Last year a 65 year old Tucson woman was sentenced to 25 years in prison because of marijuana she possessed for medical use.
The owner of a video store had his tapes and equipment confiscated and was put out of business on a mere charge of video piracy, without a trial.
The Federal Fish and Wildlife agency finally backed down from the seizure of a Laotian farmer's tractor for the crime of running over five allegedly endangered kangaroo rats. The feds only backed down when a thousand farmers drove their tractors to Fresno to protest this theft.
In San Francisco, a young Cambodian family sat weeping in a hearing room after a board set up to enforce laws protecting the disabled declared that they will be required to install a wheelchair ramp in their 20 seat restaurant. The $150,000 cost is nearly four times the value of the restaurant -- their only asset.
In Malibu, California, Donald Scott was shot to death in his home, before his wife's eyes, by a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff during a massive drug raid that included the Border Patrol, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and armed U.S. Park Service rangers. Are you surprised about the park rangers? Mr. Scott had refused to sell his 200 acre ranch to the Park Service. A warrant was sworn out on a bogus claim that a DEA agent saw marijuana growing there. The deputy sheriffs had Scott's property appraised to determine its market value prior to their attack in hopes of finding some pretext for seizing it. Donald Scott, an innocent man, is dead. No marijuana was found.
The Ventura County DA's office issued a report that condemned the raid and denounced the financial motive of the raiders. No matter. The men who shot Donald Scott were given commendations for "doing their duty," and California Attorney General Dan Lundgren denounced the Ventura DA's report. I understand that Dan Lundgren has been considered as a Vice Presidential candidate by Bob Dole.
In Boston, Massachusetts, the police burst into the home of an elderly couple and proceeded to brutally shove them around while tearing the home apart in search of drugs. The man, a retired black minister, had a heart attack and died. Turns out, they had the wrong house. No known action was taken against the agents or their bosses.
In Phoenix, Arizona, the owners of a successful restaurant were approached by some people who supposedly wanted to buy their business. The deal was made and they showed up at the meeting where the buyer brought cash rather than the cashier's check they had agreed to. The seller reluctantly accepted the cash and placed it in several bank accounts. None of the deposits were for more than $10,000, but since the total was more than $10,000 they were charged with "structuring" -- a form of money laundering. Their home was invaded, their business seized, and the husband arrested.
The "buyers" were undercover agents of the FBI, intent on entrapping people with Italian surnames -- even though there was no other evidence of crimes. The charges against the husband were dropped, but only after he signed a form promising not to sue the government for damages and return of his property.
Randy Weaver's wife and son were shot dead at Ruby Ridge, Idaho after an attempt to frame him on weapons charges. In the end, Weaver was acquitted of all weapons and assault charges. Even though the Weaver family has won a civil settlement of over 3 million dollars (that taxpayers will pay), no charges were ever brought against the offending government agents, and the man in charge of the operation was promoted.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had nearly 200 agents at the Branch Davidian complex at Waco, Texas to serve a search warrant because illegal (meaning untaxed) weapons were believed to be present. Instead of knocking on the door and presenting the search warrant, as local police had done previously, the BATF flew helicopters over the complex, shot the Davidians' guard dogs, and apparently opened fire first, killing some of their own agents. According to the New Yorker Magazine, once the siege began the BATF and the FBI surrounded the compound with razor wire fencing and used stun grenades whenever people tried to leave. As you know, nearly all of the people, including the children, died in the final attack.
Are these simply isolated incidents? Judge for yourself. I've mentioned only a small sampling of those that I have heard about. Most anyone could add to the list. And one thing is clear: these are not the acts of a government that respects the people's rights. These are acts of tyranny, by any measure.
Bill Clinton declared that no-one has a right to criticize law enforcement officers. That's quite an unusual reading of the First Amendment. And in yet another attack on the Bill of Rights, he also helped to push through a so-called anti-terrorism bill that repeals most of our Fourth Amendment protections (as if the drug laws haven't done enough of that).
One of the foundations of this republic was the idea that the proper role of government is to protect individuals from coercion. Certainly it is wrong for government and its agents to become the coercers. Law should not be used to take away the rights and freedoms of the people. That is why every law must be judged by the people, on the basis of whether it violates the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -- or "natural law." An unjust law does not become just merely because the Supreme Court decrees it.
The founders of this nation understood tyranny. They realized the new republic could easily become tyrannical. That is why they were so careful to preserve the people's right to trial by jury. They understood that there is no folly so great that some legislature might not enact it into law.
Some laws are simply wrong, no matter what the Supreme Court says. In the 1850s, for example, the Congress passed a "fugitive slave law" making it a crime for people to help slaves to escape their bondage. That law was upheld by the Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott decision.
Fortunately, we still have a way for individual citizens to resist the depredations of bad government, bad law, over-zealous law enforcement people and politically ambitious prosecutors -- we still have the jury system. In American law, a unanimous decision of the jury is still required to convict in a criminal case. When juries refuse to convict people being tried under patently unjust laws, those laws become unenforceable and eventually are null and void. That's where we get the term "jury nullification," one of the last protections our society has against tyranny.
In the 1850s, northern juries refused to convict members of the underground railroad. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, many juries refused to convict peaceful bootleggers under alcohol prohibition. Ever since the John Peter Zenger case in the 18th century, American juries have had the power, the right, and the duty to judge the justice of the law and its proper application, as well as the facts of the case.
Jury nullification, as it is commonly known, is not popular with our modern statists. They insist all laws must be enforced until they are changed -- in other words "the law is the law." By those standards, how much longer would it have taken to abolish the government-approved abomination of human slavery in this country?
If it is true, and not just a pretty sentiment, that in America the government "derives its just powers from the consent of the governed" as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, then it certainly follows that the power of consent includes the power to withhold that consent. Today, the only truly effective place for the average individual to exercise that power of consent is in the jury room.
Judges in our courts routinely instruct juries that they must confine themselves only to the facts, and have gone so far as to dismiss potential jurors who show knowledge of their true role. But we need to recognize jury power for what it truly is -- our power of consent, and the handle by which we can hold government to the bonds of the Constitution.
Government agents have gone so far as to arrest people for handing out leaflets informing the public, including jurors, that they have the right to judge the laws. Although charges are rarely filed against people who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights, the intimidation is certainly felt.
There is a growing war against juries. Increasingly, people are denied jury trials by various means, all in violation of the Bill of Rights. In regulatory cases, tax cases, asset forfeiture cases and many others where government arbitrarily classifies many "offenses" as civil, rather than criminal, the right to jury trial has been severely infringed upon, the clear text of the Constitution ignored.
Prosecutors use peremptory challenges in jury selection to get rid of people who are not sufficiently deferential to authority. Judges will sometimes declare mistrials if they think any of the jurors are aware of their power. Many politicians are trying to reduce the size of juries and to further restrict which cases "qualify" for jury trials. In some benighted areas there are efforts to do away with the requirement for unanimity in order to convict a defendant.
All of this is extremely dangerous to our freedom. If Bill Clinton doesn't want people to fear their government, then he should actively support jurors' rights, which bear directly on defendants' rights to a trial by impartial jury. Without a system of free juries, the only thing standing behind grass-roots political action in opposing the encroachment of tyranny is the Second Amendment -- and that is a frightening thought, indeed.
I strongly disagree with the Wall Street Journal article that smeared the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), as being some sort of "extreme right wing" plot. FIJA was formed by people with libertarian leanings who want to see unjust drug laws, gun laws, anti-gay laws and censorship laws overturned, as well as to curb the all-too-frequent violations of citizens' rights by police, prosecutors and other government agents. FIJA has been supported over the years by organizations and individuals spanning the political spectrum, and can hardly be pigeon-holed with any particular segment.
Jury power is not a panacea that will cure all the ills of our justice system. Unfortunately, many people seem content to convict defendants under unjust laws. But the strength of jury power is still largely unknown, and vastly underappreciated, although it is feared and despised by those whose power stands to be diminished if the people learn about it.
One of the advantages of this power is that it doesn't take a massive change in public opinion to make unjust and unconstitutional laws impossible to enforce. All that's needed is at least one member of each jury who understands, and is willing to exercise, this awesome power. If you think about it, you will see that one knowledgeable and determined individual can single-handedly stop the entire government in its tracks. Now THAT is power in the hands of the people.
One of the reasons I've been active in the Libertarian Party has been to work at the grass-roots level to bring about these very kinds of changes. And now, as a candidate for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, I expect to speak out on jury power and the consent of the governed, as well as on taxation, civil forfeiture, property takings, drug prohibition, the First Amendment, and the rest o f the Bill of Rights.
I will not allow Bill Clinton, or anyone else, to silence me with charges that I'm an extremist because I support the Bill of rights and he does not. I promote jury power and individual liberty because I really do love my country and what I believe it stands for.
And in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Mason and George Washington, I certainly do NOT trust the government.