If you disagree with a law, did you know you can legally override it? You can, on a jury.
I’ve been a juror on several trials. I sometimes felt like I was mandated to act as part of an inhumane and unjust system where the punishment (for drug possession, for example) did not fit the crime.
You may, of course, vote “not guilty” if you feel there is a reasonable doubt about circumstances in a case, or that a person may have been falsely accused, but even if you think a person violated a law, I was surprised to learn that you may still enter a “not guilty” vote if you simply disagree with the law or if, for example, you think a person violated a law for an honorable reason, like running a red light to save a life.
An organization called FIJA (the Fully Informed Jury Association) wants you to know that you have more power than you thought. Judges lie when they tell jurors that they must find according to the law, even if the jurists do not agree with the law. This is absolutely not true and an organization is working to inform American citizens about the truth. Lawyers spend a lot of time building a case that a law was broken, but if you, as a member of a Jury, do not agree with the law, you can vote “not guilty” according to your own personal standards.
FIJA works to:
• Inform potential jurors of their traditional, legal authority to refuse to enforce unjust laws
• Inform potential jurors that they cannot be required to check their consciences at the courthouse door
• Inform potential jurors that they cannot be punished for their verdicts
• Inform everyone that juror veto—jury nullification—is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny
The judge will also tell a jury that they should not consider the consequences of a conviction, that they must only decide if the law was broken. The strange truth is, you do not have to follow that instruction. A typical American justice punishment will be life destroying for serious crimes. If you feel the risk to the public of not convicting is low and want to fight what you consider to be unjust laws, get on a jury and use your power to send a message.
Jury nullification is a concept where members of a trial jury can vote a defendant not guilty if they do not support a government’s law, do not believe it is constitutional or humane, or do not support a possible punishment for breaking a government’s law. This may happen in both civil and criminal trials.
In a criminal trial, a jury nullifies by acquitting a defendant, even though the members of the jury may believe that the defendant did the act the government considers illegal. This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case. …
A jury verdict that is contrary to the letter of the law pertains only to the particular case before it. If a pattern of acquittals develops, however, in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offence, this can have the de facto effect of invalidating the statute. A pattern of jury nullification may indicate public opposition to an unwanted legislative enactment.
In other words, it takes a huge amount of time and money to bring a case to trial and if juries keep nullifying bad laws, the unjust laws will probably eventually get changed.
… In most modern Western legal systems… judges often instruct juries to act only as “finders of facts”, whose role it is to determine the veracity of the evidence presented, the weight accorded to the evidence, to apply that evidence to the law as explained by the judge, and to reach a verdict; but not to question the law or decide what it says. Similarly, juries are routinely cautioned by courts and some attorneys not to allow sympathy for a party or other affected persons to compromise the fair and dispassionate evaluation of evidence. These instructions are criticized by advocates of jury nullification. …
Juries have also refused to convict due to the perceived injustice of a law in general, or of the way the law is applied in particular cases. …
Jury nullification has been considered the greatest form of direct democracy where a citizen can have a direct say in whether a law is acceptable or should be nullified.
People I know all hate jury duty, but I think if they knew the truth about their power in that capacity, more would be interested in serving. Here are a few laws you might consider nullifying on a jury, even if the person did the crime.
- Drug use, which accounted for over 50% of federal prison population in 2011, is a crime many believe to be victim-less, depending on the drugs used and the circumstances. Marijuana use was recently legalized in California after a long costly losing battle known as the “war on drugs.”
- The second largest population in prison is there for what are known as “public-order” crimes. These include prostitution between consenting adults. It occurs every day in every state, but offering or accepting sex for money is illegal in every state except in parts of Nevada.
- It is illegal in Ohio, California, Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon to have an empty hidden compartment in your vehicle.
- It is illegal in California to remove your license plate when your car is parked on private property.
- In Dyersburg, Tenn., it is illegal for a lady to call a gentleman for a date.
- In Washington, D.C., engaging in any sexual position other than missionary is illegal.
- In Washington state, there’s a law that warns “a motorist with criminal intentions [must] stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town.” Sounds like a plot to double all fines for any pre-intended crime.
- Gambling is illegal in most states and playing games of chance (as opposed to betting when there is some skill as a dominant factor) is a felony in some states.
- One law in Massachusetts prohibits keeping a mule on the second floor of a building unless there are two exits.
What law would you nullify using your power as a jurist? It is interesting to consider.