Jury Duty: The Latest Governmental Mousetrap

Colorado Legal Eagles Issue Alert
February 25, 1997
The Colorado Legal Eagles
PO Box 506
Nederland, CO 80466

Contact: Joe Vigorito (support@eagle-access.net)

The Colorado Legal Eagles are advising U.S. citizens of a new governmental mousetrap: jury duty.

On February 10, 1997, former juror Laura Kriho was convicted of contempt of court by First Judicial District Chief Judge Henry Nieto.

Judge Nieto took four months to write a nine-page ruling to convict Laura of contempt of court for obstructing the administration of justice by failing to volunteer information about her opinions, beliefs, and attitudes (without being specifically asked) during jury selection. Read the entire ruling.

For that reason, the Eagles are advising all those called for jury duty to ask the court to appoint legal counsel to represent them throughout jury selection.

The necessity of asking for legal counsel when called for jury duty is unfortunate. It is widely believed by legal experts that Judge Nieto's ruling will be overturned by a higher court, thus protecting the rights of jurors. However, these appeals procedures may take one to three years. Until such time, citizens should be advised that they may be prosecuted after their service as a juror, not only for replies made when asked a direct question during jury selection, but for failure to volunteer information that wasn't specifically asked.

The gist of Judge Henry Nieto's ruling is that jurors do not have the right to remain silent, but anything a juror may say can be used against him in later prosecution. Not only will this chill free and open deliberations in the jury room, but it puts prospective jurors in an untenable position.

To protect yourself, you may wish to call counsel to go with you for jury duty. If you can't afford that, you may wish to ask the court for guidance. It could be as simple as this: "Your honor, I have been made aware of the case of a juror in Colorado who was convicted of contempt of court for failing to volunteer information during jury selection. I have no desire to offend the court in any way, but I do not understand my legal rights as a juror. I fear I may be prosecuted for what I say or fail to say. For that reason, I am unwilling to make any statements on the record until I have obtained legal counsel."

"Since I cannot afford a private attorney, I am requesting that the court appoint me an attorney to represent me throughout jury selection, so that I can understand my legal rights and obligations as a juror."

It is unclear how the judge will respond. S/he clearly has no statutory duty, though s/he does have the authority to appoint counsel in a civil matter. However you won't answer any more questions, so it is doubtful you will be sitting on that jury -- unless of course you have the advice of counsel. Please be careful and relate any experiences to: support@eagle-access.net.

The truth is that judges and prosecutors want to intimidate juries into becoming their rubber stamp. And they have been mostly successful. Judging by the jurors who testified against Kriho at her trial, most jurors are already willing slaves of the government. Kriho's conviction is an attempt to quash the few forgotten remnants of juror independence in this country.

That is why those of us who care about the right to trial by jury should not let the ruling in the Kriho case make us shun and avoid jury duty. We need to demand our rights, not surrender them.

The Legal Eagles do have great faith that the higher courts will not tolerate this type of malicious prosecution of jurors. However until this situation is fully heard and rectified, citizens should be aware that the time-honored tradition of service through jury duty has been rendered just another in a long list of governmental mouse traps.

Joseph Vigorito
The Colorado Legal Eagles

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