Posts Tagged ‘Juries’


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2015. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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There’s a story in today’s Guardian on a dispute in Denver over volunteers handing out informational flyers about jury nullification in front of the courthouse. The district attorney has charged two activists with felony jury tampering (!) for handing out the flyers, while the city attorney has directed the cops to stop arresting people for handing out flyers, because such arrests are an obvious violation of the right of free speech.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, jury nullification consists of juries refusing to convict defendants either because they believe that the law in question is unjust or because they believe that defendants had good reason for breaking the law in question.

Most people believe that juries are bound to follow judges’ instructions and convict defendants regardless of whether jurors consider a law unjust or that defendants are justified in breaking it. There is no such obligation. Juries can find defendants not guilty in such circumstances, and there’s not a thing judges or prosecutors can do to them because of it.

Over the years, there have been many horrendous miscarriages of justice resulting from juries being unaware of this, and prosecutors want to keep it that way.

So, what the activists handing out flyers at the Denver courthouse were and are doing is not only courageous, but important. If enough people become aware that jury nullification is possible, it would put a brake on the power of the state to steamroller political activists.

The best source of information on jury nullification is the Fully Informed Jury Association. Check ’em out, please.


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, one of my band mates, and mentioned that the (Tucson) cops had beaten my neighbor across the street, arrested him, and charged him with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. (Why, yes, how did you guess? I don’t live in a gated community.)

My friend then mentioned that Tucson cops had beaten one of his coworkers so badly a few weeks ago that the guy ended up with traumatic brain injury and a speech impediment. (And, yes, now that you ask, the coworker is Mexican.)

He lived in an apartment on the south side, and heard his next door neighbor beating his girlfriend. He intervened and got in a fight with the neighbor. At that point, the cops arrived, and the beaten neighbor woman claimed my friend’s coworker had assaulted her and her boyfriend. This enraged my friend’s coworker, he went verbally ballistic, and out came the truncheons. Following the beating the cops gave him, they charged him with assaulting an officer (no cops were injured, of course) and resisting arrest.

Because of the brain injury he sustained, my pal’s beaten coworker is now suing the police and the city. This incident could cost the city (meaning the city’s taxpayers) hundreds of thousands and perhaps over a million bucks.

But this is nothing new. Back in the 1970s, eight Tucson cops beat a political-activist friend of mine and charged him with — ta-da — assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault. (None of the cops were injured, of course, and the only evidence was the testimony of the cops.) The county attorney brought the case to trial, and all of the cops perjured themselves. Fortunately, the victim had a good attorney who picked apart the cops’ testimony revealing numerous irreconcilable inconsistencies, and he was acquitted. The victim never received any compensation, and none of the cops were ever charged with perjury or conspiracy.

While I lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, a friend of mine who was carrying her one-year-old baby encountered two SF cops beating a guy, who was down on the ground, with truncheons near the entrance to the 24th Street BART station. She yelled at them to stop, and they maced her and the baby. You can guess what they charged her with.

In the same city in 1992, another friend of mine–Keith McHenry, a well known activist, who was under surveillance by the cops–was beaten so badly at a demonstration that he needed reconstructive facial surgery. Again, it’s not hard to guess who got charged–my friend or the cop who smashed in his face–and with what.

How do cops get away with such brutal crap? There are several reasons. The first is that they have all the resources of the state behind them, while their victims are usually poor. The second is that the cops are normally buddy-buddy with prosecutors. The third is that witnesses are often afraid of the cops and reluctant to come forward. (Here in Tucson, some witnesses and victims are undocumented immigrants, who for good reason rarely come forward.) The fourth reason is related to the third–that the only witnesses to beating incidents who testify are very often only the cops themselves. A fifth reason is that police routinely perjure themselves. (Nobody has less respect for the law than cops. Even “good cops” routinely perjure themselves to protect their brutal colleagues, because of peer pressure.) And a sixth reason is that juries tend to skew toward older white people — in other words, people who are likely to believe cops and are not likely to be sympathetic to black, brown, or poor white beating victims — and the state’s attorneys always do their best to get such juries. As a defense attorney once told a friend, prosecutors always try to get “Mormons and morons” seated on juries in police beating cases–people gullible enough to believe the testimony of cops.

Because of all this, it’s very difficult for victims to win police brutality cases. A few years ago an attorney who sometimes handles such cases showed me a large blow-up photo he had used in court. It showed the swollen, battered face of one of his clients. The police had beaten him with a long (D-cell) metal flashlight so badly that they caved in one of the victim’s eye sockets and then charged him with (Do I even need to mention this?) assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. The victim lost the brutality case.

I’ve seen proposals recently that cops wear helmet cameras to record everything they do. This is being sold as a crime-fighting move. It’s a good idea, but I doubt that it will have any effect on crime other than  reducing crime committed by the cops themselves. And then only if there’s no way for the cops to turn the cameras off. But even if supposedly constant-recording helmet cams become standard, how much do you want to bet that they won’t many, many times “malfunction” in assaulting-an-officer / resisting-arrest cases?


There’s a story in today’s Guardian on a dispute in Denver over volunteers handing out informational flyers about jury nullification in front of the courthouse. The district attorney has charged two activists with felony jury tampering (!) for handing out the flyers, while the city attorney has directed the cops to stop arresting people for handing out flyers, because such arrests are an obvious violation of the right of free speech.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, jury nullification consists of juries refusing to convict defendants either because they believe that the law in question is unjust or because they believe that defendants had good justification for breaking the law in question.

Most people believe that juries are bound to follow judges’ instructions and convict defendants regardless of whether jurors consider a law unjust or that defendants are justified in breaking it. There is no such obligation. Juries can find defendants not guilty in such circumstances, and there’s not a thing judges or prosecutors can do to them because of it.

Over the years, there have been many horrendous miscarriages of justice resulting from juries being unaware of this, and prosecutors want to keep it that way.

So, what the activists handing out flyers at the Denver courthouse were and are doing is not only courageous, but important. If enough people become aware that jury nullification is possible, it would put a brake on the power of the state to steamroller political activists.

The best source of information on jury nullification is the Fully Informed Jury Association. Check ’em out, please.