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Voire Dire:
A French Term for Jury-Stacking
Mar 6, 1996
Originally published in The Libertarian
Someone finally seems to have taken notice of the case of Laura Kriho, the Colorado juror scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow (March 7) to up to six months in jail by the kangaroo courts of Gilpin County for the crime of daring to report for jury duty when summoned, and then taking her seat and proceeding to deliberate in an amphetamine possession case.

What's "contemptuous" about that, you ask? Well, you see, it turns out Laura Kriho thinks it's stupid to send young teenagers to jail for years for possession of small amounts of drugs less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and dared to say so in the jury room ... at which point a government snitch turned her in to the judge, who declared a mistrial ... and indicted Laura Kriho.

Kriho was initially charged with lying to the judge and prosecutor during "voir dire" -- the lengthy process in which judges and prosecutors stack our modern juries to make sure no one who disagrees with the government is allowed to be seated.

But upon review of the transcript, it turns out Laura Kriho didn't lie at all -- she was completely exonerated on the perjury charge. Instead, it turns out they just forgot to ask her whether she was against the drug war.

No matter. The court ruling under which Ms. Kriho is to be sentenced holds that potential jurors have a responsibility to leap to their feet during jury selection, bleating out any opinions they may have that might lead them to disagree with the court or the prosecution ... even if the questions are never asked.

(Either our courtrooms are about to start resembling revival meetings, with folks arching their backs in the aisles and babbling in tongues or wailing like certain Sunni mullahs, or else all potential jurors had better start asking for court-appointed counsel, to warn them what to say and when, lest they end up facing jail sentences for failure to "volunteer" some disallowed political opinion or other.)

Anyway, the few Fully Informed Jury activists who have stood a lonely vigil over the Kriho case since last summer finally seem to have found some company.

The Rocky Mountain News -- largest newspaper in Denver, in Colorado, or anywhere thereabouts -- editorialized on Feb. 15 under the headline "Free the Rollinsville One": Email: letters@denver-rmn.com

# # #

"The issue: Should a holdout juror be punished?

"Our view: No. It damages the jury system.

"Fellow jury slaves: There are at least two lessons to be gleaned from the recent finding that juror Laura Kriho of Rollinsville is guilty of contempt because she 'obstructed justice.'

"First, if you're going to hold out in a criminal case, you'd better convince at least one other person to join you. They probably won't string up two or more, but if you stand alone, you'll hang alone.

"Second, as a potential juror you apparently have fewer rights than the defendant. The defendant doesn't have to say anything to anybody; a would-be juror is expected to answer not only direct questions but to remember, and reply to, questions asked of other people earlier in the day.

"What's really at work in this highly unusual case? We hope we're wrong, but it looks like revenge. It's clear that had Kriho joined the other 11 jurors in voting to convict, the state wouldn't have cared one iota what convictions and prejudices she may have failed to disclose.

"Sure, Kriho has been an active hempie -- a strange but not uncommon breed in our mountains. But it's not the business of the court to ascertain jurors' political philosophies. When you command their appearance, you should take what you get and be grateful for it.

"After all, jury service is a sort of civilian draft. There's no good reason jurors should have to supply much more than name, rank, Social Security number -- and whether or not they have a direct stake or interest in the case, such as knowing the attorneys or principals. ... That's all the law requires. ...

"(Gilpin District Judge Henry) Nieto seems to be creating a new legal duty in which a juror is obliged to confess not only to past deeds but to current thought crimes. In a drug case he'd just as soon reject author William F. Buckley Jr., and Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke as Kriho -- since all have questioned the efficacy of the drug laws.

"It goes against the whole concept of the jury to purge it of those who are critical of the government and some of its laws. That's why juries were created in the first place -- to be a check on runaway government.

"We hope Kriho's conviction is overturned somewhere along the way, even if it has to go to the U.S. Supreme Court."