I’ve recently become involved in a self-defense shooting case in Eugene, Oregon. It’s the case of Gerald Strebendt, a former Marine sniper and retired professional mixed martial artist. I can’t really talk about the details because there’s a trial order in place that operates as a limited gag order for the parties involved, and it also seals several court documents from public viewing.
While I cannot comment substantively, I can point you to some documents that have already been made part of the public record. Specifically, I’d like to draw your attention to a written declaration from the accused that is part of the public file. In it, Gerald Strebendt makes the following statements:
“. . .I take exception to the Government’s claim in their Response that somehow it has my best interests at heart in keeping my legal team muzzled and certain pleadings secret.”
“I believe the Government has a profound conflict of interest in wanting to imprison me pretrial without a hearing and without bail. . .”
“I also personally object to any secret hearings, hearings by affidavit, and secret pleadings not made available to the public.”
“I will trust in my attorneys and the public to hold the government accountable and do not request the Government hold itself accountable behind closed doors.”
“I realize that since there have been no public hearings so far in this case, outside my arraignment, I have not met either the judge or the prosecuting attorney in this case and look forward to doing so in open court.”
Because I am bound by the trial order, I will err on the side of caution and only speak generally about my thoughts regarding the open courtroom as part of the American criminal justice system.
Our criminal justice system operates on an “innocent unless proven guilty” standard, and we make extraordinary accommodations to preserve due process. It’s a cornerstone to our concept of liberty, and it’s part of what makes the American criminal justice system the best in the world. Gag orders are typically put in place to protect the citizen’s right to a fair trial from the potentially damaging effect trial publicity can create. They should be designed to protect the defendant.
Gag orders are also an extreme measure, and judges only issue gag orders in extraordinary circumstances. The reason they’re so extraordinary is because they effectively override the right to free speech, the very first Amendment to our Constitution.
Restrictions imposed by unnecessary gag orders have the effect of denying a citizen the opportunity to counter erroneous information, and denying him the right to utilize forums, such as the Internet and social media, to assist in the preparation of a defense. Such restrictions even limit an accused’s right to seek financial assistance in his defense.