ORLANDO – Most people don’t realize this, Mark Schmidter said, but on a regular basis, they commit plenty of crimes.
“Everybody commits three felonies a day and just doesn’t know it,” said Schmidter, a roofing contractor. “Most of us are not claiming money on their incomes tax, which is a felony. Let’s say you hire a babysitter and at the end of the night you hand them $20, and you don’t report it. Technically, that’s a felony.”
The problem, though, isn’t the fact that too many people fail to respect and obey our laws, Schmidter said. The real problem is a government that passes far too many laws, almost to an extreme extent, he said.
“I think they have all these laws to keep you in fear of the government,” he said.
That’s one reason why Schmidter has been fighting back, in a unique way. On Monday mornings from 7-8:30 a.m., he can be found in front of the Orange County Courthouse, talking to people who have been called for jury duty, and handing out fliers that offer “Factual information about Jury Service.”
His main point to jurors is they have more power than they think. If they don’t like a particular law, the solution is simple: don’t vote to convict the defendant. Also known as juror nullification, it’s the act of refusing to find someone guilty of a crime if the jurors feel the offense doesn’t belong on the books in the first place.
“Let’s say the judge and prosecution are selecting a jury, and it’s against the law to eat a ham sandwich, and the defendant ate a ham sandwich, so the judge says ‘Are you going to find him innocent or guilty?’ If you say innocent — because you think the law is stupid — then the judge weeds out the people who say ‘He’s innocent’ because it’s a bulls__t law,” Schmidter said. “The only way to get rid of a bad law is with jury mollification. If you have jury nullification, the attorneys say ‘I can’t get a conviction.’ “
Schmidter was at the Orange County Courthouse in downtown Orlando this morning, handing out the yellow flyers to anyone showing up for jury duty, and the flyers – printed by FIJA, or the Fully Informed Jury Association of Helena, Montana – let them know “What rights do you have as a juror that the judge won’t tell you?”
As the pamphlet notes, “Judges only rarely ‘fully inform’ jurors of their rights, especially their right to judge the law itself and vote on the verdict according to conscience. In fact, judges regularly assist the prosecution by dismissing prospective jurors who will admit knowing about this right – beginning with anyone who also admits having qualms with the law.”
And that, Schmidter said, is what got him involved in this cause back in September – the view that government passes too many laws, heavily over-regulating American citizens with a myriad of victimless crimes that in a truly free society don’t belong on the books to begin with.
“Pornography is an example of no victim, no crime,” he said. “If you have no victim, there should be no crime. In our federal prisons, 40 percent of the people incarcerated are small time, non-violent drug users. We incarcerate 25 percent of the world in our jails, more than any other country. What it is doing is bankrupting the country.”
Schmidter got involved in this cause last fall, although his interest dates back to the 2008 presidential election and the feeling that government was drastically overreaching – taking far too much control over the lives of average citizens.
“I started paying more attention to politics, because the economy was so bad,” he said. He became a supporter of Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidate, who has a strong libertarian bent.
“I met other people that were interested in freedom and less government,” he said. That’s how Schmidter learned about FIJA, and decided he wanted to take part in leafleting courthouses and letting jurors know about their First Amendment right to, as the pamphlet notes, “explain how jurors can protect the rest of our rights, simply by acquitting defendants being charged with breaking a bad law.”
“I discipline myself to come down here on Monday mornings for an hour and a half,” he said. “The judges don’t like this at all. The judge doesn’t tell the jurors they can nullify the law.”
He stays busy in those 90 minutes, asking everyone who walks in the door if they’re at the courthouse for jury duty.
“I hand out about 350 of these a day,” he said. “They call 1,000 jurors five days a week. I’m doing one thing I feel like I can do to help this screwed up country.”
Generally, he said, he gets a good response from potential jurors – and a hostile response from court employees.
After handing the pamphlet to jurors, some of them will quickly read it, he noted.
“Immediately when I say ‘What do you think about it?’, every one of them thanks me for handing it to them,” Schmidter said.
But court workers, he said, have questioned his right to stand in front of the courthouse distributing the flyers.
“We’ve had people come out and say ‘You can’t do this – because we can’t see the jury,’ “ he said. “One time a judge came out and said ‘What is this?’ I could tell he was a judge from the way he was dressed. I explained the jury’s rights to him, then I said to him, ‘It’s about nullification,’ and he said ‘No, you can’t do that’ – then just walked away.”
As Freeline Media was interviewing Schmidter, a court employee did come up to him and ask for one of his pamphlets. Her court badge identified her as Jennifer Hinton from the Office of the State Attorney. When asked by Freeline Media what she thought of Schmidter’s efforts, Hinton said “I’m not going to comment on that.” She then remembered her I.D., quickly covered it with her hand so her name couldn’t be read, then took the pamphlet and left.
“Even prosecuting attorneys take one,” Schmidter said. “It’s kind of fun. But they definitely don’t want jurors to know this. Prosecuting attorneys are evaluated on the number of convictions they get. They want to score big so they can stay employed.”
The more he does this, though, the more Schmidter feels like he’s making an impact.
“Three weeks ago, I was talking to a guy and he said, ‘Are you paid for this,’ and I said no,” Schmidter said. “These (flyers) only cost me 4 cents each. So then he reaches into his pocket and hands me a $100 bill. I’ve never had that happen before.”
To learn more about FIJA, log on to www.fija.org, or call 1-800-TEL-JURY.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.