Imprisoned Anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was ruled in contempt of court today by U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga for refusing to testify in front of a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA).
Hammond was recently transferred from the Federal Correctional Institution in Memphis, Tennessee to the EDVA. Due to the secrecy of jury proceedings, it is unknown what the federal grand jury is investigating or why they are seeking testimony from Hammond.
At the same time, informed observers widely suspect this is the same grand jury investigating WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange, and its previous sources. Judge Trenga, who ruled on today’s court hearings, has also presided over the grand jury proceedings of Chelsea Manning, a different WikiLeaks source, also held in contempt for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury. Manning continues to be detained for refusing to testify.
Being held in contempt for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury is not a criminal charge. As noted by a previous Unicorn Riot report, typically grand juries are used to investigate crimes, sit for approximately eighteen months on the findings, and then recommend charges which are filed under seal.
Hammond pleaded guilty in 2013 to hacking a defense contractor named Stratfor as part of the Anonymous-linked hacking crew known as LulzSec. It is unclear what, if anything, the EDVA federal grand jury is investigating but based on his Anarchist principles Hammond has refused to testify in any capacity. Attorneys for Hammond have attempted to raise to Judge Trenga that Hammond would not testify and holding him in contempt would not compel his testimony.
It is a common defense strategy in grand jury resistance, known as Grumbles motion, to raise that holding a grand jury resistor any further will not compel their testimony. Previous resistors have been held for over 250 days. Judge Trenga dismissed that motion in his ruling earlier today. In a statement uploaded to the internet, his solidarity network stated,
“Due to the secretive nature of grand juries, we do not know what his sanctions for contempt may be. We also do not know what questions the grand jury is investigating. We do know, however, is that the federal sentence he was serving for which he was due to be released from just two short months from now, will be suspended.” — Hammond Support Network
As noted by the solidarity network, Hammond was due for release in December of this year. Now he will be held in civil contempt, meaning his federal criminal sentence will be suspended, which may mean spending as long as an additional 18 months in jail for the contempt charge.
Hammond has already lost access to a federal program known as Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) which would have reduced his criminal sentence by 9 months.
It is unclear how long the court will hold Hammond in contempt, only stated he will be confined until “such time he purges or the end of the life of the grand jury”. Practically speaking, this means the court could hold him for eighteen months, the length of the grand jury, or until he agrees to testify.