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Thoughts on the end to trial
Closing arguments begin on Monday. Here's what I've learned.
NOTE: I’m writing every day in memory of Lisa, who died on October 13. Not all of these posts will be sent out by email, and some I may write from jail/prison, as I am on trial right now. So if you want to follow this journey, visit the blog every day. I’ll try to post by 10 am each day, but occasionally, I’m sure a post will be late.
Evidence closed today. And all we have left is closing statements.
Something remarkable and inspiring happened in the morning, however. And I will share about it on a later date. But to respect the privacy of the person who shared it with me, let me just say that it gave me renewed hope in human kindness and cooperation.
There have already been some important lessons learned.
The jury is still out on activists representing themselves. But I think going pro se as an activist defendant is effective, based on what we’ve seen so far. We have been able to push things in a way that a non pro-se defendant could not. And while it has probably caused some backlash — notably the judge’s annoyance at having to speak directly to a defendant throughout the trial — that may yet still prove to be useful by the end of the proceeding.
Of course, in this case, the pro se representation was not entirely voluntary. We had hoped for a co-counsel relationships where I could split responsibilities with two other attorneys. But the judge ruled against this on day 1, on grounds I did not really understand. It might very well be that the judge’s flawed decision will work to our advantage.
One of the benefits of going pro se is that the prosecutors relate to defendants as human beings, and not just alleged criminals. The worst part of our criminal justice system is the dehumanization of “criminals.” I’ve written previously about this, but the United States puts more people in prison than any nation on the planet. Throwing nonviolent activists in jail certainly is not going to help on that front!
But when activists represent themselves, and relate directly to a prosecutor, it becomes more difficult for them to see you as disembodied “social problems.” You’re now a person with a face, a name, and a personality. That has been one of the biggest unexpected results of this case, and it’s a win for all sides (including the prosecution).
It’s important to prepare for the entire trial from Day 1. Our last couple days of trial have gone much faster than I expected. Rulings made by the judge cut down our ability to call witnesses. And even the witnesses we could call were unable to say even half of what we wanted them to say. The prosecution, moreover, declined to engage in any serious cross examination of our witnesses, other than me. It was not clear to me what the basis of this decision was, but I like to think it related to the fact that our witnesses were genuinely sympathetic and good people.
The net result of all of this, however, was that we moved through the last half of the trial far faster than the first half. Addressing motions and voir dire took us all the way through Wednesday. But by Thursday night, the State’s case had already closed. We had to scramble to prep our witnesses, and then to prepare our closing argument and proposed “jury instructions” — essentially, our proposals to the judge on the status of the law — during the lunch break on Friday. In the future, we should note that trials move at a chaotic pace, and make sure we have some plan for all aspects of the trial, from Day 1. Even if it’s not fully sketched out.
We’ve made progress, but it’s still a tough road. I don’t want to make any predictions, as there are still lots of unknown factors. But some of the jurors seem to have softened their body language and tone. Others remain outright hostile. In short, things look better than they did a few days ago. But it will still be a very tough road.
That’s why it’s important, again, to note that we win even if we “lose.” The attention, pressure, and storytelling that will come out of this trial will be a powerful force for the movement, even if I am in jail. I told everyone in court support today, many of whom will sadly be departing tomorrow morning, that we’ve already achieved what we wanted to achieve. I meant that. And it’s not just the people in court, but people all over the country and world supporting us, who have helped us do that.
So thank you. I would not be able to do this without you.