HYPERLINKS ARE UNDERLINED
|I along with Joe, wrote this page in late
Nov. 2000 as I decided if I was gonna run to Canada. I eventually did run
to Canada (To Rev Tucker and Bazaro of the Universal Church of life in Hamilton
ont), but they convinced me that I should return, go to prison and appeal
my unjust conviction and set a new precedent. - If I just left
and never came back I would be allowing the state to get away with this injustice,
by appealing I would have a chance to make a HUGE LEGAL STATEMENT with a
appeal decision that overturns the conviction! -- ( SEE MY APPEAL BRIEF
The Weedman Runneth
NOV 1, 2000
On a dreary afternoon
Nov.10, 1997, Ed Forchion looked out of his living room window in
Chesilhurst, New Jersey to notice a peculiar site. He saw
a van parked across the street from his house. He knew something
wasn't right about that van. He watched as it sat motionless for
approximately half an hour. He say's now, that was the begining,
of the government's attack on my freedom.
Ed, concerned about
the van's presence and purpose, made calls to his neighbors to see
if they had noticed the intruder or if they knew why it was
there. They hadn't seen it until his call. They said they didn't
know who it was, and expressed their concern over the situation
in support of Ed. Considering himself a good citizen, inaddition
to wanting to know if this was in connection with his medicial marijuana
providing activities, he called the local police to investigate.
Ed was assured that a patrol car would be dispatched to look
into the situation.
Ever the opportunist,
Ed broke out his video camera to tape the possible police confrontation.
He waited with his camera rolling and perched on a tripod
for an additional thirty minutes. Still the Police never showed.
Ed decided to take matters into his own hands. Now suspecting the
intruder was a police officer. With the camera still taping from
his front yard, he walked to the parked van. In one hand he held
a leash attached to his pet Rottweiler, in the other a can of shaving
cream. All of the back windows, were tinted so darkly that there
was no way of seeing in. There was a black curtainlike
divider, blocking the view in the rear. Ed knocked on the van, not
knowing who, if anyone was inside.
He did have a fairly
good idea of what was going on, and if he were right it would explain
the promised patrol car's absence. "You know only a pothead
would notice something like that," Ed admits, referring to the van
being parked outside, "A crack-head wouldn't have noticed a dope
addict wouldn't have. Surely a drunk never would have noticed".
A POTHEAD would, marijuana increase's your awareness".- "It's just
Ed then proceeded to shaving cream the windows of the NARC van. The undercover cop furiously bangs on the blackened windows. "IT'S HILARIOUS", I must say. Between tears of laughter, I see the officer climb from the back of the van, and drive away. Ed, give's a sarcastic wave goodbye before deciding to jump in his own car and follow. - At this point Ed's laughter takes on a insane sound. As he say's "You'll never see this on COPS", as NJWEEDMAN films the retreating narc van traveling down the Whitehorse Pike with shaving cream all over the windows. A POTHEAD in pursuit.
SOON THE TAPE WILL BE VIEWABLE ONLINE (HERE)
Ed Forchion is a peaceful
pothead and he wants your support and your vote. He's dubbed himself
the NJweedman (for publicity) and is running for election
this November simultaneously for the Burlington County Freeholder
board and for the U.S. Congress in New Jersey's first district.
Running on the Legalize Marijuana Party, he hopes to gain some votes but more importantly support
for his cause--the legalization of marijuana.
His most direct fight
is to be found not guilty of the charges of conspiracy to traffic
drugs he now faces in New Jersey. The charges stem from the
Nov., 24, 1997 arrest in which Forchion and two others were
charged with the trafficking over 40 pounds of Marijuana. Forchion
was charge under a new law just recently enacted on Aug 2., 1997.
- If convicted he could face up to 30 years in prison. Forchion
admits to being involved in providing medicial marijuana in the
past but his plea in this case is not guilty. Much of the drug
that was delivered that day was to be dis-tributed, albeit
illegally under current laws, to AIDS patients in the Delaware Valley.
His defense strategy in the case is a little used and rarely publicized
process called Jury Nullification.
Jury Nullification is an action where the jury, rather than judging the defendants actions against a law, determines whether or not the law itself is just or constitutional. Case history tells us Juries are empowered to Judge a law as well as evidence, Forchion say's then I as a defendant should be able to put on a defense that the law is wrong! To say that this practice is under publicized would be a vicious understatement.
Jury nullification of law," as it is sometimes called, is a traditional American right defended by the Founding Fathers. Those Patriots intended the jury to serve as one of the tests a law must pass before it assumes enough popular authority to be enforced. Thus the Constitution provides five separate tribunals with veto power - representatives, senate, executive, judges and JURY - that each enactment of law must pass before it gains the authority to punish those who choose to violate it.
In fact the (LAWYER'S)
prosecutors/defender's and the judges in his case have
sought to keep Forchion from using this defense, sighting that this
practice should not be advertised. In fact Forchion claims the state
prosecutor's office and the state public defender's office conspired
together to prevent him from using this tactic as a defense. This
resistance is but one of the many obstacles the Weedman
has faced in his fight for what he believes. That gloomy day in
NOV. and the events that followed illustrate the steps taken to
keep him from his defense.When Ed knocked on the window of the van
parked in front of his house, there was no response. A veteran of
the war on drugs, he was pretty sure of what was going on. "They
were watching me," he says. The footage he captured shows
the steps he took to keep this from happening. The can of shaving
cream was used to make the windows as impossible to see out of as
their tint did to see in. A white wash smeared all over the black
tinted windows elicited a response, finally from the van's passenger.
A thump on the window as Ed completes the job.Ed walks back to his
house satisfied he achieved his goal. The tape continues
to roll, as finally movement in the van is noticeable. The windshield
washers go to work on the cream, and the van pulls off. Ed is not
done in making the watcher the watched.
As the van leaves the scene Ed also drives on, following with his camera still recording. He pulls next to the driver now with his window down, who turns to be suddenly surprised by a camera in his face as the vehicles move through traffic. After some evasive driving by the van's operator, Ed ends the chase with the tape going to black with the sounds of his laughter. Exactely 14 days later Ed was arrested, "I guess I stepped over the line shaving creaming a undercover DEA officer." - -*FIRST ARREST*
"I smoke weed everyday," admits Ed, "It's my medicine, and a part of my religion. It's part of me." These marijuana laws started out as Jim Crow laws, targeting blacks and mexicans. "Yes,white's get arrested for it too now, but that still doesn't take away the fact that the laws are racist! Causaisians arrested are simply collateral damage, the unintended victims of "WAR"."
Ed suffers from back pain and asthma for which he feels there is no better/safer cure than marijuana. He is also a practitioner of the Rastafarian faith, a religion in which the smoking of marijuana is a central part, and viewed as a sacrament. " I can be arrested everyday". The medicinal values of marijuana as well as his use of it for religious purposes were to be central part of his case. Major parts of his defense are that marijuana should not be classified as a schedule 1 (illegal) drug, and that banning his use of it infringes upon his religious freedom. For the last three years since that shaving cream incident Forchion has repeatedly been in the public eye for his advocation of legalization.
As we speak, he has a warrant for his arrest hanging over his head.
There have been numerous arrests, including arrests for lighting up in the statehouse assembly chamber's, Congressman Rob Andrews office and the Camden County Democratic Party headquarter's. And then on Sept 1st 2000 at a Cherry Hill donik donut's, Forchion was arrested after spotting a surveillance vehicle watching him. Because of this latest arrest, the possibility of planning for that defense was cut drastically. Until this time Forchion had been allowed out on bail for the previous Nov. 24, 97 POT charge. After this current arrest however, he was held on $10,000 dollars bail. Not able to produce that amount on short notice, Ed sat in jail for 13 days."This was a political detention," Ed stated in writing from an official court document. He believes the entire surveillance and arrest was a calculated move on the part of the prosecution to keep him from his defense. He was held from September 1st through the 13th. During this time a hearing was held on September 11th, his trial date was then set for Sept. 18th. He was released on Thursday Sept 14th. A trial that took nearly 3 years to come to resolution was now scheduled for 2 business days after his release from jail on a separate charge. A charge that was dismissed entirely on Oct 3rd, 2000.
"It was a deliberate state attemp to sabatoge my defense"
Forchion had in his defense 3 esteemed doctors who were going to speak on his behalf in the trial to the safety aspects of consumption of marijuana and to its medical benefits. Most importantly they were going to dispute the scheduling of marijuana as a schedule one drug, "which clearly it is not!" On such short notice the doctors were not able to make their appearance. The arrest and detention made his defense more difficult for other reasons.
His public defender Jaime Kaigh (856)429-1802, quit on August 31 citing irreconcilable difference's, "forchion say's yeah, I wanted to tell the truth about marijuana, he wanted to protect the law, not me". My right to a Zealous and adamant defense was not adhered to, Kaigh refused to argue for me or even meet with me to prepare "my defense". The public defender's office had previously refused to defend him based on his defense of Jury Nullification. Judge Freeman then ordered Jaime Kaigh a pool attorney to serve as "legal assitant" him. Ed say's he was forced into this situation, "to defend himself in court", the lawyer's refuse to present my defense, despite it's legality. And the statist press looks the other way! Their not liberal or conservative they're statist they kiss the ass of the state.
Not only does this seem to Forchion to be a violation of his rights, but also the short time before the trial made his preparation incomplete. Forchion went to trial despite the lack of core elements of his defense, after Judge Thompson refused to grant a continuance. On the third day of the proceedings, the prosecutor in the case offered Ed a plea bargain. He was offered 3-6 months in prison, then release into the state (ISP) Intensive Supervision Program instead of the possible 30 years he was facing. Ed, although reluctantly, took the plea stating that he was doing it for his kids and his family. " NJWEEDMAN ACCEPTS PLEA!"
Before sentencing, Forchion took
back his plea of guilty to the lesser charge and
decided to continue to fight for his cause. This reversing of a
plea is a common happening and is almost always granted. "Prosecutors
will normally just threaten to throw the book at you if
you reverse a plea," Ed says when asked about this phase of the
case. For Forchion however this has not been the case. He still
doesn't know if the judge is going to allow the reversal or not.
The state prosecutor is fighting Ed's attemp to withdraw his motion,
talk about conspiracy Ed say's, "this is just another part of
the conspiracy to prevent me from utilizing JURY NULLIFICATION".
The next court date for Forchion is December 1st. At this time Forchion is unsure what the outcome of that day will be. He will either be granted the reversal and a new trial or be sentenced to his plea bargained term. If sentenced, he plans to appeal the decision. That's where his political campaign comes in. Forchion doesn't believe he can win but by running for office he is able to show that people are supporting him as evidence to present to the jury. He believes that this is a showing of people who believe the law is wrong. Another benefit for Ed is the press coverage that running for office grants. This isn't the first time he has run for office. He has also run the past 2 years for Freeholder and for Congress. He was able to get 3,000 votes last year and hopes for more this year. He views his campaign as a political protest and hopes that it will sway public opinion in favor of his cause. Forchion sees himself as an "American Dissident" and believes he's fighting for a just cause. When asked about his goals against the current "War on Drugs", Forchion says, legalization - "If you believe that one day you're going to wake up and see a headline that says, the war on drugs has been won by the government", you're an idiot". - However, one day you will wake up and see a headline that says, "Marijuana is Legal today ". That I believe. "I'm on the winning side, of this civil war!" MCcaffery quit becuase he's tired of losing, but he's as much a loser as Elliot Ness was proven to be. Think about that for all the hoopla about the untouchables they lost the war on alcohol, and so soon shall the DEA lose.
To read more about Ed
Forchion's - Jury Nullification trial see the Legalize
Marijuana Party website at: HOMEPAGE
SEE THE SHAM TRIAL COVERAGE at:: www.njweedman.com/trialcoverage.html
Jury Nullification is a practice that has been used throughout history to overturn many laws that have proved to be turning points in society. The Jury has the opportunity to decide if the law itself is something that deserves to be upheld. It has been around since before this country was founded in English Common Law in both the colonies and in England. The decisions rendered from these cases have paved the way for many of the personal liberties we have today.
HISTORIC JURY NULLIFICATION TRIALS
--1670-- In the trial of William Penn in England jury Nullification was used to ignore laws of religious persecution that Penn had been accused of violating. Penn, of course, in taking his beliefs to the colonies contributed to the idea of freedom of religion we have today.
--1735-- In the trial of John Peter Zenger Jury Nullification was used to find the defendant not guilty of an infraction of the seditious libel laws enforced by the king over the colonists. Zenger's newspaper had criticized the Royal Governor of New York. Under the existing law it was legal to criticize any member of government even if the information was true. Again the Jury ignored the law and based their decision on the belief that the law itself was wrong. This case is viewed to be a major contribution to the freedom of speech and press.
--1768-- Founding Father, John Hancock had been charged with violating maritime laws enacted by the British government against colonists. John Adams defended Hancock in court and knowing the tradition of Jury Nullification instructed the jurors that, "it is not only his right, but his duty . . . to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court." The jury in this case refused to find Hancock guilty and added to the growing anti-British sentiment leading up to the Revolutionary war.
--1850's-- The Fugitive Slave Laws were laws in the northern states that made it illegal to harbor slaves who has escaped from the South. Even though slavery was illegal in these states these laws made it impossible for slaves to seek refuge in the North. At this point in history a movement away from Jury Nullification began. So frequently were juries finding those charged of this crime not guilty, based on their disapproval of the law, that judges began dismissing jurors if they expressed any anti-law sentiment. Still though jurors acquitted those charged leading to support for the Abolitionist movement and the anti-slavery sentiment that lead to the Civil War.
--1920's-- The prohibition of alcohol was largely overturned by continuous refusals of juries to convict those breaking the law despite the court refusing to inform the jurors of their right to Nullify the law.
--2000-- Ed Forchion hopes that his name can be added to this list of notable cases. As with prohibition he believes that the making of a previously legal substance illegal has in fact done more damage then good to society and infringes upon his personal freedom. The case is yet to be determined. Forchion say's, "the law is wrong not he." And it is within his right to present a defense that the law is wrong!
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution. -- Thomas Jefferson, 1789
Legal marijuana advocate flees to Canada to avoid prison
By JASON LAUGHLIN
11/27/2000 - Edward Forchion, a Browns Mills man
who has campaigned to legalize marijuana, has fled to Canada to
avoid a jail sentence for possession of the drug.
Forchion, 36, left the United States last weekend and has sought asylum at the Cuban Embassy in Canada, he said in a phone call to the Courier-Post. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 1 in Superior Court in Camden.
"I can't just walk into jail," Forchion said Wednesday.
Forchion ran unsuccessfully this fall for a Burlington County freeholder's seat and the 1st District congressional seat.
He said he arrived Wednesday at the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa, bags in hand. The embassy denied his verbal request for asylum and asked him to put it in writing.
Forchion pleaded guilty to conspiracy and marijuana possession but filed a motion to retract his plea.
He could be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but he can apply to the state's Intense Supervised Probation program, which could allow him to be released under strict monitoring after serving about six months of his term. Without the program, he would be eligible for parole in about 30 months.
Forchion would become a fugitive if he does not show up for his Dec. 1 hearing, said Greg Reinert, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's office.
"As with all cases, if the defendant fails to appear on his sentencing date on Dec. 1, the prosecutor will move to revoke bail and begin proceedings to have any posted bail forfeited and to seek to have that defendant extradited from any jurisdiction he is hiding in," Reinert said.
Forchion pleaded guilty in September, saying he wanted to be out of jail to see his children. His children were not with him in Canada, he said. He remains committed to legalizing marijuana in the United States, he said.
"I don't hurt anybody. I should be allowed to smoke," he said.
Update: Nov. 30th, 2000 - I'm home now getting ready to report to prison tomorrow. - This is probably the last time I update my site for a while, please write me: - Edward Forchion-Camden County Jail, 4th & Federal Sts., Camden NJ 08101
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Page: A01, Front Page
Pubdate: Mon, 8 Feb 1999
Author: Joan Biskupic, Washington Post Staff
Note: The Fully Informed Jury Association website is at:
IN JURY ROOMS, A FORM OF CIVIL PROTEST GROWS
Activists Registering Disdain For Laws With a 'Not Guilty'
In courthouses across the country, an unprecedented level of juror activism is taking hold, ignited by a movement of people who are turning their back on the evidence they hear at trial and instead using the jury box as a bold form of civil protest.
Whether they are African Americans who believe the system is stacked against them, libertarians who abhor the overbearing hand of government or someone else altogether, these jurors are choosing to ignore a judge's instructions to punish those who break the law because they don't like what it says or how it is being applied to a particular defendant.
The phenomenon takes all forms. In upstate New York, an African American man refused to join 11 other jurors in convicting black defendants of cocaine charges, saying he was sympathetic to their struggles as blacks to make ends meet. In rural Colorado, a woman refused to convict in a methamphetamine case and caused such disruption that she forced a mistrial and was convicted herself of obstructing justice. And just last year in Montgomery County, jurors in two separate trials of developer and politician Ruthann Aron objected to her even being prosecuted on murder-for-hire charges in the first place.
In all of these cases, the jury box turned into a venue for registering dissent, more powerful than one vote at the polls and more effective at producing tangible, satisfying results.
Although they still represent a relatively small proportion of the tens of thousands of jurors who file into courtrooms every day, a striking body of evidence suggests that their numbers are increasing. Case studies and interviews with more than 100 jurors, judges, lawyers and academics reveal a significant pattern of juror defiance. Some go so far as to say jury nullification -- the term for jurors who outright reject the law -- represents a threat to the foundation of the American court system if it is not confronted and dealt with effectively.
"There is a real potential danger if this problem goes unchecked," said former District judge and Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "I've seen what happens when ordinary citizens sit on a jury with someone who nullifies. You hear it in their comments. There is a real loss of faith. And for those who are regularly a part of the court system, there is a real cynicism that grows out of nullification."
The most concrete sign of the trend is the sharp jump in the percentage of trials that end in hung juries. For decades, a 5 percent hung jury rate was considered the norm, derived from a landmark study of the American jury by Harry Kalven Jr. and Hans Zeisel published 30 years ago. In recent years, however, that figure has doubled and quadrupled, depending on location. Some local courts in California, for example, have reported more than 20 percent of trials ending in hung juries. Federal criminal cases in Washington, D.C., averaged 15 percent hung juries in 1996 (the most recent year for which data were available), three times the rate in 1991.
A hung jury is simply one in which the 12 men and women around the table disagree over whether to convict or acquit. But judges, lawyers and others who study the phenomenon suspect that more and more, differences are erupting not over the evidence in these cases but over whether the law being broken is fair.
Their concerns are supported by a recent nationwide poll by Decision Quest and the National Law Journal, which found that three out of four Americans said they would act on their own beliefs of right and wrong regardless of instructions from a judge to follow the letter of the law.
Because of the secrecy surrounding jury deliberations, it is impossible to know precisely how often jurors act on those views. Nonetheless, the evidence is becoming overwhelming that the problem is real.
And its proponents are becoming well-organized, promoting their call for jury activism in every state and in every form. They've printed bumper stickers and brochures, rented billboards and subway placards, and created Web sites and informal clubs urging people to stand up to the system. "What's different now," says Vanderbilt University law professor Nancy King, who has tracked the phenomenon, "is that there's an organized, national movement to change the power of the jury."
It is difficult to tell when a juror is taking the law into his own hands. The only people in the room deliberating are the 12 who have been picked to serve, so unless one of them speaks up, no one knows why a jury reaches the conclusion it does. Nor can anyone know what motivates a particular juror. If jurors vote not to convict because they don't believe the nation's drug laws are fair, they may disguise their true feelings by simply saying the evidence wasn't there or the prosecution didn't make its case. Otherwise, they risk being ejected from the jury box.
But lawyers across the country are convinced that jurors are rejecting the law -- in drug possession cases, in trials that lead to "three strikes, you're out" or other stiff mandatory sentences, and in situations that invoke evolving social values, such as the "assisted suicide" charges lodged against Jack Kevorkian.
Prosecutors see it as vigilante justice, but defense lawyers have a complicated response. Like New York defense lawyer Thomas J. O'Hern, many do not endorse nullification as a payback for race discrimination or other social grievances, but they also recognize that, if a juror does hold out on conviction, that's good for their client. "From my point of view," O'Hern said, "there are three potential verdicts, 'guilty,' 'not guilty' and 'can't decide.' 'Can't decide' is a win for me."
Some of the most sensational cases, or at least most publicized, arise when the subject of race does.
In the recent case against former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, accused of accepting illegal gratuities, independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz asked the judge to specifically instruct jurors not to consider the fact that Espy is African American. Smaltz said he was making the request because Espy's lawyer suggested to jurors that Espy was prosecuted because he is black. Racial arguments, Smaltz said, are "an attempt to encourage the jury to acquit the defendant regardless" of his guilt. Smaltz was turned down, but the daring strategy comes as fresh evidence that prosecutors increasingly believe they need to head off social vindication in the jury box. (Espy was eventually acquitted in December of all charges by a jury of 11 blacks and one white, and all of the jurors questioned afterward said it was not race that led to their verdict but their belief that Smaltz's corruption charges were overblown.)
Nine years ago, also in Washington, the celebrated trial of Marion Barry brought issues of race and jury nullification to the fore when the mayor's defense lawyer subtly appealed to jurors to reject the drug charges because the government had targeted and entrapped the controversial black mayor. The jury convicted Barry of one count of possessing cocaine, acquitted him on another count and was unable to reach a verdict on 12 other counts. In the aftermath, a majority of blacks surveyed in the city said they were "satisfied" with the verdict and a majority of whites said they were not.
That same racial polarity arose in the case of O.J. Simpson. To much of white America, polls showed, Simpson's acquittal looked more like the product of nullification than insufficient evidence. Indeed, it was after the jurors emerged with their "not guilty" verdict three years ago that the phrase "jury nullification" burst into the mainstream media. Many commentators questioned whether the predominantly black jury sided with Simpson because of his race when they acquitted him of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. The jurors insisted that there was not enough evidence to convict, and they had plenty of lingering questions about the role of the Los Angeles police.
Whatever the motivations, few legal scholars would consider the Simpson case true nullification, if only because all 12 jurors on the mixed-race jury moved to acquit. More common is the lone holdout with an ax to grind who goes against the others, and who can be exposed by his frustrated colleagues.
In the Albany, N.Y., cocaine case, juror Leslie Davis appeared rebellious from the beginning. When he was sworn in to hear the case of five siblings accused of selling drugs out of their mother's house, Davis raised a fist, rather than simply holding up an open hand. He slapped his leg and whispered, "yeah, yes," when defense lawyers tried to refute the mound of evidence: videotapes of late-night visitors to the mother's home, testimony from informants, records of big-money transfers among the unemployed brothers and sisters. In deliberations, Davis, the only African American in the jury box, proclaimed that the government's case wasn't worth "a bag of beans."
He told the white jurors they didn't understand what the neighborhoods were like where the black defendants lived or the struggles they faced even to survive. Eventually, the other jurors sent notes to the judge telling him that Davis wasn't deliberating fairly and that he had turned the case into a racial referendum: "He thinks that everything we say is against his race," one said. When U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy began to dismiss Davis, saying he had become convinced that the juror wouldn't convict no matter what, Davis was enraged. "Wait a minute. You're going to dismiss me? And let the other jurors decide?" he complained.
Race also appeared to play a role in a recent case in the District that ended in a hung jury. The defendant was an African American man charged with illegal possession of a firearm. And when he took the stand, he told the jurors that the gun police found in his car was his wife's and that she carried it for protection in their Southeast neighborhood.
According to a white juror who agreed to discuss the case if his name was not used, the majority-black jury was ready to find the defendant guilty. But one juror, a black woman in her forties, told the others it was perfectly understandable why someone would want to keep a gun for protection, legal or not. And because the defendant had a prior conviction, he would probably get a long sentence if convicted. It would serve no one, particularly not a black man who she believed was trying to keep out of trouble against the odds in his poor neighborhood, to send him to prison, she argued.
For a while she was alone in her view, but she kept at it. Then, in a dramatic reversal, the foreman, also black, adopted her position, and that irretrievably deadlocked the group.
"The foreman was taking an illegal, but frankly, practical view," the white juror said. "It put me on edge. But it would have taken a fair amount of courage to challenge him."
In Oakland, Calif., jurors complained about a member of their panel who they thought was overly sympathetic to a defendant accused of robbing a Wendy's restaurant.
James R. Metters Jr. ordered some food and then told the cashier to "give him all the twenties." His hand was wrapped in cloth and the cashier later testified that she thought Metters was holding a gun, so she gave him the money, and he fled. The cashier found the restaurant manager, who immediately told a police sergeant who happened to be stopped at the Wendy's drive-through window. The police sergeant caught Metters and found his coat and $383 in cash nearby.
During his trial, Metters's lawyer brought out that his client was being pursued by drug dealers whom he owed money. He was afraid for his life. When the jurors began deliberating, a woman identified as "Juror No. 4" felt it was wrong to convict him, according to court records. The drug dealers threatened to kill him and his family, she complained. "Shouldn't that matter?" asked this juror. Others in the room felt that the man should be convicted of the crime, whatever his motivations, and took their case to the judge. In a note, they complained that Juror No. 4 was "unfairly sympathetic to" Metters, that she had worked in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility and that it was affecting her ability to objectively view the facts and law in the case.
When the judge questioned the juror, she insisted that she had been "deliberating in good faith for a day and a half" but felt that there had been a breakdown in communication. "I'm not willing to deal with what went on in there yesterday," she said. "They are trying to convince me that I'm stupid."
The judge agreed with the other jurors that she was not being open-minded and dismissed her. An alternate juror was added, and the jury then found Metters guilty.
Sometimes crosscurrents among jurors only become public after the deliberations. That happened in both trials last year for Ruthann Aron, the former Maryland politician accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer.
The first jury deadlocked last March when a lone holdout, Shawn D. Walker of Silver Spring, said she thought Aron should not be prosecuted because she hired the killer at a time when she was emotionally overwrought. Better to let her off and urge her to get counseling than to use the court system to throw her in prison, Walker felt. Other jurors later complained that Walker came to the jury box biased in favor of Aron's assertion that she was too mentally ill to realize that she was committing a crime. Walker had taught emotionally disabled children and had professional experience with mental disorders, neither of which Walker revealed during jury selection.
After the second Aron trial ended abruptly last July when Aron agreed to plead no contest, a juror revealed she also was ready to vote against conviction. "She clearly did it," said the 40-year-old female juror from the second trial who asked not to be named. "But she had bottomed out. This was a mental health issue. And, in the end, no one ended up dead."
This juror said she had never heard of "jury nullification" before that trial. But afterward, she began telling friends and colleagues about her experience and they pointed her to Internet sites urging people to take up the cause, to get on juries to "vote your conscience."
Her reflections are revealing about the process of jury activism: "You don't go in there and say, 'I don't believe in drug laws or the death penalty so I'm going to vote to acquit.' It just happens. Suddenly, people who think of themselves as law-abiding don't like the way the law is being used."
When it was first formed in a desolate Montana hamlet 10 years ago, the Fully Informed Jury Association could conduct its business around a kitchen table. Today, it claims 6,000 devotees nationwide who help spread the word - -- through the Internet, mass mailings and courthouse leafletting -- that jurors should act on their own morality. And that clarion call, as well as the effect of members' work in today's courtrooms, is beginning to gain attention.
"Jurors have an inherent right to veto unjust laws," said Larry Dodge, a Montana sociology professor turned libertarian activist who heads the group. Its activists have been arrested for obstructing justice in several cities where they have passed out leaflets to jurors arriving at courthouses.
"I don't think we've ever inspired people to just fold their arms and say, 'We're going to stick it to the system.' Rather, we give them ideas for doubt about the law," Dodge said from his Helmville, Mont., office-trailer filled with stacks of pamphlets and cassette tapes carrying his message.
Dodge urges callers to his hot line not to reveal any ideological bent if they are called to serve. "Lying is sometimes the right thing to do," he says, "because judges shouldn't be asking prying questions in the first place."
Few of the nation's trial judges have been willing to publicly voice concerns for fear of giving the movement legitimacy or appearing to tread on juror independence. But for Colorado circuit Judge Frederic B. Rodgers, jury nullification is a consuming interest.
"It is a recipe for anarchy . . . [when jurors] are allowed to substitute personal whims for the stable and established law," said Rodgers, who has warned other judges in articles that organized activists are "coming to a courthouse near you."
If a juror dislikes a law, Rodgers and a handful of other outspoken judges insist, he should press for legislative change, not behave in a random fashion that lets one criminal off scot-free but sends another -- with a different jury -- to jail.
"Jury nullification is indefensible," adds D.C. Superior Court Judge Henry F. Greene, who has become concerned about the number of hung juries in the District, "because, by definition, it amounts to juror perjury -- that is jurors lying under oath by deciding a case contrary to the law and the evidence after they have sworn to decide the case according to the law and the evidence."
Houston lawyer Clay S. Conrad, author of a new book defending jury nullification, asserts that it is not "anarchist." For the average citizen, he says, nullification is an effective way of countering prosecutorial abuse and limiting the power and intrusiveness of the legislature.
Unlike libertarians Dodge and Conrad, George Washington University law professor Paul Butler comes at the subject from a different perspective, and has developed a national reputation by telling black jurors they should vote against conviction to stop another African American from ending up in prison.
"Jury nullification, for me, is a tool," Butler said. "It's a tool for some sort of fairness in the criminal justice system, where the situation is getting worse for blacks." Butler doesn't believe murderers or other dangerous criminals should be spared from conviction, but in "victimless" crimes like drug possession, he believes black jurors should protect their own.
A former prosecutor who keeps at his fingertips statistics about the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, Butler has espoused his views on national television, in speeches and in numerous publications. "If African Americans simply followed the law because whites told them to, they'd still be slaves," he maintains. "The law doesn't come from God. It comes from people like Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich."
A Challenge to the System?
The right to trial by a fair and impartial jury is fundamental in America and rests on the belief that a jury may be the only shield between an individual and an overzealous prosecutor or a biased judge.
But if the process is breaking down, if people are using it as a way to express a personal agenda, should the system be changed? To even address the question -- which many court officials are reluctant to do -- is to suggest that there is something wrong with a central component of American democracy.
Some states have debated whether to permit non-unanimous verdicts in criminal cases as a way to shut down rebel jurors who create hung juries. The rationale is that if one or two jurors fail to consider the evidence, an agreement among the 10 or 11 others could seal a verdict.
Many judges are also spending more time questioning potential jurors before they get on a trial in hopes of weeding out those who want to protest the law. And prosecutors have brought charges against jury "nullification" activists who pass out leaflets at courthouses encouraging jurors "to vote your conscience."
And yet, while a growing number of prosecutors and legal scholars believe the problem needs addressing, there is no consensus on what actions should be taken when jurors ignore the law.
"You're real hesitant as a judge to go beyond what ought to be a pretty inviolable shield" protecting jury deliberations, said Holder, a former Superior Court judge in the District. "But you do have those who go into the jury room with an agenda: 'I don't want to convict another black guy.' "
Holder thinks officials should be more vigilant in monitoring the movement, seeing which cases tend to produce nullification, determining whether the trend is becoming "more dangerous."
Perhaps not surprisingly, prosecutors and defense lawyers are of two minds on the dangers to the system and what should be done.
"We don't want vigilante justice," said Donald Kinsella, the federal prosecutor in the Thomas family drug case who at every phase of the trial had pressed the judge to remove Leslie Davis. But defense lawyers say that when a jury is hung, it is because the prosecution has failed to make its case, whatever the reason. Defense lawyers fear that any new effort to respond to jury activism will intrude on the fairness of the jury system and ultimately lead to more convictions.
In the end, it could be argued, the system sometimes takes care of itself.
In Albany, the Thomas siblings were found guilty of drug charges by the remaining 11 jurors after Davis was removed, but the defendants then appealed the conviction.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, reviewing the whole episode, said jurors have no right to reject a law simply because they don't like it.
"Nullification is, by definition, a violation of a juror's oath to apply the law as instructed by the court," the court said in its 1997 ruling, the strongest, most recent court decision on the topic. The opinion by Judge Jose Cabranes said jurors who reject the law should not be allowed to serve.
But the appeals court also ordered a new trial after declaring that only "unambiguous evidence" of a juror's disregard of the law can justify his dismissal.
In a retrial, the Thomas siblings were found guilty of selling and conspiring to sell drugs -- by an all-white jury.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Over the past several years, reports of jurors ignoring the law and refusing to convict in the face of overwhelming evidence have grown in this area and across the country. Because there has been no systematic study of the practice, The Post set out to measure the degree to which jury activism permeates the justice system. The research was conducted over four months and included personal interviews with more than 100 jurors, judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, as well as an analysis of academic studies, polling data and scores of cases.
People increasingly are using the jury box as a form of civil protest. Some studies suggest the actions reflect an overall decline in respect for legal institutions.
Measures of displeasure
The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reports that public confidence in the courts and the legal system has eroded in recent years.
Percentage of people surveyed reporting very little or no confidence in the legal system:
The Gallup Poll has reported a decline in the ratings people give lawyers for honesty and ethical standards.
Percentage of people who rate lawyers as having "high" or "very high" ethical standards:
A Decision Quest/National Law Journal poll in October 1998 found that three out of four Americans eligible to serve on a jury say they would act on their own beliefs of right and wrong regardless of legal instructions from a judge.
Percentage of Americans who say they would act on their own beliefs during a trial: 75%
Nullification or not?
Independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz asked the judge hearing the illegal-gratuities case against former agriculture secretary Espy to instruct jurors not to consider that Espy is African American.
Jurors are increasingly rejecting the law, experts say, in situations that invoke evolving social values, such as the "assisted suicide" charges lodged against Kevorkian.
In both trials for Aron, the Maryland politician accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer, evidence of a juror's bias became public after the end of deliberations.
Many commentators questioned whether the predominantly black jury sided with Simpson because of his race when they acquitted him of murdering his ex-wife and her friend.
Anyone accused of a crime in this country is entitled to a jury trial. It is a guarantee at the core of the American legal tradition and reflects the belief that a group of one's peers may be the only protection from a capricious or unfair prosecutor.
People called to serve are asked a series of questions designed to weed out anyone who would not be fair or objective. To prevent them from refusing to carry out the law, individuals are asked whether they can accept a statute as it is written. That is, can they decide whether a person is guilty of illegal drug use, for example, and not let their personal feelings about what the law should say interfere?
The American custom is that jurors decide the facts of the case (whether the person did what he is accused of) and leave it to judges to interpret the law. There is no room, in other words, for jurors to say whether they think the law is a good one, though there have been a few celebrated exceptions -- notably the 18th-century acquittal of John Peter Zenger of seditious libel and the 19th-century acquittals for prosecution under the fugitive slave law.
Before a jury begins deliberating, a judge will typically tell the 12 men and women that they must apply the law as written. A juror who spurns that mandate and ignores the evidence can be removed from deliberations.
But knowing when they do that is difficult because the jurors do not have to explain their votes and, save for a few exceptional situations, a judge cannot second-guess the verdict.
In the most recent, comprehensive ruling
on the subject, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
last year declared that judges may dismiss jurors who refuse to
follow the law. But the New York-based appeals court said
a judge should be certain that the defiant juror is not simply expressing
a reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. That
May 1997 ruling has since become a touchstone for courts across