding people for as long as a year without legal counsel or being charged, let alone a trial by jury. Such detention disproportionately impacts lower income citizens who cannot afford bail and are therefore consigned to a cage, their life being destroyed in their absence, with no idea how long they will be punished without trial.
ACLU Sues Scott County on Behalf of Mississippians Jailed Indefinitely Without Lawyer or Indictment

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Mississippi, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action suit late yesterday against the Scott County (Mississippi) sheriff, district attorney, and judges after learning that the Scott County Detention Center has held people for as long as a year without appointing counsel and without indicting them. The county’s practices violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments’ rights to counsel, to a speedy trial, and to a fair bail hearing.

“This is indefinite detention, pure and simple. Scott County jail routinely holds people without giving them a lawyer and without formally charging them for months, with no end in sight. For those waiting for indictment, the county has created its own Constitution-free zone,” said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “These prisoners’ cases are frozen, their lives outside the jail are disintegrating, and they haven’t even been charged with a crime. The county has tossed these people into a legal black hole.”

In addition to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is incorporated to the states, Article I, Section 2 of the New York state constitution and Article III, Section 26 of the Mississippi state constitution guarantee the right to trial by jury. Additionally, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 6 of the New York state constitution and Article III, Section 14 of the Mississippi state constitution purport to guarantee that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property” without due process of law. That supposed guarantee is made in almost exactly the same words in all three documents.

And lest one think that New York has some technical wiggle room under the notion that juveniles, one of the most vulnerable demographics, are not guaranteed trial by jury, please note that New York is one of two states who automatically treat teens as adults instead of juveniles upon reaching the age of 16.

Yet for some mysterious reason, governments in New York and Mississippi seem to be under the impression that following the highest laws of the land that were codified supposedly to protect us all from their abuses is optional. Does the memo need to be reissued to them that trial by jury is NOT OPTIONAL?