Thursday, September 4, 2014

"COMMON LAW GRAND JURIES" REVISITED

In my last blog I made light of the activities of a "common law grand jury" which had "indicted" our State Attorney, Jeff Siegmeister. I tried to demonstrate how misguided the "common law grand jurors" were in their actions by demonstrating (1) there is no such thing as a common law grand jury, and (2) even if there were such a thing as a common law grand jury, it was abolished when our legislature enacted statutes governing the operation of grand juries in this state.

I further offered the opinion that Siegmeister wouldn't bother to prosecute the "common law grand jury" because I thought it to be such a laughable organization. As it turns out the activities of the “common law grand jury” were far more wide-ranging and comprehensive than I realized when I wrote my first blog on the subject. I’m not sure how many public officials have been “indicted” for “treason” by the “common law grand jury,” but it seems that the “grand jury” has indicted quite a few officers throughout the state including, if I am correctly informed, the entire Dixie County school board. The school board’s act of “treason” was to adopt a curriculum of which the “grand jury” disapproved. I was also informed that the “grand jury” came into the courtroom in Dixie County and blocked the doors, refusing to let anyone else in the courtroom while they engaged in their foolishness.

It appears that I was mistaken when I assessed their actions as quaint, amusing, and mildly irritating. There appears to be good grounds to believe that the “common law grand jury” is becoming downright disruptive of governmental functions. There are laws against such activity, and the “foreman” of the “common law grand jury” has been arrested on felony charges. I am given to understand that the charges involve the use of simulated court process.

At first I was somewhat confused by this charge because the law only made use of simulated process a misdemeanor and then only if the process was used to try to fraudulently separate people from their money. The operative language of that statute is as follows:

Fla.Stat. 817.38 Simulated process.—
(1) CIRCULATION PROHIBITED.—It is unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to send or deliver *** any letter, paper, document, notice of intent to bring suit, or other notice *** which simulates *** court process, *** with intent to lead the recipient or sendee to believe that the same is genuine, for the purpose of obtaining any money or thing of value, or that a state agency is the sending party.
***
(5) PENALTIES.—Any person, firm or corporation violating this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

It seemed to me that this particular statute was not applicable to the situation for two reasons: (1) Because there was no intent to defraud anyone. (2) Because the “indictments” generated by the “common law grand jury” were so idiotic and so obviously NOT legal process that only someone whose IQ was smaller than his hat size would think they had any legal significance.

What I failed to take into account was the law prohibiting the obstruction of justice through use of simulated process, which is a felony. The operative language of that statute is as follows:

Fla.Stat. 843.0855 Criminal actions under color of law or through use of simulated legal process.
***
(2) Any person who deliberately impersonates or falsely acts as a public officer or tribunal, *** including, but not limited to, marshals, judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, deputies, court personnel, or any law enforcement authority in connection with or relating to any legal process affecting persons and property, or otherwise takes any action under color of law against persons or property, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
***
(4) Any person who falsely under color of law attempts in any way to influence, intimidate, or hinder a public officer or law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official duties by means of, but not limited to, threats of or actual physical abuse or harassment, or through the use of simulated legal process, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
***

The statute defines “legal process” as follows:

[A] document or order issued by a court or filed or recorded with an official court of this state or the United States or with any official governmental entity of this state or the United States for the purpose of exercising jurisdiction or representing a claim against a person or property, or for the purpose of directing a person to appear before a court or tribunal, or to perform or refrain from performing a specified act. “Legal process” includes, but is not limited to, a summons, lien, complaint, warrant, injunction, writ, notice, pleading, subpoena, or order. [Fla.Stat. 843.0855(1)(a)]
 
The first theory of the prosecution seems to be that when the “common law grand jurors” convened and proceeded to hand out indictments, they

deliberately impersonate[d] or falsely act[ed] as a public officer or tribunal. [Fla.Stat. 843.0855(2)].
 
The tribunal, of course, being the “common law grand jury.”

The second theory of prosecution appears to be that the “common law grand jury”

falsely under color of law attempt[ed] to influence, intimidate, or hinder a public officer or law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official duties by means of, but not limited to, threats of or actual physical abuse or harassment, or through the use of simulated legal process. [Fla.Stat. 843.0855(4)].

Indicting public officials on bogus charges of “treason” and sending them letters trying to influence the officers in their exercise of their official duties certainly seems to fit the statute. So far only the “foreman” of the “common law grand jury” has been arrested, but it appears that any member of the “grand jury” is vulnerable to arrest.
 
State Attorney Siegmeister has properly recused himself from the case and called on the Governor to appoint an outside prosecutor to handle the case. It will be interesting to see whether the outside prosecutor opts to prosecute the "common law grand jurors" under the racketeering statute. So far the only charges leveled have been third degree felonies calling for a maximum five year prison sentence.

Obstruction of Justice, however, is one of the crimes that can constitute a racketeering predicate incident. [Fla.Stat. 895.02(1)(a)43]. A "common law grand jury" may very well constitute a racketeering enterprise. [Fla.Stat. 893.02(3)]. And each of the "indictments" issued by the "common law grand jury," when taken together, just might constitute a prohibited pattern of racketeering activity. [Fla.Stat. 893.02(4)].

When people associated with an enterprise engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, they have committed a first degree felony punishable by 30 years.