Jury Nullifiaction Essay

This essay has a total of 4054 words and 14 pages.

Jury Nullifiaction


Jury nullification means that a jury finds a defendant innocent because the law itself is
unjust, or is unjust in a particular application, and so should not be applied. So really
what this means is that no mater what the law says the jury will pretty much have the
right to choose weather the person is going to be guilty or innocent and that is kind of
ok in some cases but then again its not in others so we should not expect our juries to
judge our laws only the case that person is being tried in and they should only judge that
person on all of the facts given.


Amendment VI

This is the sixth amendment and this tells you about what juries can do in cases of law.
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public
trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been
committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be
informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses
against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have
the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." What all of this means is that everyone that
gets convicted of a crime gets all of the same benefits weather its a misdemeanor, felony,
or capital crime. Everyone get the rights to a speedy trial and an impartial jury.


Some of the people in the world always ask themselves this question when in the court room
" WHY DID OUR FOUNDING FATHERS EXPECT CITIZEN JURIES TO JUDGE OUR LAWS AS WELL AS THE
GUILT OF THE INDIVIDUAL ?" Well the answer is really simple its Because: "If a juror
accepts as the law that which the judge states then that juror has accepted the exercise
of absolute authority of a government employee and has surrendered a power and right that
once was the citizen's safeguard of liberty." (1788) (2 Elliots Debates, 94, Bancroft,
History of the Constitution, 267) "Jury nullification of law", as it is sometimes called,
is a traditional American right defended by the Founding Fathers. Those Patriots intended
the jury serve as one of the tests a law must pass before it assumes enough popular
authority to be enforced. Thus the Constitution provides five separate tribunals with veto
power -- representatives, senate, executive, judges and jury -- that each enactment of law
must pass before it gains the authority to punish those who choose to violate it. Thomas
Jefferson said, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which
a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." The power of the jury to
judge the justice of the law and to hold laws invalid by a finding of "not guilty" for any
law a juror felt was unjust or oppressive dates back to the Magna Carta, in 1215. At the
time King John could pass any laws any time he pleased. Judges and executive officers,
appointed and removed at his whim, were no more than servants of the king. The oppression
became so great that the nation rose against the ruler and the barons of England compelled
their king to pledge that no freeman would be punished for a violation of any laws without
the consent of his peers. King John violently protested when the Magna Carta was shown to
him, "and with a solemn oath protested, that he would never grant such liberties as would
make himself a slave." Afterwards, fearing seizure of his castle and the loss of his
throne, he granted the Magna Carta to the people, placing the liberties of the people in
their own safekeeping. (Echard's History of England, p. 1067.) The Magna Carta was a gift
reluctantly bestowed upon his subjects by the Its sole means of enforcement, the jury,
often met with hostility from the Crown. By 1664 English juries were routinely fined for
acquitting a defendant. Such was the case in the 1670 political trial of William Penn for
preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly. Four of the twelve jurors voted to acquit and
continued to acquit even after being imprisoned and starved for four days. The jurors were
fined and imprisoned until they paid the fines. One juror, Edward Bushell, refused to pay
the fine and brought his case before the Court of Common Pleas. Chief Justice Vaughan held
that jurors could not be punished for their verdicts. Bushell's Case (1670) was one of the
most important developments in the common law history of the jury. Jurors exercised their
power of nullification in 18th century England in trials of defendants charged with
sedition and in mitigating death penalty cases. In the American Colonies jurors refused to
enforce forfeitures under the English Navigation Acts. The Colonial jurors' veto power
prompted England to extend the jurisdiction of the non-jury admiralty courts in America
beyond their ancient limits of sea-going vessels. Depriving "the defendant of the right to
be tried by a jury which was almost certain not to convict him [became] ... the most
effective, and therefore most disliked" of all the methods used to enforce the acts of
trade. (Holdsworth, A History of English Law (1938) Xl, 110) John Hancock, "the wealthy
Massachusetts patriot and smuggler who as President of the Continental Congress affixed
the familiar bold signature which adorns the parchment Declaration of Independence"
(United States Court of Appeals, 1980, 618 F.2d 453), was prosecuted through this
admiralty jurisdiction in 1768 for a fine of 9,000 pounds -- triple the value of the goods
aboard his sloop "Liberty" which had been previously forfeited. John Adams eloquently
argued the case, chastising Parliament for depriving Americans of their right to trial by
jury. Adams later said of the juror, "it is not only his 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." (Yale Law Journal, 1964:173.) Earlier in
America jury nullification had decided the celebrated seditious libel trial of John Peter
Zenger (Zenger's Case, 1735). His newspaper had criticized the royal governor of New York.
The law made it a crime to publish any statement, true or false, criticizing public
officials, laws or government. The jury was only to decide if the material in question had
been published; the judge was to decide if the material was in violation of the statute.
The defense asked the jury to make use of their own consciences and although the judge
ruled that the truth was no defense, the jury acquitted Zenger. The jury's nullification
in this case is praised in history textbooks as a hallmark of freedom of the press in the
United States. At the time of the American revolution, the jury was considered the judge
of both law and fact. In a case involving the civil forfeiture of private property by the
state of Georgia, first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, instructed jurors that the
jury has "a right ... to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy." (Georgia
vs. Brailsford, 1794:4.) Until the middle of the 1800s federal and state judges often
instructed juries they had the right to disregard the court's view of the law. (Barkan,
Steven, Jury Nullification in Political Trials, citing 52 Harvard Law Review, 582-616)
Then northern jurors refused to convict abolitionists who had violated the 1850 Fugitive
Slave Law. In response judges began questioning jurors to find out if they were prejudiced
against the government, dismissing any who were. In 1852 Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts
lawyer and champion of individual liberties, complained, "that courts have repeatedly
questioned jurors to ascertain whether they were prejudiced against the government ...
[The reason] was, that 'the Fugitive Slave Law, so called', was so obnoxious to a large
portion of the people, as to render a conviction under it hopeless, if the jurors were
taken indiscriminately from among the people." Modern treatments of abolitionism praise
these jury nullification verdicts for helping the anti-slavery cause -- rather than
condemn them for undermining the rule of law and the uniformity of justice. In 1895, the
Supreme Court, under pressure from large corporations, ruled in a bitter split decision
that courts no longer had to inform juries they could veto an unjust law. The giant
corporations had lost numerous trials pressed against labor leaders trying to organize
unions. Striking was against the law at that time. "Juries also ruled against corporations
in damage suits and other cases, prompting influential members of the American Bar
Association to fear that jurors were becoming too hostile to their clients and too
sympathetic to the poor. As the American Law Review wrote in 1892, jurors had 'developed
agrarian tendencies of an alarming character'." (Barkan, 1983, emphasis added.) Despite
the courts' refusal to inform jurors of their historical veto power, jury nullification in
liquor law trials was a major contributing factor in ending alcohol prohibition. (Today in
Kentucky jurors often refuse to convict under the marijuana prohibition laws.) Fewer
incidences of jury veto actions occurred as time increased after the courts began
concealing jurors' rights from American citizens and falsely instructing them that they
may consider only the facts as admitted by the court. Researchers in 1966 found that jury
nullification occurred only 8.8 percent of the time between 1954 and 1958, and suggested
that "one reason why the jury exercises its very real power [to nullify] so sparingly is
because it is officially told it has none." (California's charge to the jury in criminal
cases is typical: "It becomes my duty as judge to instruct you concerning the law
applicable to this case, and it is your duty as jurors to follow the law as I shall state
it to you ... You are to be governed solely by the evidence introduced in this trial and
the law as stated to you by me.") Today no officer of the court is allowed to tell the
jury of their veto power. Counsels for Vietnam war protest defendants tried to introduce
moral and political arguments on the war to gain jury sympathy. Most often the jury was
given instructions such as "You must apply the law that I lay down." (Conspiracy trial of
Benjamin Spock et al., 1969.) Jurors receiving such instructions usually convicted while
feeling the pang of conscience expressed by the typical responses from Spock trial jurors:
"I had great difficulty sleeping that night ... I detest the Vietnam war ... But it was so
clearly put by the judge." And "I'm convinced the Vietnam war is no good. But we've got a
Constitution to uphold ... Technically speaking, they were guilty according to the judge's
charge." But in the few anti-Vietnam war trials where juries were allowed to hear of their
power they acquitted. Jury acquittals in the colonial, abolitionist and post-Civil War
eras helped advance political activist causes and restrained government efforts at social
control. Steven Barkan suggests that the refusal of judges during the Vietnam war to
inform juries of their power to disregard the law frustrated the anti-war goals. As
Lysander Spooner pointed out regarding the questioning of jurors to eliminate those who
would bring in a verdict according to conscience (a practice effectively accomplished
today through the jurors' oaths) "The only principal upon which these questions are asked,
is this -- that no man shall be allowed to serve as juror unless he be ready to enforce
any enactment of the government, however cruel or tyrannical it may be.... A jury like
that is palpably nothing but a mere tool of oppression in the hands of the government."
Authoritarians may argue that the Constitution without jury veto power provides the
necessary protection of liberties. But legislatures will always confirm the
constitutionality of their own acts. And the oaths sworn to uphold the Constitution by
judges and public servants have historically been only as good as the power to enforce
such oaths. Nor are free elections adequate to prevent tyranny without jury veto power,
because elections come only periodically and give no guarantee of repealing the damage
done. Additionally, the second body of legislators are likely to be as bad as the first
since they are exposed to the same temptations and use the same tactics to gain office.
Further, the jury's veto power protects minorities from "the body of the people, operating
by the majority against the minority." (James Madison, June 8, 1789.) Twelve men taken
randomly from the population will represent both friends and opponents of the party in
power. With fully informed juries the government can exercise no powers over the people
without the consent of the people. Trial by jury is trial by the people. When juries are
not allowed to judge law it becomes trial by the government "In short, if the jury have no
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