L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 213, March 3, 2003
COME AND SEE!
Nullification Returns Power to Juries—Where it Belongs
Special to TLE
[Part One of a Three-Part Series]
We Americans, sadly, live in a day of ever increasing government control over our lives. Many people are frustrated and fed-up with their ever shrinking sphere of freedom and are looking for ways to protect themselves from government abuse.
Look no further. The answer lies in a relatively obscure subject known as 'jury nullification' or 'jury veto-power'.
Jury nullification is the power and right of jurors to find the verdict according to their consciences and to judge the law as well as the facts in all criminal trials. Jurors have had this power to nullify bad law since our nation was founded and it used to be standard practice for judges to inform them of this. This practice was stopped in the 1890's and from that time on, ignorance regarding jury rights has been spreading.
This ignorance has allowed judges to exercise near-absolute power in the courtroom. In defiance of history and justice, most judges today tell jurors that they cannot judge the law or use their consciences—they can only judge facts. This is a tyrannical usurpation of power by the government. The ability of juries to act as a check on unreasonable government powers and laws is foundational to our free society. Here's some history:
Back in Colonial days there was a law which said that the Church of England was the only legal church. A Quaker preacher named William Penn ignored the law and preached a Quaker sermon. He was arrested. The jury, in defiance of an unjust law and the judges' instructions, found him not guilty. The judge was furious so he fined the jury and threw them in jail. Finally, England's highest court had them released—acknowledging and establishing that trial jurors could not be punished for their verdicts. This effectively established freedom of religion in the colonies.
Another case involved a journalist named John Peter Zenger. He broke the law by printing an article accusing the Royal Colonial Governor of New York of corruption. He was arrested and tried for sedition. In defiance of the judge's orders and the law, the jury refused to convict Mr. Zenger. Thus, freedom of the press was established.
It was because jurors voted their consciences—in defiance of bad laws and judges' instructions—that today we enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of the press, right to assembly, etc. The power of the jury to judge the law was well established by our founding fathers and other important people in the early days of our country. Consider these examples:
"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."—Thomas Jefferson
"Jurors should acquit even against the judges' instruction...if exercising their judgment with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is wrong."—Alexander Hamilton
"The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy."—John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
"It is not only his [the juror's] right, but his duty...to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court."— John Adams, second U.S. President
There are many more such quotes but I believe these are sufficient to prove the point. Jurors have the absolute, unquestionable right to judge the law as well as the facts and to vote according to their consciences. Even in this century there is a good example of jurors exercising this right. Remember prohibition? The law made alcohol illegal but so many people disagreed with the law that there was usually at least one pro- alcohol person on any jury which tried people for alcohol-related offenses. Thus, offenders were rarely convicted. Even with the anti- alcohol law on the books it became impossible for the government to enforce it. Through the power of juries, the people spoke and that unpopular law was eventually repealed.
Today unfortunately, in an arrogant defiance of justice, judges routinely remove anyone from the jury who disagrees with the law or might want to vote according to conscience. This is a horrible usurpation of power by judges and needs to be stopped.
Some states have adopted constitutional amendments or have enacted laws protecting jurors' rights to vote according to their consciences. Unfortunately, Colorado is not one of them. In the Denver area a juror named Laura Kriho was recently arrested by the judge for voting according to her conscience. Our court system has degenerated back to the point where William Penn found himself so many years ago. We've come full circle. Government abuse and oppression is actually worse now than when King George III was our ruler, and the tyranny is growing.
Make no mistake—as our government continues to degenerate into despotism it will eventually become illegal to write articles like this one. It will be considered sedition, and even having a copy will get you thrown in jail as an enemy of the state. Every concerned American needs to become involved in restoring our freedom now—while there is still time.
For a free Jury Power Information Kit call the Fully Informed Jury Association at 1-800-TEL-JURY or visit our Web site at www.FIJA.org. Feel free to call this writer at (719) 473-4241 to help with our fight for freedom in the Colorado Springs/Denver area.
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