Trial By Jury - A Cherished Right

It is hard to feel badly for William Oscar Harris. While under indictment for fraud Mr. Harris sent phony financial documents appearing to create liens and judgments against the judges and prosecutors involved in the trial.

When he refused to obey the court's order to stop, Mr. Harris was held in civil contempt and confined. This has not deterred Mr. Harris.

He was tried, convicted, and sentenced for the fraud charges. But the criminal sentence has been held in abeyance because Mr. Harris has not stopped his harrassing conduct. Under these facts his continued and indefinite incarceration for civil contempt is not unjustified. After all, he holds the keys to his prison cell.

That the prisoner challenged the contempt order reminded me of a child who would kill his parents and then plead for mercy as an orphan. In that regard, based on the facts of this case I understand the majority's absence of sympathy.

Then again when the facts are against you then argue the law, and here Mr. Harris argued the indefinite confinement violates due process. On that note, I could not help but think bad facts make bad law. Here the facts about Mr. Harris are certainly bad. But judges and courts are not above the law. This defendant has been incarcerated for over five years without a trial by jury. If this incarceration is to continue, it should only be upon the judgment of his peers.

United State v. Harris (3d Cir. 2009)

Federalism - The Tenth Amendment.

I blogged before about standing under New Jersey law here (statements) and here (search and seizure). This post deals with standing to raise a claim under the Tenth Amendment. Notwithstanding a split among jurisdictions, the Third Circuit will not address the merits of whether the federal government has overreached its constitutional authority and impinged on state sovereignty without first addressing standing. In short, standing requires the involvement of the state or their officers as a party or parties (Tennessee Elec. Power Co. v. Tennessee Valley Auth., 306 U.S. 118, 143–144 (1939)). United States v. Bond (3rd Cir. 2009).

Strikingly the government pursued a theory at trial under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, a statute enacted pursuant to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In other words, this statute was the product of an international agreement.

Notably, the Third Circuit explains this Convention was intended to prohibit "the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer and use of chemical weapons . . . .” OK, so in the context of an international Convention, is it more likely the parties contemplated national security threats or actions taken by an enraged wife against her husband's paramour?

Yes, Congress intended to "[p]rohibit natural and legal persons anywhere on its territory . . . from undertaking any activity prohibited . . . under this Convention . . . ." Yes, there is evidence that this defendant did something wrong by stealing chemicals from work. And yes, there is evidence that she is blameworthy for using the chemicals to try to hurt the victim. But both the government and the court are reading the plain text and legislative intent much too broadly in applying the law to this defendant. I cannot help but wonder why the feds did not decline to pursue this, and instead leave this to the State authorities.

Update: This piece about the Tenth Amendment in politics appeared today at the WSJ Law Blog. The Law-N-Politics Neologism of the Day: ‘Tenther’.