Civil Liberties

Man May Be Jailed For Remaining Silent Before a Grand Jury


Jerry Koch
Jerry Resists

Courtesy of the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project comes word of Jerry Koch, a New York anarchist who may be jailed for doing what most people assume you have a right to do: remaining silent in court. Federal prosecutors want him to testify in the matter of a midnight bombing of a military recruitment center in Manhattan in which nobody was injured. Koch is not a target, but the feds still want to hear from him.

From the New York Times:

A 24-year-old self-described Brooklyn anarchist may be headed to jail after refusing on Thursday for the second time to testify before a grand jury believed to be examining the explosion of a homemade bomb that damaged an armed-forces recruitment center in Times Square in 2008.

A lawyer for the man, Gerald Koch, said she believed that prosecutors would ask a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan to cite him for contempt during an appearance scheduled for next week, an action that could result in Mr. Koch's being jailed.

"I anticipate that the government will seek an order from the court holding Jerry in civil contempt," said the lawyer, Susan V. Tipograph, adding that her client had refused to testify as "a matter of principle" and because "he has no knowledge whatsoever" about the bombing or who caused it.

Ms. Tipograph said Mr. Koch was not a target of the investigation and had been granted immunity.

That grant of immunity is likely the key to the inquisition, since it can be interpreted to make the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination moot. But Koch objects that he's already made it clear in the years since the bombing that he knows nothing, and he believes the feds want to put him on the stand to extract information that's irrelevant to the case, but that piques their interest.

From Jerry Resists:

Given that I publically made clear that I had no knowledge of this alleged event in 2009, the fact that I am being subpoenaed once again suggests that the FBI does not actually believe that I possess any information about the 2008 bombing, but rather that they are engaged in a 'fishing expedition' to gain information concerning my personal beliefs and political associations.

Rather than answer questions when last called to court, Koch confirmed his name, age and address. On his Website, he says he thinks prosecutors really want to use the grand jury "to gain information about my friends, loved ones, and activists for whom I have done legal support."

Originally intended to prevent prosecutors — government employees — from wielding their powers arbitrarily, grand juries have instead turned into powerful tools of the state. New York Judge Sol Wachtler famously quipped that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. In 2003, W. Thomas Dillard, Stephen R. Johnson, and Timothy Lynch wrote a cautionary paper (PDF) about grand juries, which were then being further empowered as part of the "war on terror," for the Cato Institute:

While most people are generally familiar with the function of the police officer, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, the judge, and the trialjury, few have any idea about what the grand jury is supposed to do and its day-to-day operation. That ignorance largely explains how some overreaching prosecutors have been able to pervert the grand jury, whose original purpose was to check prosecutorial power, into an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of government and now runs roughshod over the constitutional rights of citizens.

Koch is next scheduled to appear at the federal court house at 500 Pearl Street, in New York City, on May 21. He's inviting supporters to pack the venue to witness what will likely be a grand jury doing whatever it's told to do.