Don't Vote

Friday, May 21, 2010

Here Come The Judge

After being caged for simple assault and having to wait an extra day for arraignment because of the Martin Luther King holiday, I was finally taken to the Manchester district court Tuesday morning. Before I explain the craziness I experienced there let me touch on my refusal to process and not providing my name.

I was being held as John Doe. The reasoning behind this was strictly for legal reasons to pursue a theory I have. Most people who are arrested for a victimless offense, especially drug possession charges, have a difficult time in life after getting an arrest record.

I feel that if more people were to go through the entire court process as John or Jane Doe they would be less likely to have a conviction hinder their chances at obtaining a job or student loan. Once they're in the system these things become a lot more difficult.

Why should somebody that hasn't hurt another person or property not get a job or into college because they chose to demonstrate that they own their body? Many working people and students currently use drugs on a recreational basis and the world keeps turning. Is it really necessary to prevent somebody from going to college or getting a job because they use drugs?

In order to make a legal challenge to pursue this I had to refuse to identify myself by name, date of birth and social slave number and risk a contempt of court charge for not providing that information.

I was transported from Valley Street jail and taken to the basement of the Manchester district court where I waited to be taken in front of the judge. Normally when a liberty activist gets arrested other activists will show up to the court proceedings to show their support. When the court security lead me into the courtroom, it was practically empty.

Now I had not seen the video footage of the arrest and when I didn't see any of my friends in the room my immediate thought was whether the video made it look like I intentionally tried to initiate contact with the officer. I knew I didn't, but when you can't talk to anybody about what happened I found myself worrying about my reputation with other Free Staters. Fortunately my reputation was in good standing.

I found out a few days later that more than 20 people showed up to the court to support me. This worried the court security and the bureaucrats lying had begun. Everyone was told the room I was supposed to be arraigned in but, without telling anybody, I was secretly taken to a different court room one floor up. The paperwork I received said this was due to an overflow of court business, but I know that was just the court covering their ass.

When I was taken from the holding cell a court security officer mentioned to the guy transporting me that I was one of them...something, something, something. I couldn't hear the rest but I had assumed they were anticipating some kind of problem with me. Me? Problem?

We took the elevator ride upstairs and when we walked in the courtroom there were only two people sitting as spectators, the prosecutor and the judge's clerk. They wouldn't make any eye contact with me. In fact, it seemed the spectators did their best to focus looking straight forward. I suspected they were court bureaucrats asked to sit there to give the appearance of a public hearing. Trying to calm the mood I simply asked "What's going on guys?" with a big smile on my face. No answer. The prosecutor and bailiff wouldn't even look at me.

I sat down at the defendant table and the clerk asked me how I planned to plead. I said I wasn't sure, that I had just received the paperwork and noticed it didn't include the elements that needed to be proven in order to convict me and that I had a few questions before I answered.

The bailiff commanded everyone rise as the judge entered the room and I, of course, remained seated. Oh yes, they love that. Why people stand for another human being when commanded is beyond me. He's just a lawyer. I had jail guards tell me that by not standing for the judge you risk making him mad and he'll rule against you. Funny, I thought court was supposed to be about the facts of the case not how the lawyer in the robe personally feels about the defendant.

He sat at his throne looking down at everyone and asked me how I intended to plea. I told him the paperwork I have didn't explain what had to be proven to find me guilty and asked him what the elements for this offense consisted of, making sure I called him Mr. Lyons as I addressed him.

He told me he couldn't give me legal advice and I replied by telling him I wasn't looking for advice on what to do, I simply wanted to understand what was happening. He told me that he was there to hear the facts of the case and that if the prosecutor didn't know something he would refuse to explain it to him as well. He asked if I wanted the court to appoint me a lawyer.

Here's where I screwed up a little. I should have held off answering the lawyer question and boxed the judge in by getting him to reconfirm that he wouldn't help the prosecutor. Then I could have simply asked the prosecutor if there was evidence of a complaining party, which of course there isn't. I know the judge would have stepped in but I would have at least got him to contradict himself on the record. I could then move to dismiss the complaint based on the fact that the prosecutor couldn't prove he had a client, because if I showed up to represent a party that was suing someone and couldn't prove I had a client I'd go to jail. It's fun to demonstrate to them just how fair and just their system is.

I told him that I didn't think a lawyer was necessary. What I should have done was ask if I had the right to understand the proceedings and if he thought it was fair to proceed against somebody who didn't fully understand what was happening. He likely would have said that the court would appoint counsel to assist me and I could have then asked if he thought it was fair to force people into a position where they cannot defend themselves. Anyway, rookie mistakes that I learned from for next time.

When the prosecutor addressed bail he told the judge that I had failed to identify myself and that they had no idea who I could be. I explained to the judge that I did in fact provide the jail with my fingerprints and mugshot and prepared myself for the coming contempt charge. The judge got a puzzled look on his face and said he would have to think about bail over recess and then proceeded to set my trial for four months later. I was taken from the courtroom and back to jail where I would have to wait until the trial date.

A few nights later an inmate had apparently smuggled some tobacco into the medical unit where I was housed at and the guards were going to "shake down" the cells and strip search the inmates until they found the tobacco. Six guards came to my door anticipating a problem and one of them called me Mr. Tiner. I joked "Oh my God! You caught the tater! How did you figure it out?" He replied that they were correctional officers and all they did was sit around watching YouTube videos all day.

So the jail definitely knows who I am and a guard informs me that the judge said if I provided my information I would be released on personal recognizance. This was news to me as nobody provided me with any court papers that stated this. I thought it was a trick and asked to see the paperwork. When they got around to it three nights later I read for myself that I could either bail for $5k cash and go through the trial as John Doe (which would have been kind of cool) or identify myself and get out on PR. While it wasn't something that would be considered precedent to help my John Doe theory, I did have a written order signed by a judge that demonstrated it was possible to go through the proceedings as John Doe without being held in contempt. A little victory, not ideal but I made arrangements to identify myself and was out two weeks later.

The hearing to have me released went smoothly. The judge did a lot of "Yes Mr. Tiner, sir", "If you have any questions I'll answer them for you", being very polite. I found out later that my friends were calling the court continuously to inquire about my release and my roommate Jenn even told the clerk that she refused to get off the phone until she had confirmation that I was being released. Good friends here. Really good friends. I think the court was glad to get rid of me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Valley Street Experience

If you knew me in my past you would know I was no saint. Eventually I pulled my head out of my ass but it took a couple of trips to jail to do it. When I got to New Hampshire I kept hearing all these stories about Valley Street, the Hillsborough County jail, being the worse jail in New England. When I think of how bad a jail is I look at it from the chance I have of getting shanked in the neck for being white. I never considered a jail being the worse jail for any other reason.

After landing on my elbows at the Manchester police station I worried that if I let the police drag me one more time they might do permanent damage or further aggravate a minor shoulder injury that occurred a week prior. When the paddy wagon arrived at the jail I stood up and decided to walk on my own.

Even though I cooperated enough to prevent the jail staff from having to carry me around, I still refused to process completely. I provided my fingerprints and let them take another mugshot but refused to answer any other questions or comply with the medical screening which included a test for tuberculosis.

I remained in the booking area bullpen for the first night. It was cold and the jail staff would not provide me with a blanket until I cooperated. On Sunday afternoon I was removed from the bullpen to a private cell and earlier that evening was given a mat to sleep on and a blanket. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I was taken to the medical unit of the jail and placed in a cell by myself under quarantine status for refusing to take the TB test.

Having seen and participated in some of the reaction to what happens when a fellow liberty activist gets arrested I anticipated my friends making an ordeal over my arrest, both toward the Manchester police and the jail staff. Here's what happened one afternoon:

When Rich tells the jail captain I am being held incommunicado and he is concerned for my well being I was actually fine. The problem was mostly jail policy. When I was first placed in a cell in the medical unit a guard told me that because I refused to take the TB test and in quarantine I would not be allowed access to a phone to make collect calls. This was not a true statement and I found out after a week that I was in fact able to make calls. The problem was the one hour a day I was let out of my cell to shower or use the phone was typically after midnight and, well, who do you call when it's 3am?

Another problem I ran into was the delivery of mail. Many liberty activists know about the Mail to Jail service that allows people to type a message online and have it printed on a postcard or letter and mailed for you. However it is the jail policy to not permit delivery of mail from a third party to an inmate. So it wasn't for almost a week that I even received any mail because so many people were using that service rather than mailing out a letter themselves. I think this issue has been resolved now but I'll save that for a later post.

As far as sending out mail, that too was pretty difficult. I thought most of my friends knew that if I went to jail to not deposit any money into my commissary account. My reason for that is because I want to do everything I possibly can to minimize the profit the jail makes from my being there and commissary and collect calls are likely huge moneymakers. But my message didn't get out like I thought and within days friends and fellow activists had deposited over $100 into my account and, even though I didn't want that I am still very grateful to have friends who would do such a thing.

If an inmate hasn't had any money in his or her account for 10 days, they are considered indigent and allowed up to 3 stamps per week to use for personal correspondence, including paper and envelopes. When I planned to mail out two motions for court to my room mate I put them in an envelope without stamps (per jail policy) but had them returned three days later with a note stating that I wasn't considered an indigent inmate. This was on a Wednesday. Commissary orders are made on Sundays and delivered to inmates on Wednesdays which meant I would have to wait another week just to receive stamps to mail out a letter so that I could be released.

Bureaucratic snafus aside, and with the exception of two comments I received from jail guards most of the staff treated me very fair. A couple of them actually went above and beyond to assist me. When I first got there I overheard one guy say something to the effect of "Free Stater? You're no damn patriot." I ignore things like that, but when I got placed in the medical unit a guard approached my cell door and his comments worried me.

"What's your problem, Doe? Why aren't you going along with the program? You think we can't break you? We can break you. We'll put your ass in max and we'll fucking break you!" I looked at this kid who couldn't have been more than 25 years old and asked him if he really wanted to "break me" and would he feel better about his life if he was able to? When I say break I am referring to my spirit. I don't believe he wanted to physically become violent with me. But just the thought that some kid could look at a total stranger, have no idea why he's in jail or what type of person he is and treat him like he's's disturbing. Unfortunately, it's all too common.

I'll have some more things to say about Valley Street in a future post when I talk about going back a second time. Yes, I did go again a few weeks ago and, sadly, it probably won't be the last time.

The Assault: Part 2

I wanted to comment on a couple of things that you won't see from the video of the alleged assault.

Within minutes of the police first arriving I was detained by the other plainclothes officer. I pulled out my camera phone to begin recording the encounter and he immediately put his hand over the lens so I wouldn't be able to record his face. I stated, very clearly, "Get your hand off my camera. That's assault." I repeated this at least once.

After the first activist was taken into custody I noticed two of the officers were chatting off to the side, the one I "assaulted" and one that appeared to be the ranking officer on the scene. I approached them to ask what my friend was being arrested for and where he was being taken. They told me to sit down and don't worry about it.

I asked if they would be worried if men with guns took one of their friends away when the plainclothes officer that didn't want to be recorded started pushing me in the direction of a park bench. I may have made another comment about him assaulting me again, I don't recall for sure, but I definitely asked the other two officers why they wouldn't answer my questions.

All this time I had refused to answer any of their questions and this of course was their answer to why they wouldn't answer mine. When I explained that if I was forced to pay for their services I should expect them to be accountable, one officer actually laughed. The relevance of my pointing this out will be clear in a future post.

Ok, so you see the video of the "assault" taking place in the previous post and then my room mate's camera shuts off on his phone. After the police place me in cuffs I drop to my knees, preparing to go limp. Some of my friends here have heard me say before that I would only make them drag me away if I was arrested for something extremely dumb. This seemed like one of those somethings.

These guys were not happy about my unwillingness to stand and walk. They kept saying "C'mon. Be a man. Get up." as if cooperating with a kidnapper is the masculine thing to do. I refused and wasn't speaking so they drug me to the paddy wagon, literally threw me in and off we go to the Manchester police station.

"You gonna walk now? There's no video camera now. No friends to impress." was what they asked when we arrived at the station. I refused to speak and they drug me into the booking area and not-so-gently placed me to a bench next to the first activist who was arrested.

After he processed with the booking officer I was told I would have to stand at their counter. I said nothing, so they drug me the eight or nine feet and set me on the floor on my knees. Within seconds the arresting officer laid me on my side stating I would probably intentionally fall forward to hit my face or head against the counter so I could sue the police department.

They told me I had to cooperate with the booking process to be released and asked my name. I again asked them if I was lawfully required to provide them with that information. They said I was and I asked to see it in writing, stating I believed I was only lawfully required to provide fingerprints and a mugshot. They would not provide me with the information.

I changed out of most of my clothes myself and walked into the holding cell where I was to await transport to the county jail. When they were ready to take me, I again refused to walk and was dragged, more violently now, to the booking bench and slammed down to the floor then lifted to the bench by my neck. Yes, my neck.

The same officer flung me into the garage through the air, forcing me to land on my elbows because I was handcuffed. Two of them threw me into the paddy wagon and I was off to Valley Street, the nickname of the county jail.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Assault: Part 1

January 16, 2010 was an abnormally warm day for New England. At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon I told my room mate I would probably call into the Porc411 hotline to schedule an impromptu 420 celebration. He went ahead and did it and we had a small group of 6 people show up at Veterans Park at 4:20. No protest, no signs, just a group of friends enjoying each other's company.

After the consumption of the cannabis we were approached by two individuals that asked if we were smoking pot. It was difficult to here exactly what they said because of the traffic on Elm Street but I asked them if they were smoking pot or they thought we were smoking pot, as we don't try to hide what it is we do there. One guy asked for identification and we knew then the two men were plain clothed Manchester police officers.

I refused to provide identification, as I never carry any on my person. I repeatedly asked one of the officers if I was lawfully required to provide any identification to them (as I didn't believe I was required to) and he wouldn't answer my question. I assumed this meant that no, in fact, I was not lawfully required to provide identification because the probable cause to detain suspects was pretty weak. He asked to search my person and I informed him I don't consent to searches.

A friend who was there did consent to a search and the police found some paraphernalia. They proceeded to place him under arrest. I continued to inform the other people who were there that they weren't required to answer the questions which hurt the feelings of the police. By this time, there were at least 7 Manchester police on the scene.

The raw video of what happened next as I was finally told I was free to go can be seen here but you can see the quicker version turned into a parody from the folks at the Freedom Movement below.

More Civ Dis

What started out in Keene, New Hampshire as just a couple people openly smoking marijuana in Central Square quickly grew into large 420 celebrations taking place everyday. If you were to drive through downtown Keene it wasn't uncommon to view over 100 people openly smoking pot and displaying signs celebrating their right to consume substances deemed illegal by the people who do business as "the government".

I thought this was something that should start taking place across the state, if not all over the country and decided to promote one here in Manchester.

The 420 Celebrations in Manchester never grew to the same size as the ones that take place in Keene but we typically had good turnouts of about 30 people, split between Free State activists and locals coming out to support the gatherings.

This year I had some other projects I wanted to focus on and hoped a couple Manchester activists would handle promoting the 420 celebrations but as of yet they haven't resumed on a daily basis.

But there was this nice day in January where the Manchester police decided they would no longer ignore what was happening...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

FIJA Outreach

A few weeks after walking around Manchester with a pot bud in hand I was able to get a group of activists together for some Juror's Rights outreach at the Hillsborough County Superior Court.

The right of a juror to judge a particular law for his/herself and vote to acquit a defendant is a great way to end the persecution of people who are charged with victimless offenses. I can only hope this type of outreach spreads.

You'll notice in the first few minutes of this video I comment on being able to have a juror vote to acquit me if I ever need it, joking as I didn't think I would have the need. Little did I know that months later I'd need it in two different cases.

If you're interested in doing this type of activism you can go to the FIJA website to find pamphlets to print out. Then you simply need to contact your local court where jury trials take place to find out when they do jury selection. I'd advise planning to show up about an hour before jurors are supposed to show up and it might help to let the jury clerk know you'll be there so you don't run into problems with any court security. However, it is protected speech and you have the right to be there to distribute the pamphlets so don't let any bureaucrat tell you you're not allowed.

Civil Disobedience

On my second day here in New Hampshire I decided to partake in the same type of civil disobedience that motivated me to join the Free State Project.

Most people know that I believe the drug war has proven itself to be an utter failure in domestic policy. Since I know that police are not legally required to arrest people for anything I wanted to start a dialog with them that might encourage them to use their discretion rather than throwing people in cages for possessing a plant. Here's how the day went:

If video fails to load it can be seen here.

I ended up sending the Manchester police chief a letter trying to get an appointment to meet with him but apparently he was too busy to reply. Go figure. You'd think if people are forced to pay for police protection they'd at least be able to get good service, but with government it never seems to work out that way.

Now I'm not sure if this was something that would make me a target to the Manchester police months later. I'd like to believe they chose to ignore me and I was not on their radar. As you'll see over the next couple of posts, I now think that may not be the case.


So I've finally got around to setting the blog up. Yes, I've been procrastinating on it for a while now but I'll at least be able to provide it with steady content as my new accountability project takes off. Information about that project is forthcoming. Most of what you read here will be focused on my own activism but occasionally I may comment on stories from around New Hampshire.

If you don't know me personally I moved to New Hampshire in August of 2009 as part of the Free State Project and it's been everything I had hoped it would be and then some. I've tried to stay pretty busy as an activist but I'll be the first to admit that the winter weather did a good job of keeping me indoors.

Now the weather's warming up and I'm jumping right back into a huge project, one that I think can have an extraordinary impact. It's definitely going to ruffle some feathers of the people who do business as "the City of Manchester" but I think people who live here that wouldn't consider themselves to be liberty activists will come around to supporting it. One things certain, it's going to be a lot of work.