Man Sentenced to 292 Days in Jail for Handing Out Information about Jury Rights


A Florida man will be spending some time in jail for activity that is usually allowed outside a courthouse.

Mark Schmidter was found guilty of “indirect criminal contempt” on July 26, 2011 for passing out pamphlets in Orlando during the Casey Anthony trial, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

He was sentenced to 292 days in jail.

The pamphlets he was handing out described jury nullification, the power of a jury to return “a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged.”

According to the Sentienel, Chief Judge Belvin Perry signed an order early this year banning the distribution of nullification pamphlets that were “meant to influence jurors.” In May, the same judge issued an order that set up “free speech zones” outside the couthouse in preparation for the outrage involved with the Casey Anthony trial.

The judge accused Schmidter of violating his orders and doled out two sentences: 141 days for the first offense and 151 days for the second. In addition, he was belted with a $250 fine for each charge.

The Orlando paper reports that someone else had tested the pamphleteering order with no consequences so Schmidter decided to do the same. He also said he didn’t believe he violated the “speech zone” order . “I said this must not apply to me because I’m not talking about any [particular] case,” he said.

Schmidter and his lawyer, Adam Sudbury, accuse the judge’s order of being too broad and “patently unreasonable.

“It is prohibited for any person or group to engage in any type of First Amendment activities within the main Orange County courthouse complex grounds, unless the First Amendment activities occur within a designated Exempt Zone…”

Schmidter said it could be construed to mean “nobody could carry on a conversation outside the free speech zone.”

During his trial, Schmidter reportedly read the First Amendment out loud in the court. He later told the judge, “I apologize to the court. In my brain, I was just fighting for my country.”

His attorney has already filed for appeal, according to a Facebook page set up to support Schmidter.

Jury nullification isn’t as widely practiced or desired in our current legal system. However, it was encouraged as part of the sytem of checks and balances in the early history of the nation. Cheif Justice John Jay once said to a jury, “You have a right to take upon yourselves to judge [both the facts and law].”

As to the ban on pamphlets and “free speech zones”, both have been deemed unconstitutional by sensible judges. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has fought the same tyranny on college campuses for years, with judges usually shooting down the bans.

In February, Judge Andrew Napolitano blasted Judge Perry for his pamphlet ban: “It’s irrelevant what the pamphlet said. In America, we have the natural and constitutional right to free speech. Where on Earth does this judge presume to get the authority to stop anyone from saying anything outside a public courthouse? Has he ever heard of the First Amendment?”

Speaking of judicial authority, it seems that there is another flaw contained in our justice system that is relevant to this case. Since Schmidter was held in contempt, he faced the same judge that charged him. “I’m not getting a trial by jury, just thought I’d throw that in,” he said.

It would seem, that in a “fair” system, a defendant would face an impartial judge, instead of the same judge that has filed the charge. Seems to me like the judge has a bit of conflict of interest.

To learn more about jury nullification and jury rights, visit the Fully Informed Jury Association.

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