…and much else, including such events as the death of black thug Jordan Neely at the hands of a public-spirited Marine veteran, the legal principle – yes, Gentle Reader, it is a principle, not just some libertarian’s half-baked notion – of jury nullification has re-entered the national discourse.
It’s actually rather strange that it should ever have faded from our minds. The whole point of the “twelve good men and true” system was to make jury nullification a living organ of our justice system. Why it isn’t on millions of people’s minds, given the number of good men who are in jeopardy of losing everything, merely for exercising their rights, demands explanation. Fortunately, the explanation is not hard to find.
I made use of the principle in a novel — ironically enough, in the setting of a sedition trial:
“The something you ought to know is this: When you cast your votes in the jury room, you’re absolutely free to cast them any way you want, regardless of the law, regardless of the charges, and regardless of anything the judge has told you. A juror is not liable for his vote. He can’t be punished for it. That’s at the heart of the jury system. If it were otherwise, the government could compel you to bring in any verdict it wanted. There’d be no point to having a jury at all.
“So if His Honor instructs you that you must vote a certain way, even conditionally, you can disregard it.” Devin turned slowly to glare at the bench. The judge’s face was a mottled mask of fury. He gripped the handle of his gavel like a battle axe poised to strike.
“His Honor is very angry with me for telling you that. He was going to tell you something like ‘I am judge of the law, and you are judge of the facts,’ meaning that whatever law he decrees, you have no choice but to enforce.” Devin grinned at the judge, then turned back to the jury box. “Well, it ain’t so, my friends. When you go into that room, you are the captains of your own destiny…and mine, too.
“That’s the part you ought to know. If you think I’m a miserable excuse for a human being who deserves to be put behind bars, you can vote that result and no one can say ‘boo’ to you. On the other hand, if you think I’ve been shafted and want to rub the government’s nose in it, you can vote that way, and be damned to them all for that, too.”
Once again, this is a genuine legal principle. It’s one governments have been straining to eliminate since the trial of John Peter Zenger. But judges are determined to stamp it out. It threatens the Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent State – and the State is the source of their power. They’ve guarded that power jealously ever since the position of judge was taken away from the wise men of England, who rode regular circuits through the land, hearing cases and dispensing justice for a modest fee, and was given to the Crown to award according to the king’s pleasure.
Jury nullification was a great part of the reason Prohibition was repealed. Juries repeatedly refused to convict the bootleggers brought before them. Those men were merely providing what the public wanted…frequently including a majority of the members of the jury. The federal government got tired of being humiliated in court. (Did you really think the Feds went after Al Capone for tax evasion because they couldn’t find evidence of his other activities?)
The State’s aversion to jury nullification is also one of the motivations for the proliferation of administrative trials, in which a single appointed “judge” indicts, tries, finds the “defendant” guilty, and imposes a fine…usually for violating a regulation never enacted into law by any legislature. Look for the phrase “civil penalty” in statutes brought to your attention. They indicate exactly that procedure: a clear violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
But for a lawyer, a man whose trade is licensed by the State, to mention this to a jury in open court would cost him that license. Judges are swift to cite defense attorneys who allude to it, however delicately, for contempt, thereafter to see to it that they’re “disbarred.” Jury-nullification activists have been arrested and detained without any charge being filed against them for handing out pamphlets about the jury’s veto.
One juror armed with the knowledge of this vital tool for restraining the State can thwart a huge mass of badge-toting, black-robe-wearing thugs. Of course, they don’t want you to learn that…which makes it even more important that you do. Go to this site to learn still more.
If you make the criminal code sanguinary, juries will fail to convict. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”