More than facts were missing from the Federal Courtroom where Ed Rosenthal was tried and convicted last week. An informed jury was missing, and had been carefully excluded during the process of jury selection. The federal prosecutor and judge winnowed out 68 prospective jurors in order to gather in 12 people who would bend to the will of the prosecutor. No one advised these twelve people of their power to judge the application of the law as well as the facts of the case in their deliberations. No one told them that they must carry their conscience and their view of justice into the jury room.
These 12 people, who were honestly trying to do their best to find justice within our legal system, were not allowed to hear the facts of the case, nor the defendant's story. This jury suffered not only from a lack of facts, but also a from a lack of knowledge, for nowhere in the proceedings were they told that they had the power to judge the merits of the law as well as the facts of the case. Without the knowledge of their power as jurors, no matter what other facts were presented to them, they were left powerless to bring back a decision based on conscience.
As the nation watched the Ed Rosenthal case unfold, many of us had a sense that the law had been transformed into a weapon to use against the people. We watched as the jury was denied the knowledge it needed to render a just verdict. The defense was not allowed to tell the jury that Ed Rosenthal grew marijuana plants as an officer of the medical marijuana program of the City of Oakland, under a law passed by the State of California in 1996. The judge did not allow the jury to know that these plants were used to alleviate the pain and suffering of people with medical conditions, under the supervision of a physician.
Juries exist so that the community may bring its viewpoints, prejudices and inclinations together as a group of 12 when a question of the law arises. Juries of our peers are necessary for the guarantee of justice to be valid. Juries must be presented with all the facts if the law and its application in trial court are to be respected. They must confer with each other and interpret these facts to arrive at a decision. They must be allowed to consider all the facts of a case and mercy when deciding on a verdict. It has long been thought that the law, when administered in the spirit of justice, is tempered with mercy as well as understanding. Who will now dare to be merciful to all patients whom Ed Rosenthal can no longer help?
One attorney commented on record that Ed Rosenthal should not be allowed to present to the jury the fact that he had been licensed by the City of Oakland to grow medical marijuana for suffering patients. Bank robbers, said this attorney, aren't allowed to tell the jury if they are robbing a bank to feed their starving children, either. There is a difference in these cases that must be recognized. When a person chooses to rob a bank, the victims, customers of the bank and the larger community, have a right to seek justice under the law. But in Ed's case, who were the victims? No one has come forth with anyone Ed harmed, either directly or indirectly.
If the government's job - what we hire them to do - is to protect our life, liberty and property, then how were they fulfilling their function by prosecuting and jailing Ed Rosenthal? Whom have they protected, and from what? How could the jurors do their job as a part of the government system of justice after being denied half the facts and never advised of their power to judge the merits of law, and to judge how the law was applied?
Has our country come to this, that we can no longer trust the very people we hire to protect and defend us? Have we reached a time when we must question every word, every news release, every court case, every action that comes from the government? Has it come to this, that we must now be vigilant against our own government, and recognize that it no longer protects the people, but instead prosecutes and oppresses them? Is our legal system, as the retired Governor of Illinois recently stated, "Broken?"
Yes, perhaps our justice system is broken, but perhaps not beyond repair. We have in our own hands a powerful tool to fix the system. It is a tool that still works, when we find it and learn of its power. That tool is the fully informed juror: a juror who knows her power, a juror who knows that she has the right to render a verdict based on conscience, that she has the right to question the law itself and decide if the law is a good one. This juror will know that to render a verdict based on her own sense of justice is her responsibility and her power.
She will know that it is not only her right but her duty to bring an independent mind to her deliberations in the jury room. She will fully understand her right to render a verdict absolutely independent of any court instructions to the contrary. She will know that she is free to weigh her decision based on her own conscience. When she participates in the system as an independent, thinking and rational individual, as a stakeholder in our country, then she advances the purpose of justice for us all and protects our liberty and our rights.
This tool of the fully informed juror is a one we must protect, we must understand, and we must use to mend our broken legal system and rescue our government for the people. We at the Fully Informed Jury Association are dedicated to educating jurors and prospective jurors of their powers and responsibilities to judge the merits law as well as the facts of the case, and to render a verdict based on conscience as well as the law. For more information, visit our web site at www.FIJA.org, or call 1-800-TEL-JURY.
Missing from the Ed Rosenthal trial were justice, mercy, truth and knowledge. Also missing were fully informed jurors. Let's make sure that never happens again.