We would like to think that a jury trial is the ultimate hedge against government repression. I mean, as long as we've got juries, state employees can't whimsically send innocent people to prison, right?
In jury trials judges spend most of their time acting like referees. The state comes in on offense to make an accusation, while the defense tries to stop them from scoring a "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" goal. And in court just as in any sporting event, a crummy ref making bad calls can upend the entire affair. A bad ref can ignore obvious abuses by the offense, helping them move farther down the field, and he can throw flags against the defense for any reason or no reason at all, making it nearly impossible for them to win.
So, in today's post, I present five ways that a crooked and/or incompetent judge like Larry Baldwin of Hall County Georgia can ruin an innocent person's life.
But before I do that, I'll remind you that in this case (held in January of 2016), Larry literally had me convicted for the crime of publicly agreeing with the Bible. I ultimately won the case at the Supreme Court of Georgia, which, if you didn't already know, overturned the ruling because (surprise surprise), there's no legitimate way to convict a minister for standing up and sharing his opinions in church.
So, how do Judges like Larry Baldwin make innocent choir boys into criminals?
1. Allow Bad Charges to Go to Trial in the First Place
Right from the outset, my lawyer did exactly what he should have done. He asked that the case be dismissed because the accusation against me was so flawed that it made no accusation of any crime. I was a volunteer minister at a church. I stood up and said something that no one wanted to hear. The state had charactarized it as "screaming and shouting" (which it wasn't), and had claimed that it was rude, but neither of those things can possibly rise to the level of a crime. In fact, those things are constitutionally protected speech, and holding a trial about them is, in and of itself, a corruption in the trial process.
Larry decided to allow the trial anyway. He wanted to hear what the prosecution had to say. And when the prosecution was done saying a whole lot of nothing, Larry got his opportunity to make the same mistake twice. Midway through the trial, my lawyer asked that Larry should issue a directed verdict in my favor (legalese for "there's no reason for us to make a defense because no one has presented any evidence of a crime"). Larry disagreed on the most asinine grounds. His opinion was so ludicrous that he had to stop to chide me for involuntarily shaking my head "no" at him while he said it.
So you see, Larry wasn't going to have me convicted of actually breaking the law; he was going to ignore the law completely and have me convicted of violating the zeitgeist. Remember, we were living in the "Post-9/11" world, in which every American Christian is supposed to fear every other American Christian because several non-American non-Christians flew some airplanes into some buildings 15 years prior. In this brave new world, we're supposed to see terrorist mass-shooters behind every corner, because fewer than one in every two hundred thousand people will die in a mass-shooting (source, source). In this new "day and age," Christians have to shut up, sit down, and listen to whatever pro-government babble we hear from our pulpits, because standing up to say something contrary puts people in fear.
And before someone in the audience has the audacity to agree with Larry's insane opinion, I'll remind you that the disorderly conduct statute under which I was ostensibly charged doesn't just require that someone be placed in irrational fear - it requires that a person be placed in a "reasonable fear of life, limb, or health". That is a high standard to meet. A person in reasonable fear for his life, limb, or health has a state-recognized right to kill in self-defense. So Larry's opinion here is so absurd that, if put into practice, it would permit a person to shoot a Christian minister to death in his own church for making mild statements in disagreement with public policy. That opinion isn't just cowardly - it's nuts.
In the end, I made exactly that argument before the Supreme Court, and they agreed. Their unanimous decision was that I did nothing more than deliver protected free speech, and so they overturned the conviction on the grounds that Larry Baldwin had deprived me of justice by ever allowing the trial to happen in the first place.
2. Let the Prosecution Say Whatever They Want
So once Larry Baldwin had allowed the world's stupidest trial to commence, he ensured that the jury would be every bit as afraid as my "victim" supposedly was, by allowing the prosecution to make some of the wildest and most outlandish claims imaginable without any evidence to support them.
For example, there wasn't a scintilla of evidence that I had engaged in, or planned for, or even expected any violent behavior whatsoever, as evidenced by the statements of none other than my supposed victim Jason Berry:
And yet, somehow, the prosecution was allowed to compare my actions to those of the Columbine Murderers. They were allowed to make continual references to guns, and to suggest that I had brought a gun to church, even though there was absolutely no evidence related to guns or murders whatsoever.
3. Allow the Police to Give Disparaging Testimony About People They Don't Even Know
Listen, I know I've mentioned the completely ridiculous behavior of Hall County Sheriff Sergeant Cameron Parker before, but what I haven't mentioned is the fact that he was allowed to testify, as the state's first witness, over our repeated objections, despite the fact that he had absolutely no relevant information to add to the case:
So if we obejected, and if Cameron Parker didn't see the incident in question, and if he couldn't add any information that couldn't be supplied by a witness who actually was present at the incident, why was he the opening witness in the case? Why was he allowed to tell the jury Jason Berry was afraid for his life when Jason Berry himself never said it? It's obvious. Larry Baldwin wasn't running a trial. He was running a railroad.
And no, I'm not publishing any more of Parker's "testimony". He doesn't deserve the press.
4. Keep the Jury from Hearing Relevant Evidence
Fun fact: If you've been reading this blog, you've seen more relevant evidence about what actually happened in this case than the jury did. For example, you have access to a recording of my arrest and can listen to it at any time. The jury was allowed to hear it once, and when Daniel San Miguel started suggesting that it said something other than what it very obviously said, we weren't allowed to play it again. Why? Because the recording makes the police sound terrible, that's why.
And remember, my defense hinged on demonstrating the fact that the police had engaged in an intentional malicious attack on a political opponent. Without proving that, there is seemingly no explanation for the arrest. Not letting the jury hear evidence about police abuses effectively shuts down the defense. And believe me, Larry was intent on shutting it down. So, would Larry allow me to explain how I was subjected to barbarous and inhumane treatment at the Hall County Jail? Nope!
Isn't that weird? We'd been told already that Cameron Parker, who could only possibly talk about things related to my arrest, was a valid witness (because his testimony would make me look bad). We had been told that discussing the arrest was legitimate (because it was expected to make me look bad). But when the recording of the arrest showed obvious misconduct on the part of the police and made me look good, suddenly, any evidence about my arrest and imprisonment became irrelevant.
And, huh, I also notice that Judge Baldwin, who preferred "argumentative" evidence to hard documents mere moments ago, suddenly wants documentation demonstrating that I was left in a jail cell nude, but doesn't want to hear me talk about it. It's as if he thinks the Hall County Sheriff's Office gives out affidavits verifying that they're running a torture center.
You know, you could look at that kind of thing and walk away with the impression that Larry Baldwin intentionally cooked this trial.
I also wasn't allowed to talk about my political views, despite the fact that Cameron Parker had claimed that I was a politically extreme "sovereign citizen" - a claim for which he could give absolutely no evidence to support.
5. Help the Prosecution Badger Defense Witnesses
I was falsely arrested on August 3rd, 2014. No investigators had asked me what had happened in the events leading up to my arrest. I never had any opportunity to say anything in my defense until I took the stand on January 12th, 2016. As it turned out, I would barely get a chance to speak on my behalf at trial. Why? Constant interruptions, that's why.
When a person is attempting to explain a narrative of events and the motivations behind his actions (actions which, devoid of context, might seem a bit outlandish), it is important for that person to be allowed to speak freely to clearly convey those ideas. Of course, the prosecution knows that, and so his best hope of convicting an innocent person is to just interrupt as much as he can. Besides, if he can continually object and act like the witness is somehow breaking the rules, that might reflect poorly on the witness. And perhaps he can even badger the witness into acting angry or some such.
This, of course, is exactly the strategy that Babyface San Miguel employed, and Larry was more than happy to let him do it, permitting some of the most ludicrous objections to break up my testimony. In fact, Larry was so helpful at this that at one point, he literally stopped the proceedings altogether to hold a conference on jury charges (meaning, he stopped my testimony to hold a meeting on discussing an entirely different part of the trial). Altogether, my testimony could not have taken more than an hour, but during that time, there were at least 15 objections. Let's have a look at how some of those objections went:
Did you catch that? Daniel San Miguel suggested that he would be amenable to my lawyer asking me about my feelings. Then I tried to say how I was feeling, and he objected, pretty obviously because he didn't want the jury to hear my feelings on the matter. Larry sustained. After a bit of courtroom back-and-forth, between the lawyers, he lectured me on why he had sustained the objection:
Great Larry. Thanks. When the prosecution agrees that my lawyer should ask me how I feel, I'll both answer his questions and also not tell anyone how I feel. Damned if you do and damned if you don't...
So, I could go on with examples like this all night, but I think you get the picture. It is absurdly easy for a judge to sway a case without ever even technically breaking the rules. All he has to do is allow a false charge to go forward, allow the prosecution to bring a bunch of false and irrelevant evidence, and then shut the defense down so that they can't adequately convey the truth of the situation to the jury.
And what happened in my case should absolutely terrify you, because if it was this easy to do it to me, then there's no way for you to know that it isn't being done to everyone. There are millions of Americans who are in jail or on probation right now - a figure that has more than doubled in my lifetime. 95% of those poor souls plead guilty. I am not at all convinced that they plea because of actual guilt, believing instead that people plea because they know they won't receive a fair trial and that they will be punished more severely for demanding one. Of the few that do go to trial, this is the kind of show-trial that they get: a slanted sham not even fit for the kangaroos. If someone could reliably tell me what percentage of our prisoners actually committed the crime and deserved the time, I would not be surprised to find that it was as few as one in a hundred, and if the courts would like to convince me otherwise, they're going to have to do a whole lot better than Larry Baldwin.
Wake up Georgia. If you can't receive a fair trial, you do not live in a free society.