…In Seven Parts
1. The Jury
A couple of the jurors have spoken out, both on the Times-Herald site and on this newscrawl. In both cases their comments tend to be obscured in the blizzard of less-informed commentary surrounding them, so I reprint them in their entirety here:
From the Times-Herald site:
“As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury’s task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts “obstructed/resisted” the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He’s not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalated the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.”
From yesterday’s ‘crawl posting:
” Peter, I believe your description of the trial and deliberations is more accurate than you could know. As a non-conformist and “libertarian” (who has had some experiences not unlike yours) I was not comfortable with my vote, but felt deep inside that it was consistent with the oath we took as jurors. I believe nearly all the jurors searched for a legitimate reason to vote differently. In the end it came down to the question “Was the law broken?”. While I would much rather have a beer and discussion with you than Officer B. I never the less felt obligated to vote my conscience. I also believe most, if not all, the jurors sincerely hope that you are handled with a great degree of leniency, we, unfortunately have no say in that matter.”
A few jurors also approached Doug after the trial and told him pretty much the same thing. One of the jurors has also kindly written directly to me. My understanding from all of these sources is that the jury pretty much felt trapped by the wording of the statute, that none of them consider me a “felon” or deserving of jail time.
I am also heartened by the knowledge that none of the jury bought Beaudry’s somehow I ended up in the car line.
2. The Coverage
The Times-Herald reporter sat in the courtroom throughout the case. She knows there was no assault. She knows the choking incident never occurred. She knows that the only violence was committed by the border guards. These facts are no longer in dispute.
And yet, the Times-Herald continues to report that I was found guilty of “assault”, and continues to repeat Beaudry’s allegation that I “choked” him without mentioning that an independent witness utterly discredited his testimony. Unfortunately, while the story has been picked up by numerous other newspapers, most of them simply seem to have cut-and-pasted the Times-Herald reportage. I find this discouraging. As does at least one juror, who opined:
“The Times Herald continues to print that Mr. Watts was found guilty of assault. HE WAS NOT!!! He was found guilty of obstructing/resisting, and that was due to the time that transpired between him being ordered to do something and him actually complying with the order. We were forced to decide what was a reasonable amount of time for him to comply with an order. Mr. Watts, in my opinion, was treated unfairly by Customs and Border Protection. But, unfortunately, they were not on trial.”
I also had to smile at the Toronto Star report that “several” of you had pitched in to help with my legal costs. In fact, somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 of you did that (I can’t be more precise yet because some of you sent more than one notification). That’s why I’m still only halfway through the thank yous.
3. The Rap Sheet
There’s been a lot of recent murmling, both here and abroad, about my so-called “Criminal record”, my “previous Felony Conviction” in Canada, and my potential “habitual offender” status. I don’t want to go into too much detail because evidently — and contrary to my initial understanding — this is still an active issue. But I can state this much unequivocally: I do not have a criminal record in Canada. I have never been convicted of anything in Canada; those of you who want to find evidence to the contrary, knock yourselves out and good luck. These latest allegations have their roots in a 1991 incident so dick-ass that the official records themselves have long since been destroyed. It was invoked by the Prosecution very early in the proceedings (as an intimidation tactic, I suspect), probably due to an interjurisdictional misunderstanding (i.e., the same legal term has a different meaning in Canada than it does in the US). I’m not surprised the trolls are dragging it out; after all, they’re trolls. I am a little disappointed to see the Prosecutor talking about it, though. Based on her own statements at the end of the trial, my understanding was that even she didn’t think it was especially relevant at this point.
4. The Statute
Apparently the statute under which I was convicted is somewhat controversial. I chatted with an immigration attorney while the jury was out; she expects the ACLU or some other group to sue this law out of existence before too long, since it seems pretty explicitly designed to give the cops carte blanche to charge anyone for virtually anything.
She also told me that these “exit searches” have only been going on for a few months. They started down in Arizona, as part of a bilateral agreement with Mexico to try and stem the flow of guns heading south from the US in the course of the drug wars. Of course, the problem with instituting new policies at one international border is that they tend to diffuse out to others — but in any case, assuming this information to be correct, Beaudry’s testimony that he had been doing exit searches throughout his six-year career is, shall we say, factually-impaired.
5. The Motive
Some have wondered why I’d ask what was going on in the first place, and why I would have to leave the vehicle to do that. After all, wasn’t it obvious what was going on? I answered these questions on the stand but the reportage seems a bit deficient in that area (the Times-Herald simply claimed that I felt that “the officers were required to answer my questions”), so I’ll get it out here:
There were two seriously weird things about this stop. Firstly, we were being pulled over while trying to leave the US, which in my experience was unprecedented (usually you expect to be stopped by officials from the country you’re entering). Secondly, the search began without my knowledge, without anyone asking me to “pop the trunk” so to speak. This was absolutely contrary to official protocols. Ron Smith, a spokesperson for the Port Huron detachment, confirmed this when commenting about this very case: “Of course they would have told the driver beforehand” (“Canadians Don’t Forfeit Right to Privacy at the Border”, C. Clarke, pA5 of the Dec 14 ’09 edition of The Globe and Mail). But they did not. The first I knew of it was when I turned to see guards at every door, already going through our stuff.
I turned back to ask Behrendt what was going on, but she had moved away from the car and was talking to someone else at a distance. So I got out to ask what was going on; that was when everything went pear-shaped.
The point is, this was not a routine border check. In my experience, it was extremely unusual.
6. The Troops
First off, I don’t know who “Luminous Dust” and “Alistair01” are; unlike stalwarts such as Dave and Cory and Squeak, I have never met either of them. But in those brief moments when I can hold my breath and dive into the Times-Herald comment stream, I see such yeoman service on my behalf that I have to thank both of you in public. That place is not a friendly house for Team Squid — I mean, when even the postings of an actual juror get shouted down, you know you’re fighting rearguard — and I really appreciate your willingness to shovel sand against that tide. If we ever meet (and assuming I’m not in shackles) the beers are on me. I also thank “Chris in NY”, who showed up in court on his own initiative to offer moral support.
Secondly, there seems to be some misapprehension regarding the video. It was shown, without resistance. The Prosecution originally wanted to show their own version (slowed down and with the timestamp edited out), but we ended up all agreeing to show the raw data instead. It was useful for establishing entrances and exits — and we had a PI on the stand who’d developed a forensic timeline, establishing that I was out of the car for less than 20 seconds total (things started getting physical at around the 10-12 second mark). But the footage was grainy and distant and frequently blocked by intervening semis passing through. It was not definitive.
There has been much talk of appeal, and of jury nullification. My understanding is that appeals are only considered on procedural grounds. I don’t know much about jury nullification, and the conflicting opinions I’ve seen here don’t leave me much the wiser. I’ll bring it up with my lawyer, but if it were an option I’m pretty sure he’d have brought it up with me.
There has also been much talk of countersuit; certainly, members of the jury seem to think that offenses were committed against me. Unfortunately, any chance of success hinged on an acquittal, and that ship had sailed. My passenger would have a much stronger case; he was treated abominably and never charged with anything. I would gladly put whatever’s left of the kibble fund towards that end if he wishes to go down this avenue, and he knows this.
I see minor kerfuffling in the comments about a fellow by the name of “uplinktruck”; I met him in court, I chatted with him, I admire him for rescuing an orphaned hurricane cat. He seems like a nice guy. I disagree with his default assumption that LEOs are reluctant to escalate because allegations of excessive force jeopardize their jobs — I’d seen too many indications to the contrary even before all this stuff went down — but he seems very much like the kind of guy with whom one can disagree while still enjoying his company and a beer. Uplink and I have different (possibly irreconciliable) worldviews, but I regard him as a skeptic, not a troll. Just FYI.
That said, I profoundly disagree with his ongoing snark-on for Cory Doctorow, whose comments on boingboing were largely responsible for the outpouring of support that allowed me to even afford a defense1. It is true that Cory is a guy who likes causes; it is also true that the intense web publicity surrounding this affair must have hardened resolved on the other side, caused them to circle their wagons and go for the throat on an obviously trivial matter. But I repeat: without that publicity I would not have been able to afford a defense, period. Life is a tradeoff; consciousness-raising is a double-edged sword. I remain profoundly grateful to Cory, and to Dave Nickle, and to John Scalzi and Steve Andrew and Kathryn Cramer and Patrick Neilson-Hayden — all those good folk who raised the alarm even though I’m sure some of them have found me a pain in the ass on occasion. I certainly didn’t expect any of them to cross continents or oceans to sit at my side. In fact, that would have been downright dumb.
Moving on. Many of you have asked about whether the kibble fund needs topping up. The answer is, I think I’m okay. I haven’t yet received the latest invoice (which is bound to be substantial) but I’m not down to the dregs either, so we’ll see how it balances out. Any surplus funds that haven’t been explicitly authorized as multipurpose (i.e., cats and/or beer should they prove unnecessary for legal costs) will end up going to some worthy cause like The Jury Project or the ACLU anyway, so additional donations will not end up wasted regardless.
Penultimate Personal Point: don’t worry about Stockholm Syndrome, just because of the calm tone of my last post. I’ve still got the hate-on for those who deserve it. Behrendt and Beaudry will never make my “People I’d most Like to Be Stranded on a Desert Island With” list, believe me. But the fact that some dicks wear uniforms does not mean that all uniforms are dicks, and I encountered courtesy and the occasional smile along with the lumps. (I will not drop any names, for fear of getting them into trouble.)
Finally: my in-box is clogged. My voicemail is full. Family, friends, and complete strangers are offering me beers — and I hope to accept all such offers in due course. But I will have to ignore you all for a few days; I must hunker down and lick my wounds, I must meet an imminent consulting deadline that’s been backburnered by the trial, and the paperwork involved in pre-sentencing procedures is almost a sentence in itself. Please do not take offense if you don’t hear back from me for the next little while.
7. The Impact
One good thing may have arisen from all of this. Big yellow signs have suddenly appeared at the Tollbooths of Doom, warning all attempting to leave the US:
EXIT SEARCH AHEAD
Those weren’t there on December 8th. I can’t help but wonder if our BOrdeal may be in some way responsible for these little beacons of clarification.
But maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
1Contrary, once again, to the Times-Herald’s claims that the issue rose to prominence after I posted about it on my blog. Man, if rifters.com had even a hundredth of boingboing’s readership I would be a happy man indeed.