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This legal case involves seven appellants who were convicted of malicious destruction of property after breaking into the Washington offices of the Dow Chemical Company without consent. They were acquitted of burglary charges but convicted of the lesser charge of unlawful entry. The appellants are appealing their convictions on three grounds: (1) the trial judge erred in denying their motions to represent themselves, (2) the judge refused to instruct the jury on their right to acquit regardless of the law and evidence, and (3) the given instructions coerced the jury into a guilty verdict. The court reverses and remands for a new trial based on the first contention, but rejects the second and third contentions. The evidence presented showed that the appellants vandalized property and defaced the premises. The defendants expressed a desire to represent themselves, but the judge denied their pro se motions, citing their lack of formal legal training, the multi-defendant context of the trial, and the seriousness of the charges as reasons for the denial. The court concludes that the right to represent oneself in court must be recognized if timely asserted and accompanied by a valid waiver of counsel, and not waived through disruptive behavior during trial.
The jury should not be informed of their power of nullification, but denying a defendant's request for a nullification instruction does not negate the right to self-representation. The power of nullification is important in the criminal process and should not be suppressed. The defendants in this case interrupted a chemical company's business to publicize their dissenting views on the Vietnam War. The judge agrees that defendants have the right to represent themselves in a federal criminal trial but can waive this right. The defendants' disruptive behavior led to their waiver of the right to proceed pro se, and the district court was correct in requiring them to be represented by counsel. The judgments of convictions should be affirmed.
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