Jury Nullification: When Enough Is Enough

FIJA Fully Informed Jury Association http://www.florida.fija.org

By David P Shirk

In school we are raised to believe that our government is kept in control by a system of checks and balances. Yet what happens when the congress passes a law that is controversial, yet the executive branch agrees with it? Worse yet, let’s say this law was against the written and idealistic standpoint of that which the nation was founded? And finally, what happens when the judicial branch follows that pattern to the ignorance of the reason and facts behind the issue at hand?

The sad fact is that there is no working system of checks and balances. Millions of people have raised their voices against government actions (especially of late), and been told that they are wrong – that the law is the law, and they will obey it. In protest they write their congressman. No response. They write the president – no response. You have to obey them, or risk getting steep fines or a prison sentence.

Tyranny: arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority; oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler.

Arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power. We know what’s better for you, so we will make it law to make it so – you have no say. If you object, then you will be fined even more. We will not listen to your protest for you are the subject, and have no ground to question our authority over you.

Despotic abuse of authority. It is within our best interest, and that of our supporters to enact this law. Therefore you will obey to maintain order. You are adversely affected, but it is what we deem to be best, and it makes my voters happy, so you will stop complaining and just do it.

Oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler. You do not have your eighty dollar inspection sticker on your car because you cannot afford it at the time? That’s a two hundred dollar fine. Can’t pay the fine? You can set up a payment system through the court. Miss a payment due to financial hardship  – no problem, we got a bench warrant for you. Taxes are not high enough to cover all of the spending it takes to protect, educate, and keep you healthy, so we will have to get money from you some other way.

Being that Parliament was only replaced in name and a Congress was established, it is of no surprise that we are in this same boat. The complaints that once fell upon the deaf ears of a king now fall on those of a president. Yet there is another way – one that I did not even know until recently.

The last check on government power was the judicial branch. The final check on the judicial branch is the jury.

It never occurred to me that we as citizens have a right to vote not guilty if the letter of the law was violated. I never wanted to be on a jury due to the fact that there are very few laws in existence that I actually agree on. Nor do I agree on how the court will follow the letter of the law at the ignorance of moral obligation, or circumstance.

I was happy to discover that as a juror, you not only have the right, but the obligation to vote not only on the letter of the law, but with your conscience.

Let’s say you’re a juror, and the defendant is being charged for drug possession – an ounce of pot to be precise. In PA, the mandatory sentence is 12 months. The law does not care if the defendant has ever committed any other crime. The law does not care if the defendant lives a productive life and is a valued member of the community. Though the judge should take these factors into account, there is a good chance that they will not. Even if leniency was shown, there is still a record, community service, drug rehab, etc.

During the trial, you are convinced that the defendant is guilty of having pot. However laws of relevancy will keep you from knowing anything else. They were not charged with theft, murder, assault, or anything else. As a juror, you now have two options. Enforce the law by voting guilty, or do not enforce it and vote not-guilty.

The second option does not occur to most people (including myself before I knew better). You are raised to believe that the law is automatically correct, and that you are voting strictly on the basis that the letter of it was broken. The truth is that is only half of the duty of a juror. The second half is to judge the law itself. In the above stated case, I would vote not guilty. No one was hurt or injured, so why penalize a guy for it knowing that he may very well lose his job over it? What sense does it make to take a productive citizen out of circulation, and turn them into an unproductive drain on the taxpayers? None.

The point is that I agree that the law was broken, however the law is not just or beneficial…to anyone. By voting not-guilty, I would be able to free the man of an unjust law that he obviously never wanted to begin with. And if you think that pot was a bad example then I apologize. That was an example based off of my personal beliefs only. The concept however is universal. In any case where a jury is given, this can and should be used. It is a concept that both Hamilton and Jefferson agreed on, which says a lot for it as those two hardly agreed on what color the sky was.

Make no mistake America – this is our last means of peaceful recourse. Your congressman does not care about your objections, after all, who are you to them? Your senator will only help if your case is high profile. Why else risk their reputation? The president is just too busy. This means that if you refuse to stand up for your beliefs in the face of a judge and your fellow juror’s, then you make yourself a willful servant. And if your okay with that, then not even Washington would have pity on you – he did warn us that government is after all, a fearful master.

The truth is that for far too long, the judicial branch has been derelict in its duties. It no longer tells the congress or president that the law they wish to see passed is wrong – it is more politically viable to rubber stamp it. So many laws are already in existence that punishes a person for a crime that never hurt, or took anything from anyone. And more get passed each year. It is no longer a question that our liberties are now stripped to a mere fraction of what we used to have. The question now is, how many more will we lose in the name of protectionism, bias, and forgive my language – bullshit?

The law does not exist to protect our freedoms and liberties, but to control them to ensure the existence of an out of control government. If the stand is not taken against it now, then I fear that we will lose the last means we have for a peaceful redress of grievances. That last stand is taken by the juror to not only judge the defendant, but the law itself. It has truly come down to the point where the people must use this tool, or give up their last chance at regaining their liberties.

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