They have been demonstrating since 2010 against unarmed surveillance drones based and operated at Beale that are used to pinpoint targets for armed killer drones in war zones and elsewhere overseas.
The protesters run the gamut from ministers and rabbis to longtime peace activists and military veterans.
At least 18 have been arrested for trespassing since Oct. 30, 2012, some more than once. One was an 88-year-old Lutheran minister, arrested nearly three weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, who was also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran – he served on the honor guard aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, where the treaty was signed marking Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
“I call it divine obedience,” the minister, Jerry Pedersen, said in a recent interview at his South Land Park home. “I’m not breaking the law, I’m following the law that’s written in our hearts.”
The federal government has a different point of view, and has begun filing misdemeanor charges of unauthorized penetration of a military installation. The charge carries the potential of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, although federal prosecutors have assured judges they have no intention of trying to put any of the protesters behind bars.
But that is where the charity stops. The government has succeeded so far in persuading two judges to deny protesters jury trials, something the defendants contend deprives them of their Sixth Amendment rights and the chance to have their civil disobedience judged by their peers instead of the third branch of the federal government – the very establishment they are targeting.
Osgood, a retired social worker and 66-year-old grandmother from Grass Valley, is facing trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd, who will be hearing her pleas for a jury trial and the opportunity to present a “necessity defense” on Tuesday.
Despite arguments that the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial, the federal government adamantly opposes a panel in these prosecutions.
“They are not entitled to a jury,” Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in an interview last week. “I understand that they are interested in maximum publicity for their cause, but we don’t have an interest in accommodating that.
“Our business is promoting respect for the law. We have tried to be as light-handed and reasonable as possible. But, in these cases, a jury is not an effective nor efficient use of our resources, or the court’s resources for that matter.”
Wagner argues, as do his assistant prosecutors in court, that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that defendants facing six months or less time in prison have no right to be judged by a jury.
“These defendants don’t qualify for special treatment just because they are motivated by ideology,” Wagner said.
Lawyers for the protesters and some constitutional experts dispute that, saying the right to be judged by your peers is a bedrock of the nation’s justice system.
“The (Supreme) Court has concluded, based on ‘historical practices,’ that trial courts may dispense with a jury when the maximum punishment is less than six months incarceration,” said Gabriel “Jack” Chin, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law and a nationally recognized expert in criminal procedure.
“That is a highly questionable conclusion,” added Chin, whose work has been cited twice in U.S. Supreme Court opinions. “The court has decided the Sixth Amendment doesn’t mean what it says, that it means something else.
“That’s highly dubious. One of the reasons we had a revolution was that some practices were not acceptable. A trial without a panel of the defendant’s peers was one of them.”