by Becky Johnson
May 3, 2011
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- Jurors delivered a verdict this afternoon in the Peace Camp Six trial. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, and Hung. A sixth defendant, Chris Doyon, was absent and a bench warrant was issued. A good Samaritan paid Doyon's bail, but that "fact" was irrelevant to District Attorney, Sarah Dabkowski, who reported to SENTINEL reporter that there is a warrant for Doyon's arrest. But then facts were never set in stone for Dabkowski.
Why just last January, Dabkowski said "lodge" means "they can't lodge, can't live, can't stay the night, can't sleep somewhere, can't set up roots somewhere if they don't have permission."
However, despite no definition being contained in the actual language of PC 647 (e), Gallagher supplied his own!
Not waiting for the prosecution to take a stab at what "lodging" means in a legal sense, Judge John Gallagher jumped forth and issued his own definition, creating the perhaps greatest grounds on which to appeal the verdict.
Gallagher told the jury that they should use this definition of lodging: "to lodge means to settle or live in a place, that may include sleeping"
Not only had this been a hotly disputed item at the hearing where Frey challenged the Constitutionality of the law based on it being "vague and overbroad" especially due to the lack of a definition, the defense did not have time to digest the meaning of Gallagher's hand-chosen definition in order to prepare a proper defense. Needless to say, neither did any of the defendants last August, September, and October. I mean, for a homeless person to comply, they'd have to stop "living in a place" since 647 (e) covers the entire State of both public and private property!
Then Gallagher sternly told the jury that "Even if you disagree with the law, you must follow the law." This is standard practice in Santa Cruz County courts but has no legal authority. Jurors are allowed to vote their conscience, and rule on the totality of circumstances. They may consider whether a law is being selectively enforced, or that the prosecution is largely political. They can judge the value of the law itself and find "not guilty" even if the evidence is clear that that law was broken. Being a juror is the most powerful position a single person can have on the justice system, far greater than as a voter. Being a foreman of a jury is perhaps the most influential position a citizen can have in influencing how our laws are applied. This jury was having none of that.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," the jurors trumpeted self-righteously. But they themselves were ignorant of the law. So were virtually all of the dozen or so police officers and deputies who testified. After Lt. Steve Plageman testified that in his 23 years or so as a deputy, he'd never written a PC 647 (e) citation before August 6th in his life, the DA objected every time defense attorney, Ed Frey asked about their experience in enforcing the law. Judge Gallagher sustained it every time. They were told the issue was "irrelevant."
But was it? How can anyone, much less a bunch of homeless people without access to computers, televisions, or home libraries going to know about an ordinance that law enforcement had never used before? And no one could know what Judge John Gallagher was imagining the definition of illegal "lodging" would eventually be.
Yet the jurors, like contestants at a beauty show, mouthed important truths about justice and the importance of the law, while failing to see a stark example of selective enforcement right in front of their own eyes. It was obvious from the testimony of a dozen police officers that 647 (e) was ONLY being enforced to shut down an otherwise legal protest against laws which criminalize sleeping, and was ONLY being enforced at City Hall and on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse.
Defendant, Eliot "Bob" Anderson was not convicted when the jury hung on one juror's opinion: That a homeless person should not have to gas their dog, to use one of our local homeless shelters for the night. Eleven jurors disagreed. No one can sleep well tonight in Santa Cruz County.
"We live in a society where our system elects representatives by the voters of California. They pass our laws," the Jury spokesman, Mr. K said following the verdict. "And if the people think the law is wrong, then they should actively work to change it." He also admitted that had Gallagher NOT given the jury a definition of "lodging," they could not have come to a verdict as easily or at all.
Fresh with a victory, it is now possible that sheriff's and SCPD may now feel emboldened to use 647 (e) more widely now> ANY homeless person, whether sleeping or not, in the day or the night, can be arrested for "settling in, or living in a place, that may include sleeping" or for " intending to spend the night without permission" (as DA Dabkowski challenged, as if that were a crime) on both public and private property." Since public and private property encompasses the entire state of California, they cannot avoid committing the law....ever.
Sigh. More homeless jury trials are upcoming. Gary Johnson faces a jury trial for sleeping twice in twenty-four hours, something our doctors encourage us all to do. And Linda Lemaster has a pre-trial before Judge John Gallagher in Dept 2 at 9 am on Wed. May 4th.
"I don't think we could have come to a verdict without a definition," said the jury foreman after the end of the trial.