From the February 2006 Idaho Observer:
KAMIAH, Idaho—Carol Asher, a 66-year old retired nun and school teacher faces the possibility of 14 years in prison for exercising her right to free speech in the privacy and sanctity of the jury deliberation room.
What did she say? As nearly as we have been able to learn, she may have told the other jurors that ultimately, she answered to a Higher Authority than the judge. Now she has been charged by Lawrence G. Wasden, who is the Idaho Attorney General, by Stephen A. Bywater, who is Deputy Attorney General, Chief, Criminal Division, and by Justin D. Whatcott, who is Deputy Attorney General, all of whom work for the people of the state of Idaho, with felony perjury for speaking her mind within the confidentiality of the jury deliberation room.
[Note: Iliolo Jones, director of The American Jury Institute (AJI) and the Fully informed Jury Association (FIJA), then made the point that, our government is supposed to recognize that our rights come from God and among them is the right to create government. Upon creating government, we retain our rights and "the Bill of Rights is simply a list of pre-existing rights by which we informed government that it was not to even consider infringing"].
And we do have the right—we could not give it away if we wanted to, because it is an intrinsic part of our identity as humans—to make decisions based on our own conscience. Carol never gave up that right while she was in the courtroom, serving as a juror, or at any other time. No oath administered to any juror can deprive us of that right.
Since when did free speech become a felony? If jurors are not to deliberate, to freely discuss their impressions and ideas, if jurors are not allowed by the state to hold open, honest consultation with each other in a trusting and truthful fashion, then why do we have juries?
If every juror who serves on a jury must guard his or her tongue in the privacy of the jury deliberation room, fearful of making a statement which will be reported to the prosecutor or the defense attorney or judge by some jury snitch, then what happened to the privacy, the sanctity, and the confidentiality of jury deliberations?
Have we reached the time in the history of our once great nation when jurors must be provided with a list of phrases—perhaps even words—which they cannot utter in the jury deliberation room, under pain of prison?
Have we reached a time in our courts when jurors will be punished for refusing to render a verdict according to the demands of the government, when jurors will be punished if they refuse to ignore their conscience and blindly accept the orders of the judge as the supreme law of the land?
Have we reached a time when to hold the moral and religious reservations held by the majority of the people in this country—those reservations which allow us all to consult our own conscience, to rely upon our own guiding principles and religious teachings—must be ignored, set aside?
Must we, when we serve on a jury, no matter how reprehensible a verdict of guilty might be to our conscience, vote guilty if that is the verdict dictated by the tight confines of government instructions? And will we then be singled out, from among the many voting not guilty, if we have the courage and the moral strength to share our thoughts and our reasoning with the other jurors?
Carol respectfully listened to the evidence of the case—it was another of those apparently slam-dunk drug cases against a minority young male, in this case, he was Indian, not Hispanic or black—and thoughtfully considered what she had heard, as well as what she did not hear. She was a thinking, attentive, and conscientious juror, and tried to do her best to pay attention to all the facts and to render a just verdict.
Carol was one of four jurors who voted "not guilty." Yet, because she was open and honest in her remarks to the other jurors, not realizing there might be some snitch in the room who would not respect the confidentiality of jury room proceedings, she has been singled out to be prosecuted for felony perjury. One must ask "why?"
Well, as it turns out, Carol also works with a civil liberties group which criticizes a lot of the silly and abusive actions meted out by government officials against private citizens. She has the courage to ask questions. We think that may be why she has been singled out for this harassment, tyrannical prosecution and general legal hazing.
Some other juror, perhaps unhappy that Carol honestly said what was on her mind, went to rat her out to the prosecuting attorney. Well, sure, the prosecutor wanted to win. Forget justice: These days, those government employees go for blood, to polish their conviction rate record. And now they are after Carol, singling her out to punish for thwarting their prosecution, just because they think they can get away with it.
The state employees named in the first paragraph certainly know they will lose this one on appeal, but they can meanwhile cause Carol a lot of stress and a lot of financial hardship. By their actions, if their nasty little ploy works, they will scare other jurors in to a state of meekness and obedience to the state and the government employees. No more questions. No more thinking. A nice, neat rubber-stamping of the charges brought against anyone. This is a prosecutor’s dream come true. Carol interfered with a slam-dunk for the state lawyers, and she is being punished for being honest about her thinking. But, don’t we want jurors to think?
Why do we have juries in this country, anyway? We all understand that juries protect society from dangerous individuals. But how many, today, recall that juries are also empowered to protect individuals from dangerous government prosecutions and unjust laws?
Jurors have a duty and responsibility to render a just verdict. They must take into account the facts of the case, mitigating circumstances, the merits of the law, and the fairness of its application in each case. Our recognition of the authority and right of jurors to weigh the merits of the law and to render a verdict based on conscience, dates from before the writing of our Constitution, in cases such as those of William Penn, while still in London, who was tried for breaking the King’s law against preaching the Quaker religion. His jury refused to convict him although the judge ordered the jury to find him guilty. When the jury refused, the judge had several jurors jailed until a higher court ruled that jurors could not be punished for their verdict. Penn later came to America and founded Pennsylvania.
No country has protected free expression more than has the United States, and no case in American history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of German immigrant printer John Peter Zenger. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors, inspired by the eloquence of the best lawyer of the period, Andrew Hamilton, ignored the instructions of the governor’s hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels."
The Zenger trial marked the beginning of a free press, and was an eloquent declaration of the stubborn independence of American jurors. Those jurors insisted that they would not be bullied by the instructions of the judges, but would remain free-thinking, independent citizens, exercising their minds as well as their consciences to render a just verdict. That was their responsibility as jurors, and their human right.
Should this right ever be suppressed, the people will retain the right to resist, having an unalienable right to veto or nullify bad and oppressive laws, and in fact, would be morally compelled to do so.
Jurors, as the representatives of the people, hold no personal agenda during any trial and most certainly not the government’s agenda. Let us not forget that the prosecutors, judges, arresting officers—and the forensic investigators in most cases—are all a part of and receive their paychecks from government, with personal power bases to build and personal careers to protect through the "productivity" of successful prosecutions resulting in convictions. Jurors have no such stake in the outcome, and are, in fact, the only truly objective individuals in the courtroom.
Our current form of government was organized, hired and strictly limited by our founding private citizens to protect our rights, not arbitrate those rights. Juries were intended as the protectors against government’s power-hungry expansion and the resultant rise of tyranny. The primary role of our jurors remains that of serving as an independent body to protect private citizens from dangerous, unconstitutional government laws and actions. Many existing laws erode and deny the rights of the people. Jurors protect against tyranny by refusing to convict harmless people.
Juries are the last peaceful defense of our civil liberties.
Our country’s founders planned and expected that we, the people, would exercise this power and authority to judge the law as well as the facts every time we serve as jurors. What a person holds as justice in their personal, private conscience and what decisions a person chooses in the privacy of their own mind, are not susceptible to nor dependent upon any external authority, direction or written law, but are the sole province of the individual, reasoning mind.
The concept and right of sovereign juror authority is not a right derived from any legal reasoning. It requires no citations to legitimize it. It is a right that permeates the very concept of being human. Human rights come before government: our government was formed by free humans to protect human rights, not to grant them. While our government may have been flawed, it yet rests on an excellent set of controlling concepts from which it was formed. Human rights were what our government was designed to protect. These rights, including the right of the individual juror to make a decision based on rational and responsible thought and individual conscience, transcend all legislation and legal rulings and is above any modification or apportionment by any lawyer or politician in our form of government.
The concept and right of sovereign juror authority requires no citations to legitimize it: It is a concept as solid and unalienable as our right to life. While discussions of citations and rulings are of interest, the core authority is not derived from the words of other humans, but from our personal, individual inherent sense of our self-ownership and our individual responsibility toward life and all that implies.
All thinking Idahoans should rise to Carol’s defense, in righteous indignation, and in outrage over the arrogant, despotic actions of state Attorney General Wasden, and his staff, all of whom are complicit in an official conspiracy to deny human, civil, and jurist rights, in defiant opposition to the clear dictates of our Constitution.
Her attorney is Wesley Hoyt at email@example.com.
Carol’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 7th.
Please get in touch with the people listed below and complain about this treatment of a free and honest citizen.
Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, (208) 334-2400
Stephen A. Bywater, Deputy Attorney General, (208) 334-4545
Justin D. Whatcott, Deputy Attorney, (208) 334-4545
Iloilo Marguerite Jones is the Executive Director of the Fully Informed Jury Association and the American Jury Institute