Jury Nullification Frees Illegal Malheur Refuge Occupiers

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Jury Nullification Frees Illegal Malheur Refuge Occupiers
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Malheur Refuge news stuns lay people and legal scholars

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Jurors Exercise Fundamental Right They Cannot Even Be Told About
WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 27, 2016): In a stunning loss for federal prosecutors, the leaders of a 41-day armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were acquitted of virtually all of the charges brought against them although the undisputed facts seemingly established their guilt.

The most reasonable – and perhaps the only – explanation for this shocking result is that the jurors exercised a right which, though fundamental, is one that lawyers cannot urge the jurors to exercise, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

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Malheur Refuge

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The jury almost certainly based its acquittals on the doctrine of jury nullification – a right which goes back even before the Declaration of Independence, says Banzhaf, although it has been used rather frequently in modern high profile trials.

Although well established in law, this is a fundamental right judges usually will not even permit lawyers to argue to a jury.

Indeed, here supporters of the protesters on trial marched around the courthouse with signs saying “Google Jury Nullification,” hoping that jurors would come to understand that, despite what the judge tells them, they need not follow his instructions.

Under the doctrine of jury nullification, a jury (or any individual member of the jury) may refuse to vote for a conviction no matter how clear and compelling the evidence, if it is believed that a conviction would in some sense not be fair, or would be contrary to the public interest.

It is particularly useful when jurors feel that the government has overreached and/or, although the defendants did act wrongfully, their technically illegal acts were nevertheless justified by the circumstances.

It was used, for example, by many Northern juries to find “not guilty” people caught helping runaway slaves escape because of the widespread believe that such laws were themselves wrongful, and that those who worked with the underground railroad should be rewarded, not punished.

On the other hand, Southern juries often returned the favor by finding white defendants who had unlawfully harmed or even hung blacks, for acts which were deemed offensive only because of race, not guilty under the same rationale.

Juries from as far back as the historic trial of John Peter Zenger, and perhaps as recently as the cases of Oliver North and Bernhardt Goetz, have exercised their power to vote “in the teeth of the evidence and the law” and refuse to convict no matter how clear and compelling the evidence, if it is believed that a conviction would in some sense not be fair, or would be contrary to the public interest.

More recent trials in which juries apparently have been swayed as much by perceived governmental misconduct as by the weight of the defendants’ guilt include the cases of Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, subway shooter Bernhardt Goetz, former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, New York Black activist Al Sharpton, reputed mob boss John Gotti, Bensonhurst (NY) defendant John Vento, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and in he beating trial of Reginald Denny.

What do you think about the Malheur Refuge ruling?

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John F. Banzhaf is an American public interest lawyer, legal activist and law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of an antismoking advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health.
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8 COMMENTS

  1. 200 years of case law has ruled over and over again that the United States government does indeed have the right to manage public lands. Ditch the pocket “konstitushun” chris.

  2. What do I think about the verdict? I think the jury was swayed by all the irrelevant nonsense the defense attorneys threw out there. The evidence is clear. However, when a country and nation has as its base, the rule of law to preserve order and protect its citizens, then a jury trial verdict must be respected. Its doubtful guilty verdicts would have been respected by the anarchists with guns who took the refuge.
    So, just keep going high and let them go low. Eventually the behaviors will be exposed for what they are, illegal, dangerous, uneducated and destructive.

  3. Not necessarily. Liberals in general don’t approve of entrapment and don’t always trust law enforcement agencies like the FBI. And the conspiracy charge was a long shot. I think liberals are more likely than conservatives to acquit when there’s any doubt, especially in a questionable case like this.

    And the jurors’ spokesperson said they did not necessarily condone the defendents’ actions, they just didn’t think the prosecution had proved its case.

  4. The government had spies inside the whole time, and were probably the instigators of most of the violent rhetoric in hopes of a new Ruby Ridge.

  5. Because the Federal Government has no right to own any land outside of Washington DC.
    The Feds are illegally occupying 70% of the West.
    The FBI is under investigation itself for lying about shooting at Lavoy Finicum, 4 different agents, 4 shots.

  6. Although the defendents clearly a scommitted crimes and did a lot of damage to both the community and the reserve the jury found them not guilty for 2 reasons.

    1- The armed occupation was heavily infiltrated by undercover FBI agents who participated in the illegal acts and probably encouraged them in the process. Some of defendents might not have committed the crimes were it not for the presence and encouragement of these government infiltrators. This creates legitimate concerns of entrapment of these individuals by government agents. The government agents literally tricked these people into committing illegal acts. This would be a very good reason for jury nullification.

    2-The charges brought were not the most appropriate or easy to prove. Although the defendents committed obvious crimes from the very beginning: breaking and entering, destroying property, illegal possession of firearms in a Federal facility, theft and damage of government property, terroristic threatening of government employees and their families, probably illegal camping, theycwere not charged with these crimes. Instead they were charged with conspiracy to prevent government employees from doing their jobs. This was not easy to prove, for good reasons. While the occupation did, in fact prevent the employees from doing their jobs due to legitimate safety concerns, to prove conspiracy the prosecution would have to prove that this was the defendents’ primary INTENT. The prosecution was apparently unable to prove this to the jurors’ satisfaction.

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