Press Freedom May Hinge on 'Jury Nullification' as Journalist is Put On Trial

If you don't know what Jury Nullification is, please start by checking out...

What is Jury Nullification?

A trial date has been set for August 13th in the case of a journalist, and public-official accountability advocate, who now faces  a stiff prison term for alleged "wire-tapping." Three felony charges against CopBlock founder Ademo Mueller stem from his public report which covered the story of alleged excessive force by a police detective who slammed a high-school student's face into a cafeteria table.

Be sure to check out the full story in our previous article...

Reporter Faces 21 Years After Airing Excessive Force Complaint

It does not appear that the prosecutors have a valid case, but the fact that he has been sitting in jail since the grand-jury indictment was handed down does not bode well for the prospects of true justice. Unfortunately, the journalist's activism pointing out instances of abusive authority have set powerful enemies against him, who are no doubt willing to go to almost any length in order to silence him and punish him for the embarrassment he has caused the establishment. In the past, he was penalized with maximum sentences for misdemeanor crimes that he clearly did not commit, or that could only be seen as crimes through the most totalitarian interpretations of the law.

The seriousness of this case cannot be understated at this point. It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, are on trial in New Hampshire. The precedent set in this case will have implications across the nation. Especially as the proliferation of technology runs head-on into antiquated legal codes meant to protect privacy. Laws which were authored in a time when privacy was not monopolized by police and public officials.

Technology and Police Hypocrisy

While most folks would see this prosecution as a witch-hunt, or the work of an overzealous prosecutor misinterpreting the "spirit" of wiretapping laws, the very real possibility exists that a jury might find the jailed reporter to be "technically" in violation of the statute, and therefore feel obligated to render a guilty verdict. Even if they don't believe that the wire-tapping laws were authored with the purpose of silencing the freedom of the press, the prosecutor might be able to make the case that the facts still show Ademo Mueller did violate the penal code, regardless of the context or other interpretive meaning of the codified law.

If the prosecutor can make the case, will jurors still feel a moral dilemma in returning a guilty verdict? Perhaps based on the idea, that while technically guilty, the felonious characterization is far too harsh? Or more importantly, based on their own beliefs in traditional American values of free speech are violated by this specific prosecutorial application of the law?

This case stands to set another important precedent, as it may be the first trial of an activist before a fully informed jury. New Hampshire just became the only state in the 50 which will allow a defense attorney to present the principle of Jury Nullification. In other words, Ademo Mueller's attorney could, theoretically and in essence, tell the jury that they have the right to return a verdict of not-guilty if they believe the law is unjust or being applied unfairly.

New Hampshire Adopts Jury Nullification Law

Sadly however, the Governor's act allowing for informed juries does not take effect until January 1, 2013. This means another six months in jail for the reporter, as his attorneys stall for time, or that he might have to rely on an appeal to secure his physical freedom and restore the freedom of press for everyone. The only other hope, is that potential jurors have kept up on their state's news, and realize for themselves that they have the right to return a not-guilty verdict no matter what the law says. This is how important Jury Nullification really is, that freedom of the press may rely on an informed jury.

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Twelve
AN ACT relative to the right of a jury to judge the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy.
Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:
243:1 Findings and Intent of the General Court. Under the decisions of both the New Hampshire supreme court and the United States Supreme Court, the jury has the right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy. The jury system functions at its best when it is fully informed of the jury’s prerogatives. The general court wishes to perpetuate and reiterate the rights of the jury, as ordained under common law and recognized in the American jurisprudence, while preserving the rights of a criminal defendant, as enumerated in part 1, articles 15 and 20, New Hampshire Bill of Rights.
243:2 New Section; Right of Accused; Jury Instruction. Amend RSA 519 by inserting after section 23 the following new section:
519:23-a Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.
243:3 Effective Date. This act shall take effect January 1, 2013.
Approved: June 18, 2012
Effective Date: January 1, 2013

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1 comment:

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