A government by the people and for the people does have a way for the people to directly participate how the law works. The reason to have a juror of your peers is to make sure that the law is not being abused(even though in the modern court system has wreck the initial intent and meaning of using peers). This is meant to protect you from abuse because your peers would not find you guilty and enforce an unjust law because they can have the same law turned against themselves next.
Jury nullification means that jurors can render a law useless by not allowing the court system to enforce a law through finding a defendant guilty. This is the essence of why we have jury trials in America. In the modern court system this right is regularly hidden from the jurors. Judges are meant to ensure all the rules of the court is followed and the juror knows their rights and duties. The problem is that judges regularly tell their juries that they must follow the law. This is deadly wrong. Jurors have the final approval of laws through their verdicts. This was once the most powerful weapon to ensure freedom. Politicians would never have wasted their time passing unjust laws if the knew jurors would never enforce them.
We need to educate each other about the principle of jury nullification. The government is passing laws to bypass the conventional court system for people labeled “terrorists”, but we can stand up for ourselves through the jury. Why should someone like a non-violent drug offender be found guilty and sentenced to jail? This could be stopped tomorrow. There are other numerous unnecessary laws which juries could block, and start sending the message to our politicians that we will not allow them to walk all over our liberties. Know your rights!
IF you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote “not guilty” — even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer.
The information I have just provided — about a constitutional doctrine called “jury nullification” — is absolutely true. But if federal prosecutors in New York get their way, telling the truth to potential jurors could result in a six-month prison sentence.
Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, with jury tampering because he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan providing information about jury nullification to passers-by. Given that I have been recommending nullification for nonviolent drug cases since 1995 — in such forums as The Yale Law Journal, “60 Minutes” and YouTube — I guess I, too, have committed a crime.
The prosecutors who charged Mr. Heicklen said that “advocacy of jury nullification, directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without constitutional protections no matter where it occurred.” The prosecutors in this case are wrong. The First Amendment exists to protect speech like this — honest information that the government prefers citizens not know.
Laws against jury tampering are intended to deter people from threatening or intimidating jurors. To contort these laws to justify punishing Mr. Heicklen, whose court-appointed counsel describe him as “a shabby old man distributing his silly leaflets from the sidewalk outside a courthouse,” is not only unconstitutional but unpatriotic. Jury nullification is not new; its proponents have included John Hancock and John Adams.
The doctrine is premised on the idea that ordinary citizens, not government officials, should have the final say as to whether a person should be punished. As Adams put it, it is each juror’s “duty” to vote based on his or her “own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”
In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that jurors had no right, during trials, to be told about nullification. The court did not say that jurors didn’t have the power, or that they couldn’t be told about it, but only that judges were not required to instruct them on it during a trial. Since then, it’s been up to scholars like me, and activists like Mr. Heicklen, to get the word out.
Nullification has been credited with helping to end alcohol prohibition and laws that criminalized gay sex. Last year, Montana prosecutors were forced to offer a defendant in a marijuana case a favorable plea bargain after so many potential jurors said they would nullify that the judge didn’t think he could find enough jurors to hear the case. (Prosecutors now say they will remember the actions of those jurors when they consider whether to charge other people with marijuana crimes.)
There have been unfortunate instances of nullification. Racist juries in the South, for example, refused to convict people who committed violent acts against civil-rights activists, and nullification has been used in cases involving the use of excessive force by the police. But nullification is like any other democratic power; some people may try to misuse it, but that does not mean it should be taken away from everyone else.
How one feels about jury nullification ultimately depends on how much confidence one has in the jury system. Based on my experience, I trust jurors a lot. I first became interested in nullification when I prosecuted low-level drug crimes in Washington in 1990. Jurors here, who were predominantly African-American, nullified regularly because they were concerned about racially selective enforcement of the law.
Across the country, crime has fallen, but incarceration rates remain at near record levels. Last year, the New York City police made 50,000 arrests just for marijuana possession. Because prosecutors have discretion over whether to charge a suspect, and for what offense, they have more power than judges over the outcome of a case. They tend to throw the book at defendants, to compel them to plead guilty in return for less harsh sentences. In some jurisdictions, like Washington, prosecutors have responded to jurors who are fed up with their draconian tactics by lobbying lawmakers to take away the right to a jury trial in drug cases. That is precisely the kind of power grab that the Constitution’s framers were so concerned about.
In October, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, asked at a Senate hearing about the role of juries in checking governmental power, seemed open to the notion that jurors “can ignore the law” if the law “is producing a terrible result.” He added: “I’m a big fan of the jury.” I’m a big fan, too. I would respectfully suggest that if the prosecutors in New York bring fair cases, they won’t have to worry about jury nullification. Dropping the case against Mr. Heicklen would let citizens know that they are as committed to justice, and to free speech, as they are to locking people up.