Occupy the Jury Trial
Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Court, Free Manch, Free Press, Issues, Living Free, Manchester, National, New Hampshire, News, Noncooperation, Personal Freedom, Police
On March 21, the two-day trial began in the case of State v Edwards, Grunewald & Richards. The State claims the 3 defendants committed the crime of criminal trespass in a public park on the night of October 19, 2011.
The State began their case by saying “this case is about choices” and said the defendants had 3 choices:
1) remain in the park until 11pm then leave
2) stay in the park past 11pm, receive a citation, then leave the park
3) stay in the park past 11pm, receive a citation, remain then get arrested.
The prosecutor also mentioned that defense will attempt to convince the jury to nullify the curfew ordinance.
The attorney for defendants, Barbara Keshen, said, “this case is about law,” and asked the jury “is a city ordinance superior to the constitution?” Keshen then explained that the defendants had a constitutional right to assemble, have open discourse, and to do so in public; and told the jury “I’m not asking you to agree with their message… I’m asking you to agree that they had a right to be [in the park].”
The only witness for the State was Robert Cunha, a Captain with the Machester Police Department. He testified that over the five days of the Occupy NH protest, he had several interactions with the “occupiers” and that “99% of interaction was positive.” Cunha also testified that he was enforcing the ordinance at 11pm on October 19 and didn’t want to take an “enforcement action” because he didn’t want to “see [the defendants] get in trouble,” but the city had allowed them to violate curfew for a series of nights, and the city could not allow the protest any longer.
The three witnesses for the defense, Arnie Alpert, Matt Lawrence and Will Hopkins, all testified to having been active with the occupy protests, and all were present on the night of October 19 when the defendants were arrested. When Alpert was asked if he witnessed any police interactions, the prosecutor objected and all parties approached the bench; Judge Kenneth Brown said “I reverse myself, you may go ahead,” and Alpert was questioned about the events on October 19. Lawrence and Hopkins each received a citation for violating the park curfew, while Alpert decided to observe from the sidewalk. Alpert was asked if the defendants chose to stay and get arrested to which he replied, “the occupiers chose to stay, the police chose to arrest them.” Hopkins responded to the same question by stating that occupy is a movement and some members appreciate civil disobedience as a tactic of reform. Hopkins also stated that he did not get arrested, because he did not want to face jail time; judge instructed jury to disregard testimony about a possible punishment.
After the witnesses for the defense had testified, the three defendants took the stand. Matthew Richards was the first to take the stand. During an emotional testimony where he explained his reasons for joining occupy, he talked about his experience over the five days of protesting in which homeless families were fed and clothed by the community that had assembled. The prosecutor asked why he did not leave the park after receiving a summons for violating the curfew. Richards replied, “leaving the park would have sent the message that I can only speak out when it’s convenient for those in power.”
Beth Grunewald testified that she joined occupy because of economic injustices, because people with more money wield more political power. When asked why she did not leave the park, she replied, “democracy is not 7am-11pm job.” She continued, “there are good choices and bad choices… I felt I would be abandoning my principles if I left,” and that while “I disobeyed the law, but I did nothing wrong!” Grunewald concluded by saying, “my rights trump the curfew.”
The final testimony on the first day of the trial was given by Elizabeth Edwards. She said she was worried about the message of Occupy Wall St and joined Occupy NH because she wanted to “keep an eye on Occupy NH.” Edwards also testified that occupy was part of a broader national movement, and the protests could not be limited to park hours to show real commitment to the message. The prosecutor asked why she did not leave the park, she replied, “the only way to have jury examine ordinance is for someone to get arrested.” After this comment, the prosecutor & defense attorneys approached the bench. Edwards stated she wanted a jury because she doesn’t trust one judge or group of judges to make the decision because “there are things more important than the ordinance that a jury would see.” She concluded by saying that “Occupy was about creating a society within a society,” and “it’s important to do the right thing, even if it’s not the legal thing.”
The court was recessed until 9:30am on March 22, the second day of the trial would consist of closing remarks, jury instructions and jury deliberation. Keshen began the closing remarks for the defense by telling the jury “this IS a case about choices… it’s about the choices of the Manchester Police and the law the chose to enforce.” Keshen emphasized that when it came time to make a decision the defendants decided to stand up for their rights. Keshen reminded the jury that the New Hampshire State Constitution gives more protection than the US constitution, and cited Articles 22 & 32. Keshen then asked, “who broke the law: the defendants who stood up for their rights or the city who violated those rights? To the state this is about a curfew, to the defense it’s about standing up for their rights.”
During the State’s closing arguments, the prosecutor claimed the defendants got their message across in the 4 days the were there, and did not need to remain in the park past 11pm. The prosecutor also told the jury, “the defendants want you to ignore the law” but the judge will give you the law to apply, the judge will not tell you about the constitution, and will not tell you the law is unconstitutional because free speech can be restricted in public. The prosecution further claimed that while the defendants were protesting as part of “99%” they wanted the jury to treat them as the 1%. The State concluded by telling the jury that the curfew was instituted in 1971 and that if the defendants wanted to change that law, they should have gone “about the proper methods.”
The judge then instructed the jury to deliberate on each defendant independently of one another. He said “if there is reasonable doubt that the state did not prove all elements, you MUST find them not guilty” and told the jury you may find them not guilty if you feel “a not guilty verdict will be a fair result in this case.”
The jury deliberated for less than 1 hour before returning three guilty verdicts. Judge Brown dismissed the jury and proceeded to issue a deferred sentence of 10 days in jail. Edwards, Grunewald & Richards were also ordered to complete 90 hours community service, after which point their sentence will be suspended for 1 year.
One of the jurors stated that initially 9 jurors supported a guilty verdict, 2 supported not guilty and 1 juror was undecided. This juror stated that the 3 were swayed to vote guilty because “society needs rules.” The juror was asked if this jury would have convicted Gandhi or Martin Luther King, and replied “half of the jury would.”
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