Juror Who Caused Mistrial With Online Research Must Pay Jury Fees

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Paul Christiansen, who caused a mistrial in March by doing his own research on the defendant and disclosing it to other jurors, has been fined $1,200 by a court in Newbury, New Hampshire.  Jurors, of course, are instructed not to do that sort of thing, but Christiansen admitted he had deliberately disobeyed the judge's order because he thought the other jurors should know that the defendant had been convicted for sexual assault 13 years ago.

"Everybody should [be concerned]," he told reporters, "that jurors are not told everything."  Actually, a lot of people are concerned about what jurors are told, and some of them write rules of evidence for that reason.  The judge in this case presumably decided that the prior conviction was too old and/or the crime not sufficiently similar to be admissible, but Christiansen disagreed.  After it came out that he had researched the defendant online and disclosed what he found to the other jurors during deliberations, the judge declared a mistrial and arraigned Christiansen for contempt.

It took her two tries to do that, though, because the first time "Christiansen refused to take his seat in the courtroom because he was unwilling to recognize the court's authority."  After he was reminded that the court did in fact have authority over him – a reminder conveyed by having him sit in a holding cell for several hours – he agreed to come into the courtroom and sit down after just a brief struggle with bailiffs. 

Christiansen is apparently one of those people who believe individual citizens are somehow "sovereign" in a way that allows them to ignore a court's authority.  (For examples of other such people, see, e.g.here and here.) If so, why he showed up for jury duty at all is kind of a mystery, although maybe he was just voluntarily fulfilling a civic duty, as all good sovereigns should.  But if courts only have the authority that each individual citizen chooses to give it, then it's hard to see why he thinks the defendant should have stuck around for trial, let alone agree to be convicted by Paul Christiansen.

This may be a family-sovereignty issue.  During his second arraignment, Christiansen was accompanied by his dad and his uncle, both of whom said they also do not recognize the court's authority and had encouraged the younger Christiansen not to "participate" in the proceedings.  I found it just a little odd that the uncle, Lars Christiansen, does not recognize governmental authority despite the fact that he is a New Hampshire state representative.  I assume he goes to the capital and just sits quietly every day in order to make sure he doesn't do anything that might oppress his fellow sovereigns. 

Since March, Paul Christiansen has been bravely fighting the contempt charge by not showing up for court hearings.  On October 9, he conceded (by showing up) that his not-showing-up strategy had failed, and agreed to pay $1,200 to reimburse the state for jury fees and other expenses attributable to the mistrial.  Undoubtedly, however, the Christiansens' valiant struggle against reality will continue.

Link: Concord Monitor (Oct. 10, 2009)
Link: Concord Monitor (March 2009)