Jury refuses to convict man who gave food and water to migrants

I wrote recently about how the US Customs and Border Protection agency had been destroying water stations left by humanitarian groups in the desert to prevent migrants dying from dehydration. After one of those groups No More Deaths had publicized these horrendous actions by the CBP, the US government arrested one of its volunteers Scott Warren because he had provided migrants with water, food, clean clothes, and beds in a barn. He faced up to 20 years in prison.

But a jury saw things differently and refused to convict Warren.

A US jury could not reach a verdict on Tuesday against a border activist who, defense attorneys say, was simply being kind by providing two migrants with water, food and lodging when he was arrested in early 2018.

Outside the courthouse, Warren thanked his supporters and criticized the government’s efforts to crack down on the number of immigrants coming to the US.

“Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees, and we must also stand for our families, friends and neighbors in the very land itself most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities,” Warren said.

Border activists say they worry about what they see as the gradual criminalization of humanitarian action.

Warren has said his case could set a dangerous precedent by expanding the definition of the crimes of transporting and harboring migrants to include people merely trying to help border-crossers in desperate need of water or other necessities.

It is not widely known that jurors have the right to refuse to convict someone of a crime even if the person is flat-out guilty of the ‘offense’ based on the facts and law of the case, if the jury feels that the law in question is unjust. This principle is something known as ‘jury nullification’ and is considered the ultimate safeguard against a ruling class that uses its control of the legislative and legal systems to oppress people and deny them fundamental rights under the guise of enforcing laws. It is such action by juries in the past that have given us constitutional protections such as the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly. I do not know if such a refusal to convict by some jurors is what led to this hung jury because Warren has admitted to the facts of the case. We will need to see if the jurors are willing to discuss their deliberations.

Ryan Devereaux has more on the trial and verdict.

When Warren stepped out of the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, he was greeted by a throng of press, friends, and supporters. Standing before the cameras and microphones, he immediately addressed the issues that matter to him most. “Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found,” Warren told the crowd. “The government’s plan, in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their families; prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and solidarity.”

I doubt that the CBP will be deterred by this setback. They will continue to harass these humanitarian groups and may even decide to ask for a new trial for Warren, because we all know what a terrible crime it is to assist people in need, especially when the people being helped have committed one of the worst crimes that anyone can commit, and that is to find their way into the US without a visa. Such actions are far, far worse than when the US government harbors known war criminals and allows them to escape justice.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ed Brayton made an excellent point about this case:

    Like many people and the groups they work with, they are Christian and view it was a religious duty to do as Jesus instructed them to do, feed the hungry, heal the sick and so forth. … So tell me, Mr. Trump, why does this not violate their religious freedom by punishing them for following the tenets of their faith, as you claim it does when a doctor has to treat a gay patient or a bakery has to make a cake for a gay wedding? Seems like it’s only “religious freedom” when it protects their right to be cruel and discriminatory, not to be kind and compassionate.

  2. ridana says

    I’m surprised these people even got on the jury unless they lied during the selection process. However they got passed through, I’m glad they did.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @3: IANAL, but my understanding is that in countries whose laws are based on the British system, there would be no need to find someone innocent, because innocence is presumed. You’re innocent unless you’re found guilty. Whereas in France, e.g., I think you have to prove innocence.

  4. Mano Singham says

    There is no practical difference between ‘proven innocent’ or ‘found to be innocent’ and ‘presumed to be innocent’, as far as I am aware. It is just where the burden of proof lies in our legal system. All that juries can do is find someone guilty or not guilty.

  5. ionopachys says

    It’s not exactly a complete victory. The jury did not acquit him. At best, only one juror wanted to convict, and possibly only one refused to vote guilty. The jury failed to deliver a verdict, so the government can try him again. Maybe the politics will give them pause, but he’s still in danger.

  6. DrVanNostrand says

    Just to clarify what others said above, the jury neither found him guilty, nor not guilty. According to the article, there were 8 ‘not guilty’ votes, and 4 ‘guilty’ votes, so the jury was hung. The government is free to re-try. I hope they don’t, but if they do, I hope they get 4 more nullifiers on the jury. Sadly, most people don’t even know they have that right, and while jurors can’t be punished for nullification, some cases have upheld the judge’s right to give bullying jury instructions implying otherwise.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    some cases have upheld the judge’s right to give bullying jury instructions implying otherwise.

    In California, if you openly admit to jury-nullifying to the California judge, they will remove you from the jury and place an alternate (or something like that). Also in some states, it is forbidden to mention there mere existence and legal rules surrounding jury nullification during trial, and it’s also criminal to attempt to find the jurors outside of the court house and tell them about the mere existence and legal rules surrounding jury nullification. I recall one case where the charge was complete bullshit, and someone related to the defendant plastered posters about jury nullification to every car in the jury parking lot, and they charged this person, but eventually dismissed the charges because they knew that they could not obtain a conviction at trial without showing the poster itself to the jurors. It was really quite surreal.

  8. fentex says

    Rob Grigjanis @# 5: …in countries whose laws are based on the British system…

    You mean “English”, not “British” as Scotland (which is also British) has a different system -- there a jury can return one of three, not two, conclusions.

    In England you are Innocent or Guilty, in Scotland you can be Innocent, Guilty or Not Proven.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    fentex @10: It’s “not guilty”, not “innocent”. In both jurisdictions, innocence is presumed, and can only be overthrown by a “guilty” verdict. “Not proven” still leads to acquittal.

  10. DrVanNostrand says

    @9 Enlightened Liberal

    When I was researching the topic several years ago, I was never able to find a case where a conviction was upheld against a juror simply for asserting they had the right to nullification when talking to other jurors. The closest I saw was a juror that went online and printed out a bunch of literature on nullification and handed it out to other jurors, which violated several rules. That doesn’t mean states haven’t passed such laws. Perhaps they couldn’t sustain convictions, or I couldn’t find them. Yes, you can be removed or replaced, and there are various ways that is handled in different jurisdictions. You also can’t lie about it under oath during initial questioning, or you may be charged with perjury. With all those caveats firmly in place, you still can’t be punished simply for voting the ‘wrong’ way.

  11. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To DrVanNostrand
    Person A is charged with a crime. Person B, not on the jury, is a friend of person A. Person B put fliers on every car windshield in the parking lot while person A is at trial. Person B, who was not on any jury, was charged with a crime, according to my recollection.

    I agree with you that I think that the worst that they can do to a juror who talks about jury nullification is to throw the person off the jury. I’d have to research more to be sure.

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