Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Jury Decides What is Illegal

Keep juries dumb

Now this is the secret that no one wants you to know: If you serve on a jury, and you just flat don't like the law you're asked to enforce, you do NOT have to enforce it. You can vote in direct contradiction of the law and in direct contradiction of the judge's instructions -- without fear of reprisal.

Up until 1895, the jury was routinely informed of this right. Then the big mining companies started losing a lot of cases against unions, and they put pressure on the courts, resulting in a Supreme Court decision stating that judges were not required to inform the jury of its rights. Could anything be more draconian? The defendant is informed of his rights. The plaintiff is informed of his rights. The state prosecutor, being an attorney himself, is well aware of his rights. The jury -- the only people in the room without right to counsel -- must figure out its authority on its own. The judge, who is supposed to act as counsel for the jury, to advise it, is conspiring to deprive it of essential information.

And yet the jury's supreme authority was well known to the very first chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, who explicitly informed a jury that it was free to ignore him and his court. It was well known to John Adams, who said, "It is not only (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." He even went further and called it "absurdity" for a court to expect a juror to be required to accept the judge's view of the law. The principle was well known to those two political opposites, Jefferson and Hamilton, and yet they both agreed on this point.

Need more legal celebrities? Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1920: "The judge cannot direct a verdict, it is true, and the jury has the power to bring in a verdict in the teeth of both law and facts." In more recent years, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: "If the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by a judge, and contrary to the evidence."

Related: The First Amendment - Tired of Incompetent Government Harassment - Taking Public Good for Private Special Interests

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