L. Neil Smith's

Number 22, February 15, 1997.

Juror Found Guilty of Harboring Anti-Government Opinions

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Now comes word that District Chief Judge Henry Nieto of Gilpin County, Colorado on Feb. 10 found Laura Kriho guilty of contempt for failing to stand up during "voir dire" questioning for an earlier drug trial in which Ms. Kriho was seated as a juror, to volunteer that Ms. Kriho held opinions about the drug laws which might differ from those of the prosecution.
         Judge Nieto took four months to craft a nine-page ruling which he obviously hopes will steer clear of the appearance that Ms. Kriho is being punished for what she said in the jury room ... though, of course, she is.
         Judge Nieto found Kriho innocent of perjury, acknowledging that she had never lied in answer to a direct question about her opinion of the drug laws, since no such question was ever asked.
         This leaves us with the absurd notion that potential jurors commit a crime by failing to stand up and demand to be excused, if they have any doubts at all ... before hearing the evidence ... that they may be able bring in a guilty verdict.
         I wonder if jurors called in for "voir dire" questioning could now ask to have a court-appointed lawyer sit and advise them when they must stand up and shout out their opinions even on matters about which they have not been questioned -- given that the judges of Colorado now hold one can be fined or jailed for failing to do so.
         "By deliberately withholding this information, she obstructed the process of selecting a fair and impartial jury," Judge Nieto rules. "The selection of jurors who have open minds and who have not preconceived the verdict is essential for a fair trial. Ms. Kriho's lack of candor about her experiences and attitudes led to the selection of a jury doomed to mistrial from the start."
         That is not true. The original trial judge ended matters the moment a government snitch among the jurors slipped a note to the bailiff that Ms. Kriho was deliberating in a way contrary to his instructions, by discussing how long the original defendant might be jailed if convicted. Had the deliberations been allowed to continue, who knows whether she might have been able to convince the other jurors to unanimously acquit? Then no mistrial would have resulted.
         Clearly, Judge Nieto only approaches the matter from the point of view that -- in Ms. Kriho's absence -- a unanimous conviction must inevitably have resulted ... an attitude typical among government judges these days, I'll admit, but hardly the "presumption of innocence" to which the court still generally pays lip service.
         In fact, the goal of such judges is precisely to avoid seating "fair and impartial juries," if we mean by that randomly-selected juries representing an accurate cross-section of public opinion.
         The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1969, in U.S. vs. Moylan, "We recognize, as appellants urge, the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by the judge and contrary to the evidence. ... If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, ... or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by their decision."
         The neat solution of the judges of Gilpin County? Simply screen out potential jurors who may hold such unwelcome opinions, by holding the threat of jail over any who fail to volunteer such opinions in advance.
         Passive deference to tyranny is not enough for this lot. We must cooperate in their pro-government jury-stacking pro-actively.
         And it's not only drugs. As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held in U.S. vs. Dougherty, in 1972: "The pages of history shine on instances of the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and instructions of the judge. Most often commended are the 18th century acquittal of Peter Zenger of seditious libel" (the case that gave Americans our freedom of the press) "and the 19th century acquittals in prosecutions under the fugitive slave laws."
         With randomly-selected juries -- as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights -- no conviction could obtain under any law consistently viewed as unjust or unreasonable by even 9 percent of the populace -- one juror in 12 -- and such current nonsense as imprisoning people for consuming "banned" drugs, or mere possession of "illegal" weapons, would evaporate like a pestilent mist under a bright summer sun.
         That is what black-robed little monkeys like the "honorable" Henry Nieto are really worried about.
         An appeal is expected. To receive further information on the Kriho case via e-mail, contact the Jury Rights Project at jrights@welcomehome.org. For more information on jury rights, visit the Fully Informed Jury Association web page at http://www.fija.org, or call toll-free for a free informtaion package at 800-835-JURY.
         Donations may be sent to the Laura Kriho Legal Defense Fund c/o Paul Grant, Box 1272, Parker, Colo. 80134.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

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