In an act designed to challenge a Denver ordinance against bearing arms, local business owner and Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Rick Stanley strapped on a hip holster bearing a visible .380 caliber Beretta pistol (fellow protester Duncan Philp chose a shoulder rig) during a rally celebrating the 210th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights in the Mile High City on Dec. 15, 2001.
He'd advertised what he was going to do and invited police to come get him. They did. He was peacefully arrested and brought to trial on May 15 of this year in the municipal court of Judge Robert L. Patterson.
"On the stand I asked one of the arresting officers if he had any idea of the significance of the date of the arrest, Dec. 15 -- that it was the 210th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights," recalls defense attorney Paul Grant. "He was at the event; he knew it was a Bill of Rights rally; but he said no, he didn't know the significance of the date."
"They had 18 to 19 police officers there to arrest Rick at a Bill of Rights Day rally, including SWAT officers who had stood by and done nothing at Columbine."
Out of a pool of 12 prospective jurors, Stanley says he and his supporters were shocked to discover five "just happened to be" employees of the City and County of Denver -- one actually turning out to be an active duty police officer.
The judge insisted that was a coincidence. "He must have said three times it was random, it was all done by the computer."
Attorney Grant eventually took advantage of a state law which allows police officers to be removed from a jury without further cause. Nonetheless, it was attorney Grant's voir dire questioning of the officer while she was still a prospective juror that gave the first indication of the way things were going to go in Judge Patterson's courtroom.
"I asked her when you became a police officer didn't you take an oath to protect and defend the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Colorado. She said, 'I guess I did; I can't remember.' I asked her were you ever instructed in those constitutional rights, and she said no.
"Then I asked her, if the judge were to instruct you that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the defendant a right to keep and bear arms, do you think you could follow his instructions?"
Others present in the courtroom recall Grant asking the officer, "If the judge were to instruct you that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 2, Section 13 of the Constitution of Colorado are applicable to this case, would you be able to follow that instruction?"
Either way, defendant Stanley describes "pandemonium" erupting in the Denver courtroom halfway through his attorney's question, the city attorney leaping to his feet to object as the judge banged his gavel.
Dismissing the prospective jurors for lunch, Judge Patterson began to lecture attorney Grant, instructing him, according to both Grant's recollection and Stanley's, "I already sent you an order in this case. The order has been mailed to your offices. You are not to mention the Constitution during this proceeding. Do you understand?"
Grant replied that he did not.
The judge said, "Then I'll explain it again. You are not to reference the Constitution in these proceedings. You will not address it in voir dire, you will not address it in your opening remarks, you will not ask any questions about the Constitution when you summon your witnesses, and you will not talk about the Constitution when you give your closing arguments. Do you understand my instructions?"
The judge added that Grant had already violated these orders during the voir dire process when questioning the police officer.
A jury of five women and one man -- not including the police officer -- was finally seated. They heard testimony from the arresting officers that they did not fear any violence from defendant Stanley, and that he was co-operative. By the next morning, there was little left to discuss but jury instructions.
Attorney Grant objected to the fact that the standard jury instructions tell members of the jury what they "must" do. In a trial by jury, Grant asserted, the jury has the last word, and each juror's decision must be given freely, without coercion. For the court to tell jurors that they "must" follow the law as the judge explains it effectively denies the defendant's right to be tried by a jury.
Judge Patterson overruled Grant's motion, as he did all 11 of his jury instruction motions.
Grant then presented to the judge (he was not allowed to make this argument to the jury) the affirmative defense that both the Second Amendment and the Constitution of Colorado, Article II, Section 13, protect the defendant's right to keep and bear arms, citing the Colorado case People vs. Ford as a controlling precedent.
"The 1977 case People vs. Ford is such a wonderful case; the Colorado Supreme Court held that when a defendant says he had a weapon for the constitutionally protected purpose of defending his home, person or property that's a jury question. The (state) supreme court said it's a question for the jury to decide, not for a judge to decide. I told him, your honor, I'm just asking that we follow the Supreme Court's decision."
But Patterson rejected that defense argument along with all the others, replying (according to Grant, Stanley, and another witness) that precedents of the Colorado Supreme Court and even the constitution of Colorado are not applicable within the city and county of Denver, because Denver is a home-rule city.
The jury was called back into the courtroom for closing arguments. Defense attorney Grant explained that defendant Stanley was not present that day in the park with criminal intent, but was instead there to "assert his rights, and to defend the rights of all citizens of Colorado."
The jury retired at 9:20 a.m., at which point MIT graduate David Bryant, who serves as public information director for the Libertarian Party of Colorado and also as Stanley's campaign treasurer, approached Assistant City Attorney Paul Puckett to see if he could clarify his understanding of Judge Patterson's remarks in dismissing the controlling precedent People vs. Ford.
"As I understand it," Bryant recalls saying to city attorney Puckett, "Judge Patterson just said that because I live in Denver, the Bill of Rights and the constitution of Colorado, Article II, do not protect any of my rights from the government of Denver. Is that your understanding? Is the city government free to deny all the rights secured to me by the Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of Colorado, so long as they only do it here, in Denver?"
"Yes," Bryant says he was told by Assistant City Attorney Paul Puckett. "The Constitution has no force or effect in Denver, because this is a home rule city."
Reached at his office in Denver, Mr. Puckett responds: "Unfortunately the judge didn't say that, nor did I. Those were the words of Mr. Bryant, who reported them in his, whatever, on the Internet, not a very unbiased observer. What I did tell him in the courtroom was that Denver, as a home-rule city, has a right to pass reasonable regulations on the carrying of weapons. That's under their home-rule status and the Constitution of the state of Colorado, and I referred him to a recent court of appeals case finding that ordinance constitutional. But no, the rest of it is fiction."
(Judge Patterson did not return my phone calls.)
Rick Stanley's jury reached a unanimous "guilty" verdict after deliberating one hour. Stanley could face a $999 fine and up to a year in jail at sentencing, now scheduled for July 25. Stanley says he will appeal.
The statists currently running our legal system will insist this is the way things are supposed to go, of course -- if there's any constitutional problem with the victim disarmament statute it'll be decided at the appellate level, years from now, assuming Stanley and co-defendant Philp can afford the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to get that far.
But that's pernicious nonsense. Every officer -- including judges and prosecutors -- swears an oath before God to protect and defend the state and federal constitutions themselves, personally -- not to leave it to someone "at a higher level."
Under the great and wise precedent of Marbury vs. Madison, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed all Americans that unconstitutional statutes are to be treated as though they were null and void from the moment of their inception.
What other Constitutional rights could be violated so blatantly, and with such impunity? If the Denver City Council passed an ordinance banning Presbyterian sermons within city limits, would Judge Patterson sit there and simper, "I have no choice but to enforce the law as written. I'm sorry, but the defendant was clearly caught conducting a Presbyterian religious service within the city limits, so I have no choice but to throw the defendant in the hoosegow for the next eleven months; if there's a constitutional problem I'm sure it'll all be taken care of by the appeals court in a couple of years.
"In the meantime I hope the Reverend defendant enjoys being buggered by his fellow inmates; sorry about the incurable cases of hepatitis often contracted by our more delicate inmate shower toys. But my hands are tied, what else can I do?"
I don't think so. I think it's just our gun rights.
"They just can't believe there's a constitutional principle that overrides a Denver ordinance," Grant says. "For them it has absolutely no consequence that they once took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution; those words have no meaning to them....
"To these judges, the Constitution is a wall plaque; it's something you talk about but it has no real significance.... They don't have a concept of higher law, of natural law, they don't understand the concept of a hierarchy of law, that there can be some overriding law which takes precedence over their municipal statutes; there is no appeal to any other principle."
"All these people are traitors," adds Rick Stanley. "They'd sold out the American people."