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Lesson in the Law for Jan. 6th Insurrectionist

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

I am pleased to report that Richard Barnett, one of the more infamous January 6th insurrectionists, has been tried and convicted of all eight counts in his indictment, including felony charges of Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon.

He was also charged and convicted of Aiding and Abetting, Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Ground with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon (a stun gun, in this case), Theft of Government Property ( a piece of Pelosi’s mail), His case is one of only a few dozen that has actually gone to trial.

You remember Barnett. He’s the guy who casually sat in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office with his feet on a staffer’s desk. Most of us did not know he had a stun gun in his pocket. What do you think would have happened had Pelosi walked into her office at that moment?

While the jury took just two hours to convict Barnett on all eight counts, he remains defiant , promising an appeal, apparently on the basis that “this is not a jury of my peers.” His attorneys’ request to move the trial to Arkansas was denied by the trial judge, a decision that Barnett called an “injustice.”

His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for May 3rd. Prosecutors asked the judge to jail Barnett while he awaits sentencing, correctly arguing that he brought a weapon (a stun gun with spikes, concealed in a walking stick) into Pelosi’s office. Despite this uncontested fact, the judge decided to allow him to remain free while he awaits sentencing.

Since Barnett clearly does not understand what a “jury of his peers” means, in a constitutional context, I write this to provide him and any other interested party a lesson in the law.

Richard Barnett: Listen Up

Criminal defendants have guaranteed rights under our constitution. One of those is to be tried by a jury of one’s peers. In a constitutional context, this means someone “equal” to the defendant, interpreted to mean a cross-section of the population, meaning you cannot exclude people due to race, gender, or national origin. This does not mean that Black people can only be tried by Black people or White people by White people. It does not mean that a Christian can only have Christians on his or her jury.

Barnett criticizes the trial judge for not moving the case from Washington DC to Arkansas. A ‘jury of one’s peers’ certainly doesn’t mean that a White insurrectionist from Arkansas can only have White insurrectionists from Arkansas on his jury (or even law abiding White men from Arkansas). White insurrectionists are not a protected class under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

“Peer” has been interpreted to mean that available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and/or gender. A process that excludes a particular race, religion, or gender would not pass constitutional muster. Simply stated, defendants are not entitled to a jury of their own race, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation. In its broadest context, it is, simply, a jury of one’s fellow citizens.

Despite these constitutional requirements, defendants’ attorneys have a number of peremptory challenges during jury selection. In practice, they can exercise those challenges to remove someone for any reason they want. You can bet, for instance, that a number Biden-loving liberals were kicked off Barnett’s jury for no stated purpose.

A court cannot remove jurors from a jury simply because of their ethnic background. In Batson v. Kentucky, a 1986 case, an African American defendant originally had four African American jurors on his jury. All four of them were removed and an all-white jury convicted him. He won his appeal in the Supreme Court. But that case doesn’t mean age, race, or gender of jurors has to be the same as the person on trial. It only means that these factors may not be used to specifically disqualify someone from the jury.

If a man is on trial, he can’t exclude or demand women. If a woman is on trial, she does not automatically get an all-female jury. A person’s peers may include a variety of citizens, regardless of race, religion, gender, or national origin. But none of this stops an attorney from using peremptory challenges to exclude them, so long as the attorney remains silent about his or her reasons.

Essentially, the process is designed to assemble a fair jury made up of a cross-section of American citizens as a way to reduce the chances of jury bias.

Here’s another important example: In 1951 Texas, a Mexican-American man was convicted of murder by an all-white jury. Although 15 percent of the population was Mexican American, not a single Latino was chosen for jury duty over the past 25 years. The man appealed his conviction and the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Mexicans were ‘white’ and not entitled to protected status under the 14th Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the man belonged to a ‘distinct class’ that had long suffered discrimination, as evidenced by the fact that no Mexican American juror served had served in the past 25 years. The conviction was overturned. The man was then retried and convicted by a more representative jury.

So, Mr. Barnett, enjoy your time in prison. Visit the prison library, study the constitution, become a jailhouse lawyer—perhaps you will realize the frivolousness of your “jury of my peers’ argument. Besides, aren’t you also the guy who said: “I didn’t break the law, [I acted] like an F-ing idiot?”

Learn, Mr. Barnett. In your time away, please learn how to be a law-abiding citizen.

Mark M. Bello is an attorney and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, ripped-from-the headlines, realistic fiction that speak truth to power and champion the rights of citizens in our justice system. These novels are dedicated to the social justice movement. They educate, spark discussion and inspire readers to action. One of these novels, Betrayal High, was written in response to school shootings. For more information, please visit Mark also hosts the Justice Counts podcast with Lean to the Left editor & publisher Bob Gatty, presenting bi-weekly interviews focused on social justice.

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