8-13 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Federal grand jury underway in Eugene
No right to legal representation? No right to free association? No right to remain silent? You've been subpoenaed to a grand jury.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUST 13, 2004
A joint communication from Break The Chains, Cascadia Media Collective and Eugene Peaceworks
Subject: Federal grand jury underway in Eugene
A new spate of federal grand juries have been called to investigate "radical" environmentalists throughout the Pacific Northwest. In Eugene, authorities are using the highly controversial Romania fire that burned 35 SUVs in 2001 as a catalyst for gathering general information about local dissidents. Grand juries are a coercive, archaic practice that target vulnerable people and should not be welcomed in our community.
Grand juries are a holdover from English Common Law that operate outside of the "freedoms" granted by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are used by the federal government to seek an indictment when they lack a suspect and/or evidence. They are sweeping in both scope and design and use the threat of incarceration to compel those subpoenaed to answer all questions put before them. If a person refuses to answer even one question they can be held in contempt.
For nearly a century activists have accused the federal government of using grand juries as a tool to quell dissent. Grand juries serve to disrupt the cohesiveness of group, generate internal fear and discourage new people from getting involved, thus preventing such groups from being effective in opposing government policies. In a time when the federal government continues to broaden the scope of who and how they are allowed to investigate - and in a time of "you are either with us or against us" - the need to resist such an intrusion on individual autonomy seems clear.
People who choose to resist the grand jury do not inherently have something to hide. In fact, resisting the grand jury is often a matter of principle and an effort to protect others from unwarranted governmental intrusion. If people choose to resist this current grand jury, they will have our support.
We encourage you to learn more about the current grand jury and the grand jury process by attending "Stop the Grand Jury" on August 18th and by contacting our organizational spokespeople.
STOP THE GRAND JURY: A public event and benefit
Wednesday, August 18th, 7pm at Sam Bond's Garage $5
Speakers, information, and musical performances by Los Mex Pistols, The Happy Bastards, and others TBA.
For local information: Brendan Avakian, Member of Break The Chains anti-repression and prisoner advocacy organization, (541) 343-7828
For general information about grand juries: Melinda Power, Attorney and Member of the National Lawyers Guild, (773) 278-6706
Local moms subpoenaed by federal grand jury
BY LISA IGOE, Eugene Weekly, May 13, 2004
Mother's Day greetings were delivered early this year to three local moms — with love from the federal government. In lieu of cards, FBI agents hand-delivered subpoenas — demanding that the women comply with the most coercive of judicial investigations: the grand jury.
Jennifer Woodruff and Twiga May-Whittier have been subpoenaed as part of an ongoing investigation into the Romania auto arson that brought Carla Martinez and other activists before the grand jury more than two years ago (see EW archives 1/17/02). Heather Whitney, the mother of a newborn, has been subpoenaed to testify as a witness in Seattle as part of an investigation the Washington US Attorney vaguely referred to as crimes committed in the name of animal rights and/or environmentalism.
When a District Attorney lacks evidence to indict an individual for a specific crime, or when they have no idea who might have been involved in a case they want to prosecute, they can convene a grand jury. A grand jury creates the opportunity for federal agents to turn their guesswork into possible evidence with the goal of securing an indictment — even if the evidence is flimsy and circumstantial. The side effect is what activists have referred to as a political fishing expedition; through questioning of witnesses, federal agents are able to uncover a road map of personal relationships within a targeted community for future use.
But, according to Assistant US Attorney Kirk Engdall, activists misunderstand the role of the grand jury. "I think that they are misinformed. They don't know the history or the purpose of the grand jury. They misunderstand the process," he claims. He defines the grand jury as "a secret proceeding that avails itself to investigate criminal conduct with the interest of protecting those who are subjects of the grand jury."
He adds the secrecy is "to protect the innocent."
When questioned by a grand jury, one's Fifth Amendment right becomes null and void. In its place, the court can grant a special form of "immunity" under which a prosecutor is not supposed to use a person's testimony against them. Immunity then compels a person to continue answering questions, and if they choose to continue to plead the Fifth, they can be jailed for an indefinite amount of time.
"Grand juries have a history of targeting who they perceive as the most vulnerable to coercive interrogation," says Steven Heslin, Copwatch activist and media liaison for the mothers who've been subpoenaed.
"Simply put, they have two options: They can resist the grand jury and risk being jailed and separated from their children or they can comply with a modern day witch hunt that compromises their values and at least six constitutional rights."
But, according to government attorney Engdall, whether a person is a mother is "irrelevent. The grand jury doesn't target people based on their economic or social status. It invites people to come and present documentation or testimony concerning a criminal investigation," he says.
Those subpoenaed would disagree. "I lose the right to make the decision to not participate in the process because it is directly detrimental to the health of my baby," says Whitney. "If I can't breastfeed my child, she'll be denied vital nutrients she can't get from formula — so, no matter what, she's the one at the highest risk in this process."
"I can only wonder why they would call single mothers to testify," questions Woodruff. "I feel as though it is because we have so much more at stake and that is one of the dirtiest, most unethical things that a government can do to its own people."
Lisa Igoe is a freelance writer, a member of Cascadia Media Collective and a frequent contributor to Eugene Weekly.
(Note: On June 17th three women appeared before the grand jury. One woman testified, two plead the 5th and 1st amendment, one being a single mother. They were let go and are currently awaiting the next step in the process, at which point a judge will decide whether to order the two women to testify. If the women continue to refuse, they could go to jail.)
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion