We have quite a bit of jury-related news regarding the trial of Ammon Bundy and six other defendants that has gotten under way this week in Oregon.
News sources are confirming what I heard from an observer from courtroom: the judge in the case is reportedly planning to misinform jurors regarding their right of jury nullification.
According to The Oregonian,
"The judge also said she intends to question each juror on whether they were handed a flier outside court about jury nullification, and to instruct them that they must follow the law even if they disagree with it. Judge Brown said deputy U.S. marshals indicated there may be people outside court distributing such fliers.
Ryan Bundy and Ammon Bundy's lawyer Marcus Mumford objected to the judge's proposed instructions to prospective jurors. Ryan Bundy argued that they will "rob a juror" of the right to serve as a "check and balance'' on the federal government's power."
I understand from a courtroom observer that jury instructions were argued for approximately an hour to an hour and a half. In the event that there is an appeal after this trial is over, this issue may be ripe for litigation.
Despite the judge's stated plan to try and keep jurors in the dark about their right of jury nullification, on the first day of jury selection, defendant Ken Medenbach appeared in court wearing a shirt that the judge apparently did not become aware of until late in the day. As shown in the photograph above, the shirt displays a quote from the case of U.S. v. Dougherty on the back. The famous John Jay quote from Georgia v. Brailsford (1794) appears on the front.
Judge excludes 11 of 31 potential jurors for Oregon
standoff trial in first day of questioning
Clicking through to the above article will lead you to all the gory details including:
- dismissal of one potential juror who would not agree to follow the law blindly if he disagreed with it,
- questioning of jurors to ensure that they would all ignore "pangs of conscience" if they found that they disagreed with the law, and
- questioning of jurors to determine if anyone had received jury nullification information outside the courthouse.
As frequently happens when high profile cases involving substantial disagreement come up, I am aware that there are many people who have opinions for and against the defendants. There is a larger point here that is independent of any particular case, charge, defendant, or what we might think of any of those:
In every case, ALL defendants have a right to a fair trial before a fully informed jury, who can then decide based on the facts, the law, and their consciences how best to vote in order to ensure a just outcome.
To stack the jury with people who will ignore their consciences on command and to instruct the jury falsely they are required to uphold the law as the judge instructs them amounts to de facto jury tampering under color of law. This undermines the fundamental purpose of trial by jury, which is to be an independent body empowered judge both the facts and law, and to stand as a protective bulwark shielding individuals and our rights against government.
For Liberty, Justice, and Peace in Our Lifetimes,
Kirsten C. Tynan
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