“As I drove to the Stark County Courthouse yesterday to observe court proceedings, I did so with the mentality that there was indeed a possibility that Gary Dassinger is guilty of the charges brought against him. By the time I left late last night, I came away with the impression that should Gary Dassinger be found guilty, it may well be one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of North Dakota.” I wrote the statement above in my first article about “The Tragic Story of North Dakota Rancher Gary Dassinger”– the Gladstone, North Dakota resident who has been charged with animal cruelty and neglect. Now, a week after attending a hearing and visiting his ranch, I stand by that statement today. Only now I want to share with you what appears to be the only hope Gary has of avoiding one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of North Dakota. That hope being found within the jury.
One of the sad aspects of our justice system is that we can’t always depend on it for justice. In the case of Gary Dassinger, it is the system itself that is being used to harass and abuse him, not protect him. Having said that, the great Founders of our country realized this as a possibility and implemented the power of the juror as a last line of defense against the abuse.
Of all the people in the courtroom, it is the juror that will ultimately decide the fate of Gary Dassinger. And for Gary, he must hope and pray that at least one of his “peers”, that sits on the jury, understands their role in the pursuit of justice.
Not only must the juror judge the facts of the case, but at times they must also judge the law itself. In the case of
United States v. Moylan, the opinion of the court read:
“If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision .” (Emphasis Added)
This is an uncomfortable truth that few people realize today. In fact, many judges and attorney’s have fits over the idea itself. Nevertheless, it is a necessity that jurors not only be aware of the option, but be willing to follow through with it when necessary. Liberty and justice depend upon it.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of this for jurors comes when finding a “not guilty” verdict is in direct opposition to the instructions of the court. From the diary of John Adams we find:
“It is not only his right, but his duty… to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” (Emphasis Added)
The use of this all-important duty is not without precedent. One example occurred during the 1850’s when “jury nullification” was used to protest the Fugitive Slave Act– which required escaped slaves to be returned to their “masters”. In a nutshell, jurors refused to convict those who refused to follow the law that slaves be returned, thereby nullifying the immoral law.
Today, Gary Dassinger appeared in Southwest District Court before Judge Rhonda Ehlis– the same judge that heard his case on the seizure of the animals. Gary did not enter a plea agreement, but agreed to a “personal recognizance bond” and plans on entering a “not guilty” plea at a later time.
When the criminal case winds down and the jurors find themselves in a secluded room making the decision about the fate of Gary Dassinger, let’s hope that at least one of them has the good sense to see the truth– that Gary is not a criminal, but that the 2013 law they are attempting to use to convict him is. And once they come to this realization, I hope they will have the moral fortitude to say, “Not guilty.” Then and only then will justice have prevailed and the abuse of this third generation rancher can end.
1. http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/gladstone-rancher-appears-in-court-on-animal-cruelty-charges/article_2b1404d3-cc43-5305-8ec3-d8790c842f4d.html 2. http://fija.org/