SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Once again a federal judge in Sacramento has denied a jury trial to a defendant who is a regular among anti-drone protesters at Beale Air Force Base.
U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd, like two colleagues before him, cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that there is no right to a jury trial if the penalty is capped at six months in prison.
And, like his colleagues, he said it is unclear whether he has the discretion to grant a jury trial, but, even if the law allows him that latitude, he would not do so in this instance.
Drozd did not mention the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a jury trial to criminal defendants, without exception.
Grass Valley resident Shirley Osgood, 66, is charged by the U.S. attorney’s office with “entering a military installation for a purpose prohibited by law or lawful regulation,” a misdemeanor.
Osgood was one of four protesters arrested in November after they deliberately stepped over the Yuba County base’s border, marked by a line of white paint. They were arrested, cited for trespassing and released, but Osgood was the only one charged by prosecutors with the misdemeanor.
She is scheduled to be tried before Drozd on April 16.
Drozd repeatedly referred to the charge as “petty,” the language found in case law, although he acknowledged that it is obvious Osgood doesn’t see it that way.
He also cited the prosecutors’ assurance they will not seek a prison term if the judge finds her guilty.
“There are simply no circumstances that would take this case out of the realm of petty offense,” Drozd said. “There is no compelling reason to treat this case any differently than any other petty offense that would come before this court.”
In the motion for a jury trial, Chief Assistant Federal Defender Linda Harter argued that, in cases outside the Eastern District of California, “where the charges against the defendants stemmed from protests or actions against the government, (they) have been granted jury trials, even where the charges have been considered petty.”
Drozd was not moved.
Osgood will be the 10th Beale protest defendant to go on trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney found five protesters, including Osgood, guilty of stepping over the white line in October 2012. U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire found four guilty of committing the same crime in April 2013.
The acts of civil disobedience were deliberate, rendering verdicts in non-jury trials predictable.
Drozd also ruled, as did Delaney and Claire, that Osgood has no right to a so-called “necessity defense.” A defendant is entitled to argue necessity if “a reasonable jury could conclude that (she) was faced with a choice of evils and chose the lesser evil, and (she) acted to prevent imminent harm.”
Drozd cited a 1992 federal appellate decision holding that the necessity defense is not available when civil disobedience involves violating a law – in this case the prohibition against stepping onto the base – that is not the object of protest.
The object of these protests is alleged unintended consequences of the Obama administration’s liberal use of killer drones in the war on terrorism.