Did you receive a copy of FIJA's educational Jury Rights Calendar 2019? As mentioned in our calendar mailing, we cannot fit the huge wealth of information hinted at by the entries on the calendar into this outreach item. That's why we are supplementing it with entries on this page throughout the year! Check back here each month to learn more about the key milestones noted on various dates of the calendar!
February 5—Trial of the Camden 28 Began
The Camden 28 were a group of peace activists who took action in opposition to the Vietnam War by breaking into a draft board office in New Jersey where they destroyed some and attempted to remove other draft files. Their criminal trial by jury for their actions began on this date in 1973. By the end of the trial, 17 of the defendants had been severed from the trial, but the others had been acquitted by their jury on all of the charges against them despite admitting directly to jurors that they had committed all the acts of which they were accused. Actions were subsequently taken to drop charges against the defendants severed from the trial. One of the jurors later reported that their decision was based in part on the government's involvement in perpetrating the crime via an informant used as an agent provocateur, and in part on jurors' sympathy to the defendants' stand against the war.
February 7—Georgia v. Brailsford (1794)
Although jurors did not choose to conscientiously acquit in the case of Georgia v. Brailsford (1794), it is notable in jury rights history not only as one of the few jury trials held in the Supreme Court of the United States, but also for the instruction issued by first chief justice John Jay to the jury fully informing them of their right to judge the law as well as the facts in the case.
February 7—NATO 3 acquitted
Brian Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Vince Betterly were arrested days before a May 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, Illinois. Unbeknownst to them, undercover agents had infiltrated an activist group prior to the summit through which they met the defendants and prodded them into illegal activity. They were subsequently arrested and accused of assembling 4 Molotov cocktails with the intent of attacking the summit. Recordings by undercover police officers were played during the trial. These recordings revealed that the plot had been instigated and orchestrated by the undercover officers themselves. It was these government agents who had raised the idea of making Molotov cocktails, were instrumental in their construction, and then conveniently found them once they had been assembled. They had targetted, provoked, led, and materially assisted young people who otherwise would have not been able to commit these offenses on their own. For the first time, prosecutors charged the defendants under the state's terrorism law as well as with other lesser charges. On this date in 2014, the men, dubbed the "NATO 3", were acquitted of the highest level charges including material support for terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, with the jury convicting them only on the less serious counts of arson and “mob action”.
February 15—Rescue of Shadrach Minkins
Shadrach Minkins was an African-American who escaped from slavery in Virginia in 1850 and made his way to Boston where he was employed as a waiter at Taft's Cornhill Coffee House. U.S. Marshals posing as customers arrested him on this date in 1851 with the intent of returning him to slavery in Virginia. While Minkins was in government custody during a hearing at the Boston federal courthouse, members of the Boston Vigilance Committee rushed the courtroom and took Minkins by force. He was briefly hidden in various locations in Boston before ultimately escaping to freedom in Canada. Several men accused of aiding in his rescue and escape were subsequently prosecuted. All of these trials ended in acquittals or mistrials thanks to fellow citizens serving on the jury who refused to enforce the recently enacted Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
February 23—Jonathan Ryan Acquitted of Weapons Charge for a Firearm in His Glove Box
In February 2010, Florida landscaper Jonathan Ryan was in New York City to help his girlfriend move back to Florida. He was pulled over for a traffic violation of turning right on a red light, which is illegal in the city. During the traffic stop, it came to light that Ryan had a handgun in his glove box that he'd forgotten he'd stored there years prior to his trip to New York. Prosecutors criminally charged Ryan, putting him at risk for up to 3 1/2 years in prison for this victimless mistake. Fortunately for Ryan, who exercised his right to trial by jury, his jurors were more forgiving and found him not guilty after deliberating for just 30 minutes.
January 11—Aaron Swartz
Bullied by prosecutors with the threat of decades in prison for exercising his right to trial by jury, Swartz tragically took his life on this day in 2013. Some think that a realistic shot at a fully informed jury could have changed his mind.
January 13—Melroy Cort
On this date in 2009, veteran Marine Corporal Melroy Cort likely benefitted from partial jury nullification in his trial for victimless weapons-related offenses
January 16—Elijah Woody
On this date in 2015, Detroit open-carry activist Elijah Woody was found not guilty of so-called illegal concealed carry after being arrested by officers who claimed his puffy jacket, which was tucked behind the Glock he was carrying on his hip, flopped over it thereby obscuring its view and illegally concealing it.
January 19—Glasser v. United States (1942)
In its 1942 decision in Glasser v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that the general exclusion of women from the jury pool violated the impartial jury clause of the Sixth Amendment.
January 19—Birth of Lysander Spooner
On this day in 1808, Lysander Spooner was born in Athol, Massachusetts. Spooner would go on to make his mark in many fields. To juror rights educators, he is particularly well-known as an abolitionist, the author of the seminal work on jurors' right of conscientious acquittal entitled "An Essay on the Trial by Jury" (1852) and "Vices Are Not Crimes" (1875).
January 21—Sparf v. United States (1895)
In its 1895 decision in Sparf and Hansen v. United States (sometimes referred to simply as Sparf v. United States), the United States Supreme Court ruled that "by a general verdict, a jury of necessity determines both law and fact as compounded in the issue submitted to them in the particular case" but that "if there be no evidence upon which the jury can properly find the defendant guilty of an offense included in or less than the one charged, it is not error to instruct them that they cannot return a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, or of any offense less than the one charged". In summary, while this case did not change the jury's ability to conscientiously acquit, it made it easier for the government to misinform them regarding their ability to do so.
January 21—Taylor v. Louisiana (1975)
In its 1975 decision in Taylor v. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court overturned Louisiana's jury selection system that involved systematic exclusion of women from jury panels by requiring them to previously filed a written declaration of their desire to be subject to jury service. Among other things, the Court ruled that excluding (in this case) 53% of citizens eligible for jury service violates the "requirement that a petit jury be selected from a representative cross-section of the community, which is fundamental to the jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment".
January 28—Loren Swift
On this date in 2009, Vietnam veteran Loren Swift was acquitted by his rural Illinois jury after just two hours of deliberations. Swift uses marijuana to relieve pain and post-traumatic stress. He had been charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and faced a mandatory minimum of six years incarceration after police found 25 pounds of marijuana and 50 pounds of marijuana plants in his home.