LOS ANGELES – On June 3rd, a dozen citizens congregated at Los Angeles City Hall with banners, flyers, and a potluck picnic lunch for a First Amendment Rally and Juror Rights Education Action. Organized by members of Occupy Los Angeles, the event invitation called for a meeting in “Solidarity Park,” as the lawn of City Hall was christened in solidarity with the Occupy Wall St.’s “Liberty Plaza.” Livestreamers @PMBeers and @FreemanSullivan provided live streaming video from the event to followers around the world.
When asked what “jury nullification" means, one woman responded, “Juries can not be punished for their verdicts. When you sit on a jury, you have the right to vote according to your conscience and to judge the law being applied to the case.”
“Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury acquits a defendant, even though the members of the jury believe the defendant to be guilty of the charges,” explains Wikipedia. “This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case.”
Jury nullification is a citizen’s last weapon against a corrupt system with unjust laws. “If a pattern of acquittals develops, in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offence, this can have the de facto effect of invalidating the statute. A pattern of jury nullification may indicate public opposition to an unwanted legislative enactment.”
At Tuesday’s rally, after a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, and juice, the team unfurled banners in preparation for a march to the local courthouse. Volunteers stood on the corner of 1st & Main with banners reading “Google ‘Jury Nullification,'” “No Victim? No Crime!” and “Jurors Have All the Power.”
“Smart Jurors Are Well Hung” read one play on words carried by two men marching down Main St. Another wide banner carried by two people and a dog said, “Jurors have ALL the POWER! To Judge the Laws!”
As the march traveled, a woman read a public service announcement about this history of jury nullification: “Did you know that before the Civil War, juries often refused to convict people for helping slaves escape, even though they had clearly broken the Fugitive Slave Laws? And did you know that even before that, most northern states had outlawed slavery as a result of jury verdicts? Most important, did you know that jurors today have the same power to reject bad law as they had back then?
“More information about a juror’s right to say ‘No!’ to bad law is available from the Fully Informed Jury Association online at FIJA.org.”
On the Spring St. side of City Hall, the march paused for a speak-out on the sidewalk. “Did you ever wonder how the jury, in a case you followed, could have reached such a bad verdict?” asked a speaker. “Sometimes it’s because the jurors weren’t told the truth about their power. That is, they’re rarely informed that if applying the law would bother their conscience they can acquit.”
Another woman added, “We are moving away from common law in this nation. That is not a good thing, because the fundamentals of our nation are dependent on common law….if it’s not wrong, it should not be criminalized!”
“Free the Weed and End Corporate Greed!” added medical marijuana pioneer Richard Eastman, before the march resumed along Spring St. to the United States Courthouse.
As soon as the eight marchers arrived at the U.S. Courthouse, federal marshals came outside to tell them to step off the courthouse steps. A woman asked, “Don’t we pay taxes for that? What law says we can’t be here?” As the marshal went inside, he said “the U.S. code” with no further explanation. The crowd stood on the sidewalk telling other visitors “it’s illegal to be on federal property—that man inside just told us so” before marching on around the building.
Medical marijuana activists were among the diverse group of individuals who came out in support of Tuesday’s educational outreach. “If you were on a jury for a man who had done no more than possess a few of God's green growing plants…would you vote to acquit, even if it resulted in a hung jury?”
The cities of Los Angeles and Fullerton have demonstrated a history of arresting peaceful protestors for “failure to disperse” from a declared “riot” scene—this is another frivolous prosecution for which a juror might consider nullification. Arresting citizen journalists, criminalizing the homeless via camping bans, and prohibitions on feeding the homeless are also victimless crimes for which a compassionate, conscientious juror might vote to acquit the defendant.
As the march reached the corner of Main and Aliso streets, the federal officer watching from a parking garage closed heavy security gates before the small group of marchers passed the entrance. On the Spring St. of the courthouse, the march paused on the sidewalk in front of a handful of federal marshals. Richard Eastman announced, “Free the political prisoners! Stop the war on medical marijuana patients!” and then asked the federal security officer, “Do you agree with the U.S. Congress agreeing to defund the DEA, sir?”
“I wasn’t aware of that, sir,” responded the federal marshal.
“Yes, it happened, you can go on the Internet, they are going to leave the 22 [medical marijuana] states alone,” explained Mr. Eastman.
As the marchers and livestreamers questioned the restriction on entering the federal plaza, the officers turned away and said “I have nothing to say to you people.” The Department of Homeland security arrived in a white SUV and several heavily armed officers in sunglasses stepped onto the sidewalk to monitor the small sidewalk assembly. All wore multiple high capacity weapons around their waist.
After more spirited discussion about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the slogan “Power to the People,” the rally concluded back at Solidarity Park, where about half of the volunteers had to remained to hand out jury rights information.
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Jefferson also wrote, "It is in the power, therefore of the juries... to judge the law as well as the facts."
“It is the duty of the attorneys and the Judge to apply the law. But, it is the sacred duty of the Jury to seek Justice! That is why the Founders gave each member of the Jury the power to stop a case through what is known as a ‘hung Jury,’” according to Robert Thornton, author of “The Power of One Juror to Protect Your Rights.”
Livestream coverage by @FreemanSullivan http://www.ustream.tv/channel/freemansullivan
Livestream coverage by @PMBeers http://www.ustream.tv/channel/pmbeers
Live tweeting by @LAPeoplesMedia https://twitter.com/lapeoplesmedia
No signs permitted on federal property. At U.S. Courthouse on Spring St. in Los Angeles, CA 6/3/2014.
Friends gathered at Los Angeles City Hall to share lunch and educate, June 3, 2014.