As I surrender myself into Federal Custody on January 3rd, 2011, it is important to remember what happened at my sentencing and the on-going travesty that can occur in grand juries. I served nearly four months of jail time, was sentenced to an additional 10-month sentence, and must serve three years of probation despite my legitimate beliefs in protecting animals. Other than this single instance of defiance, I have always worked within the law to promote change and to increase awareness of abuses. For these efforts, the government has thrown me in jail, called me a terrorist, and given me a sentence that is similarly as long if not longer than others who have actually committed crimes.
The grand jury is a secretive and archaic tool; once a mechanism for protecting the wrongfully accused, the government now increasingly uses the grand jury process to question lawful dissidents like myself.
A grand jury witness is not allowed to have a legal representative in the grand jury room. Rather, witnesses must ask to halt the proceedings and speak with a lawyer outside of the grand jury room.
But, my case makes it questionable whether you can leave the chamber to consult one’s attorney after a question. Without the assistance of counsel, grand jury witnesses face complicated legal problems; having the opportunity to check in with one’s attorney has been an important safeguard for the grand jury witness, who is stripped of many constitutional protections in the grand jury proceedings. When government prosecutors granted me immunity, for example, they also deprived me of the right to consult a lawyer. The court justified this practice essentially by promising not to prosecute me for anything I revealed. But this offer was hollow, because the prosecutors conceded that I had done nothing to warrant prosecution. Moreover, this immunity does not provide complete protection against prosecution because any evidence presented by any other grand jury witness could have led to an indictment anyway.
Grand jury witnesses’ rights are further limited because grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret, and all documents and transcripts are sealed. The only people allowed in the grand jury room are the subpoenaed witness, the prosecutor, a court reporter, and members of the grand jury that are all sworn to secrecy. If a grand juror or the prosecutor were to talk about the proceedings, the juror could be held in contempt of court.
I am the first known activist in more than two decades to be incarcerated under civil contempt and subsequently charged with criminal contempt for only one refusal to testify. In the 1980s a small number of activists were similarly prosecuted and imprisoned. Just like me, these people were activists fighting for a legal cause that they truly believed in. They weren’t criminals as the government has portrayed them and me. I have and always will work within the law for change. Nevertheless, the government has chosen to punish me for my beliefs.
After over a year of burdensome pretrial conditions, which prohibited me from leaving the state, associating with my friends and acquaintances, and denying me access to various employment and educational opportunities, my 10-month sentence is indeed a very sad outcome, not only for me but for others who believe in a legitimate cause and chose to express their opinions openly. I have already served 4 months for this single act of recalcitrance. I have now been sentenced to an additional 10 months to be followed by three years of probation. This significant incarceration approaches the two-year sentences that the targets of the grand jury received for releasing minks and causing several thousand dollars worth of damages. In fact, if I end up serving the full term of the sentence, I will have served more time than one of the individuals and slightly less than the other, who were both released early for good behavior. Such a sentence is unjustified for essentially doing nothing more than objecting to an out-of-date, abusive prosecutorial tactic while others who actually committed the crimes that were the subject of the grand jury proceedings received similar sentences. Other than refusing to answer questions before a secretive tribunal, I have never committed a crime and instead worked within the law to change attitudes.
These facts cause me to question the motives of the government at this point. I have learned no lesson, other than a deeper understanding of our unjust system of government. I am unapologetic, and frankly even more infuriated than I was in the beginning of this whole process. When the government takes all legal means of protest away from activists, they are left with little else they can do. The government is sending a strong message to current and future activists that “If you are going to serve the time, you might as well just do the crime.” This message suggests that underground activists are less likely to get caught than legal above-ground activists who speak to the media and show their faces at protests. The government is scaring legal activists underground.
I encourage everyone to act with conscience within the law to show your opposition to the government’s actions. Don’t just sit by and watch as injustice occurs around you. REAL CHANGE BEGINS AND ENDS WITH US! The only way to change an unjust government is to RISE UP and TAKE A STAND!