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July 2011
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I’ve got some indirect criminal contempt for Judge Belvin Perry

Jury nullification is a topic that’s of strong interest to those of us in the drug policy reform movement. A jury of peers is supposed to be the ultimate check on government and has the power to judge both the facts and the law, not be a rubber stamp for the prosecutor. Judges and prosecutors may not like that, but they can’t prevent jury nullification… except by attempting to keep jurors in the dark about their rights and responsibilities.

That’s what Judge Belvin Perry tried to do when he sentenced Mark Schmidter to 292 days and $500 for being guilty of “indirect criminal contempt” for passing out jury nullification flyers outside the courthouse.

I had to look up “indirect criminal contempt” because it’s such a Kafkaesque-sounding charge. Sure enough, it exists, although in proper legal framework, indirect criminal contempt defendants are treated as other criminal defendants and allowed jury trial, etc. Florida, for some strange reason, doesn’t allow that by bizarrely defining criminal contempt as not actually being a crime, and gives all the power to the judge.

So here we have a judge who decided he didn’t like Mark Schmidter’s speech, banned it, complained about it, had him arrested, tried him, convicted him, and sentenced him all on his own. That’s not the justice system in which I believe, nor are the judge’s actions allowed by the Constitution I uphold.

So no, I guess I don’t have indirect criminal contempt for Judge Perry. My contempt is a lot more direct.

[Thanks to Radley Balko]

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11 comments to I’ve got some indirect criminal contempt for Judge Belvin Perry

  • alan Hunt, MD

    This is a lot like the Wichita judge and Siobhan Reylnold’s PRN trying to support a doctor whol may have been railroaded by the system. Not only gagged but bankrupted the organization which tried to support doctors singled out by our current system.

  • Ben

    Sounds to me like a constitutional challenge waiting to happen. Of course, this judge is completely shielded from any and all possible repercussions. He has the power to take away citizens’ freedom regardless of justice.

    This country really disgusts me sometimes.

  • darkcycle

    Is there a “contempt of Constitution” charge?

  • Duncan20903

    .
    .
    I recall when my home county’s courthouse was made “smoke free”. It was actually one of the first public places in Virginia to do so and this was well before that was PC nationwide, not just Virginia. The head judge just ordered it, and the penalty for smoking there was (still is?) conviction for contempt of court.

    Anyway, don’t you know that now this guy Schmidter has standing to take the issue to the appeals courts? IIRC Laura Kriho in Colorado is the only other person that’s gotten in trouble over jury nullification, at least as far as I can recall. She screwed it up because she fibbed on her jury pool intake questionnaire which changed it from being about jury nullification to being nominally about perjury. One of the silly things about US law, somebody has to get bent over before you can challenge a bad law.

  • iDub

    shouldn’t ACLU be all over this by now?

  • FU

    In a sane world, it would be Judge Belvin who would get the penalty. No punishment ever conceived in the mind of man throughout the history of the world is too severe in the hypothetical case of Judge B. Perry.

  • warren

    where does florida dig up these winners? Can the voters be that stupid? Are the voting machines rigged? Was there a big cloud of gas at the polling place?

  • Paul

    Every time they get away with something like this it makes them stronger. Jailing someone without a trial for exercising his first amendment rights is unconstitutional for 2 separate reasons, and they are clear and obvious reasons.

    The legal system (cops, judges, and prosecutors) realized long ago that most people just don’t care about things like this, so they can pretty much do whatever they like.

  • Windy

    My favorite comment at Radley’s site on this story is this one:
    #6 | albatross | July 29th, 2011 at 12:43 pm
    I’m certainly no lawyer or constitutional scholar, but wasn’t the idea of the first amendment supposed to be that the whole *country* was a free-speech zone?

    • Joe

      When the constitution was ratified it only applied to the federal government (Most states already had a bill of rights). It wasn’t till the 14th amendment that the Bill of Rights was interpreted as applying to all states (1868).