FIJA Activist Arrested

March 1995, from Larry Dodge, co-founder and Board Chairman, Fully Informed Jury Association:

On March 15, wholesale florist Yvonne Regas of Sparks, Nevada, will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Reno, on charges of (1) Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice; (2) Aiding and Abetting Obstruction of Justice; and (3) Jury Tampering.

Before deciding that such dastardly behavior deserves swift, sure punishment --- such as the three to six years in prison this could cost Ms. Regas, if convicted --- consider what she actually did: she and a few friends put brochures published by the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) under the wiper blades of cars parked near the courthouse, during the trial of her son and ex-husband, among others, on drug charges. That's it.

These brochures, which have been distributed similarly by untold numbers of people at hundreds of courthouses around the country over the past five years, explain the rights, powers, and responsibilities of trial jurors. Often, they're handed to all who enter the courthouse by activists standing outside the doorways.

This is the latest --- and because federal, the most serious --- in a series of harassments aimed at stopping FIJA activists from leafleting. In four previous cases, confrontations resulting in felony jury tampering charges took place in front of state courthouses. Two resultant prosecutions have been won by the defendants; two more are still pending.

These actions represent a serious and patterned escalation by the government over earlier reactions, which usually entailed, at worst, shooing FIJA leafleters off the porch of the building and onto the sidewalks. After relocating there, and relying on US v. Grace, 1983 (in which the Supreme Court declared the sidewalks around a courthouse to be a "traditional free speech zone") the leafleters would continue leafleting, undisturbed.

The point of the leafleting has been to advise jurors that they have the power to judge the law itself, and not just "the facts," as most modern jury instructions insist. Known in the legal community as the doctrine of "jury nullification of law" or simply "jury veto power," it means that "the governed" --- if they only know about their power as jurors --- can "just say no" to bad law, and thereby check and balance the government.

FIJA activists are thus betting that ordinary Americans, armed with this knowledge, will begin refusing to apply many of this country's most oppressive laws. It was rejection of bad laws by juries which made us free in the first place, FIJA activists can document, and it may be the only way out from under an increasingly tyrannical government again today: a series of jury rejections of a given law has in the past led the government to change or abolish that law, as happened to fugitive slave acts, Prohibition, and anti-strike laws.

The Regas case may indeed be the result of successes that FIJA activists have had in educating jurors at a number of recent federal cases, including the Branch Davidians' trial on gun and conspiracy charges in San Antonio, the trial of vitamin salesman Roger Sless for selling "unapproved nutritional supplements" in Albuquerque, some drug trials and --- perhaps most importantly --- several unsuccessful prosecutions of tax resisters.

The Regas case attracted some of the nation's premier constitutional lawyers: Nancy Lord, Larry Becraft, and (possibly) Jonathan Emord. They see this as a watershed case for both the First and Sixth Amendments, and believe that conviction of Ms. Regas could result in erosion of the rest of the Bill of Rights. On the other hand, dismissal of charges or, especially, an acquittal by jury of Ms. Regas would measurably improve the future of justice by jury, and thus the future of all other individual rights.

If Regas is convicted, Nancy Lord fears it could also lead to prosecutions of FIJA activists around the country, simply for using their right of free speech to inform jurors of their right to vote on a verdict according to conscience and common sense, whenever strict application of the law would, in their eyes, produce an injustice. Acquittal, however, would likely protect jury-rights educators and activists from further abuse by the government --- until they're put out of work by enactment of "FIJA legislation," laws which will either require judges or fellow attorneys, for the first time in a century, to resume the practice of informing juries about their veto power.