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Week of: July1, 2001

Fair Trials and Due Process Threatened

by F.R. Duplantier

When the roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury are combined in one person or body, the rights of citizens are no longer secure.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution not only protects us against double jeopardy and self-incrimination; it also prohibits the confiscation of our property by the Federal Government without proper compensation. The Fifth Amendment states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury . . . nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." But no compensation is forthcoming to the thousands of farmers, ranchers, loggers, and other hard-working Americans who have had the use of their property so severely restricted that they are no longer able to make a living from it -- all in the so-called public interest of certain federally favored flora and fauna.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees our right to a trial by jury in a criminal case. "In all criminal prosecutions," it provides, "the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . . and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence." Every juror has the power to examine not only the facts of a case but the law itself, and to reject the application of the law if he finds it to be unjust. Juries, however, are seldom informed of the full extent of their power.

The Seventh Amendment protects our right to a trial by jury in a civil suit. It ensures that "the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." The growth of regulatory agencies, however, has enabled unelected bureaucrats to bypass that safeguard -- and instead act as prosecutor, judge, and jury.

The Eighth Amendment protects us against unreasonable fines and punishments, but judges and regulatory agents routinely ignore it. The Eighth Amendment states that "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." And yet, excessive fines are levied against alleged violators of vaguely defined and broadly interpreted environmental provisions. In one notorious case, a judge's weird idea of wetlands sent a Florida landowner to prison for nearly two years -- just for cleaning out a drainage ditch and spreading soil on his own property.


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