Famed criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey once a stated that if he were charged with a crime and was, in fact, innocent of that crime, he would prefer to be tried by a military court of justice. He thought that military officers were disciplined to apply the law and the applicable rules fairly. I have no idea whether Bailey's view is supportable or not. However, I do know that if I'm guilty as charged, my best chance of beating the rap is to be tried by a jury of my "peers."
They were charged with "defiant trespass."
But after a Common Pleas Court jury on Tuesday acquitted the 12 Occupy Philadelphia protesters arrested in a 2011 bank sit-in, the trial judge shook their hands and called them the "most affable group of defendants I've ever come across."
"I think what this really shows is that when the people of Philadelphia make a decision, they want someone accountable," said Aaron Troisi, a 26-year-old working toward a master's degree in education at Temple University. "Accountability and justice is not what they experienced with banks like Wells Fargo."
Troisi's view of accountability would be labeled "ironic" if he was just a tad more self-aware. Instead, I'd label it "clueless."
The defendants were found guilty by a judge in municipal court, but were given the right to have the case retried by a jury in Common Pleas Court. As so many defendants facing substantial evidence of their guilt have previously discovered (including The Juice and Robert ("Don't Do The Crime If You Can't Do The Time") Blake), when a group of your average citizens decides to apply the law to the facts, whatever feels right is likely to rule the day.
The original charges of trespass were brought by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office after the defendants trespassed on private property (the inside of a bank branch office) as part of the nationwide Occupy This-and-That-and-Also-That-Thing-Over-There movement. It seemed like a slam dunk case, especially when the municipal court judge agreed. But after 13 hours of hard deliberation, the jury decided that it was an episode of "Boston Legal," where jury nullification is just part of the way a jury ought to roll. The linked article doesn't say, but I'm wondering whether, at any point in the defendants' counsel's summation, a rotund attorney stood up from the defense table, eyed the jury, uttered two words ("Denny Crane"), and then sat down. If so, the verdict makes sense.
The trial judge not only shook the defendants' hands, she told them to soldier on in "La Cause."
Afterward, Judge Nina N. Wright Padilla took the unusual step of coming down from the bench and asking all 12 to approach so she could shake their hands.
"I hope you continue your work in a law-abiding way," said Padilla.
In Philadelphia, "law-abiding" apparently does not apply to abiding by trespass laws, at least where the property owner is a large bank.
In an upside down world, the defendants displayed a firm grasp of logic.
"If this jury has found us innocent, then it must mean that Wells Fargo is guilty," said 71-year-old Willard R. Johnson, one of the 12 on trial.
I need to see the diagram of the syllogism that led Willard from Point A to Point B. On second thought, forget it.
According to the article, the jury bought defense counsels' arguments that the First Amendment protected the defendants and that even if the actions did violate the law, "the protest served a greater good for society that trumped the trespass charge."
"The greater good" trumps the rule of law. In Robert Bolt's play "A Man For All Seasons," Thomas Moore replies to his future son-in-law, Roper, a Christian zealot who claims that he'd cut down every law in England to get at the Devil.
Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man's laws, not God's– and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Beware of modern day zealots, who claim to "speak truth to power," and who would cut down any law that stands between them and "the common good."