Holdout Juror in Drug Case, Laura Kriho, Found in Contempt of Court, Fined $1200
On February 10, Laura Kriho was found guilty of contempt of court for obstruction of justice while serving as a juror in a May 13, 1996 drug case in Colorado that ended in mistrial. Gilpin County Judge Henry Nieto ruled that Kriho was not guilty of contempt of court for disobeying an order of the trial court or committing perjury. In a nine-page ruling released four months after her trial ended (People v. Laura Kriho, Gilpin County District Court, Case No. 96 CR 91 Division 1), Nieto stated, "Ms. Kriho deliberately and willfully withheld and concealed information which was relevant and important to selecting a fair and impartial jury, and that Ms. Kriho did so with the intent of serving on the jury for the purpose of obstructing justice." (Becky O'Guin, "Laura Kriho Found Guilty of Contempt," Colorado Daily (Boulder), February 12, 1997; Katie Kerwin, "Judge: Juror impeded justice," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), February 12, 1997)
After the mistrial was ordered last May (People v. Michelle Brannon, Gilpin County District Court, Case No. 95 CR 74), the trial judge asked the prosecutors to investigate the jurors. Kriho had been the holdout juror arguing for acquittal because she believed the defendant's boyfriend hid the drugs in the defendant's purse. Unable to persuade the other jurors of her view of the evidence, she also used nullification and sentencing consequences arguments. The judge signed contempt of court charges against her two months later. The charges alleged that Kriho had failed to reveal "that she had previously been arrested, charged with, and pled guilty to a felony drug possession charge," which was deferred; that "she was opposed to the enforcement of drug laws through the courts" and that she was actively involved in the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project (CO-HIP), "which had as its purpose the modification of certain Colorado drug laws;" and that "she did not intend to follow the judge's instructions on the law." (For detailed background information, see "Colorado Contempt Case Highlights Attack on 'Jury Nullification' Power," NewsBriefs, December 1996.)
Kriho had not been specifically asked about her experience with drugs or opinions of drug laws during jury selection, but Nieto ruled that she was "aware that the trial court and the parties wanted to know if any juror had strong feelings concerning the enforcement of drug laws or any experience that would affect their attitude about drug laws."
Paul Grant, Kriho's lawyer, said Kriho is the first person to be convicted of "the newly minted crime of failure to volunteer information during jury selection." Noting that Kriho was acquitted of perjury, Grant said, "No longer is it enough to honestly answer the questions you are asked -- now you also have to answer the questions you were not asked, but that you 'knew' the judge wanted answered." Grant speculated that future jurors may need counsel to be made available to them to advise them of their rights during jury selection (Paul Grant, "Laura Kriho's Conviction -- First Conviction on Newly Created Crime: Jury Rights Under Assault," press release, February 12, 1997).
Grant contends that Kriho was "convicted because of what she said in the jury room." During jury deliberations, Kriho tried to persuade other jurors to "nullify" the law by voting their conscience, arguing that the penalties against the defendant were too harsh and that drug-abuse problems were best handled by families, not the criinal justice system. Grant said that if the conviction stands, other jurors will muzzle themselves to avoid possible contempt charges. "It will chill deliberations in the jury room."
Judge Nieto rejected the claim that Kriho's holdout vote prompted the investigation against her. He said the case was about whether Ms. Kriho misled the court "about important matters during the jury selection process with the intent to remain on the jury and obstruct the legal process." He added that the defendant's "mischaracterization of the case has made it more difficult to focus upon the real issue: Ms. Kriho's conduct during jury selection, not jury deliberation."
Jury rights activists, such as the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), claim that the decision allows prosecutors to target jurors for their beliefs and life-styles if they side with the defendant. FIJA cofounder Larry Dodge contends that jurors are supposed to vote their conscience in order "to send public opinion on the law back to the lawmakers." Dodge added, "The courts can now use police power to eliminate anyone from a jury who has qualms about the law, and therefore stack the jury with 'yes' men and women." Grant agreed, saying, "We don't need jury trials if the juries are intimidated into rubber-stamping the government's point of view (Jay Hauser, "Juror's Rights Are Death a Blow," Boulder Weekly, February 13-19, 1997; Larry Dodge, "Kriho Conviction Subverts Right to Trial by Jury," FIJA press release, February 15, 1997).
On March 7, Kriho was fined $1200 by Judge Nieto at a sentencing hearing. Prosecutor Stanley had asked Nieto for a high fine against Kriho so that it would remind her of her offensive behavior every time she writes the court a check. He also said that Kriho's denial of the contempt of court charges "reveals her character and her likelihood to re-offend." Grant pointed out that Kriho was unlikely to "re-offend," given that she will probably never serve on a jury again. Kriho could have received six months in jail. (Guy Kelley, "Holdout Gilpin juror fined $1,200," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), March 8, 1997, p. 4A; Robert Kowalski, "Drug case juror will do no time," Denver Post, March 8, 1997, p. 1B)
"I am thankful they didn't put me in jail. I still feel I would never have been prosecuted had I voted guilty on the jury. I want to prevent this from happening to anyone else again, so we will appeal my conviction," Kriho told a crowd of supporters outside the Gilpin County Justice Center after the sentencing hearing. According to the Jury Rights Project, a benefit for Kriho's legal defense fund held after the sentencing hearing netted $1205.
The subject was discussed on March 31, 1997 in a forum sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee on Criminal Justice. The forum, held at Georgetown University Law Center, was broadcast on CSPAN2 that morning. Paul Grant was a participant as well as Senior Federal Judge Jack B. Weinstein, two other defense lawyers, and three law professors. The forum was presented with the cooperation of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, NACDL, NLADA and other groups.
To obtain an extensive package of materials on jury nullification distributed at the forum, call the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, (202) 662-1030 ($5 plus postage). To obtain a videotape, contact CSPAN at (202) 628-2205.
Jury Rights Project - firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.execpc.com/~doreen.
Fully Informed Jury Association - E-mail: email@example.com, Tel: (800) TEL-JURY.
Nine-page ruling convicting Kriho: http://eagle-access.net/index3.html.
For information about or to support Laura Kriho's appeals, contact: Laura Kriho Legal Defense Fund, c/o Paul Grant, Esq., Box 1272, Parker, CO 80134, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: (303) 841-9649.