Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Jury Nullification Rescued a Quaker

Because a few jury members practiced jury nullification to protect this man,
America has reaped untold blessings from this Quaker's life.

     Since publishing a post about the forgotten right of jury nullification, I've been asked if this is a Constitutional right.  It is a Constitutional right in that the Constitution gives the right of a trial by jury.  This can be established when historical purposes of a jury are considered.  The power of jury nullification, for the most part, has been unquestioned, but many believe it is a last resort against tyranny and that it should not be made known to jurors. 

      It is interesting that one of the most prominent stories of jury nullification comes to us from a character in history that had a profound effect on both America and England.  If jury nullification had not been practiced to help this man we would not have a Liberty Bell, no Independence Hall, and no state called Pennsylvania.  This man's name was William Penn.  It was in 1670, and William Penn was on trial in England for breaking the law.  What was the broken law?  He was preaching without a license, and teaching things from the Scripture that were not accepted in his day.  There was no question that he had broken the law, but four of the men that were part of his jury pronounced him "not guilty" because they knew the law was an unjust law as William had harmed no person nor their property.  These jury members were punished in a harsh manner in order to make them change their minds.  They were tortured for nine weeks in prison getting wet with urine and feces spread on their bodies because of not having rest facilities.  They went days without food or water.   Prison in that time was different from today. They would not change their decision.  One of the men, Edward Bushell, a wealthy owner of an international shipping enterprise said, "My liberty is not for sale."
      Because these men decided to not back down, this unjust law called the Conventicle Act lost its power and  Freedom of Religion was acknowledged and became law in England in the English Bill of Rights, and was later repeated in America under our First Amendment.  William Penn's life was spared because if "guilty" had been his verdict he likely would have been executed.  Eventually Edward Bushell was released from prison because of the concept of "habeas corpus." Edward's trial also started a movement that I'm excited about today that is called "freedom of the press."
     Other important events surrounded this pivotal case of jury nullification.  All American colonies except one implemented a trail by jury because they saw the need to preserve people's liberties.  William later left England to come to America and established Pennsylvania.  He remembered the things he went through and sought to make a place that had just laws.     William recognized that freedom comes from God and he gave a prophetic type quote when he said, "Men must be governed by God, or they will be governed by tyrants."

Citizens Rule Book

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Roadkill and The Dangers of a Free Lunch

We live on a road that zigzags quite a bit and cars go pretty fast as it is a main road in our area. Not far from our house is a wooded area. One day a raccoon walked across the road not far from the wooded area. He happened to get struck by a car and was dead in the middle of the road. Soon after a opossum came through and thought that Mr. Raccoon looked like lunch. Well, Mr. Opossum wasn't quick enough with his lunch because along came a car and he died too. Not long after that, Mr. Opossum's brother came along. He liked his brother so much he decided to eat him.  Unfortunately, like his brother, speed wasn't a family virtue, and his fate was that of the one he ate. He became crow food. The crows seemed pretty smart and had lots of food for days. A turkey vulture wanted to join in for dinner, but seems he wasn't that fast either and was another casualty on that indiscernible heap. I couldn't help but thinking if this would be a continual cycle, and how big this heap could get, but it seemed to end there with feathers all over the place and a big wing that stood up in the air.

It would seem there must be some good morals to this story like “Beware of free lunches” or the quote by Thomas Jefferson that says, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Vice Presidential Debate and Inconsistencies

    As the election swiftly approaches, the media is making lots of headlines declaring poll research and the most memorable comments by the contestants.  One question I've been asked is if I watched the presidential debates or the vice presidential debates.  I've had to confess that I didn't when they occurred, but have since watched the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.  As the media said it, was very lively.  When asked about this debate, I replied that the issues are more important to me than the performance of the challengers.  What I found after watching the debate was that both challengers were inconsistent.

     The most important issue that I can see in the political realm is the protection of life.  This is the primary purpose of  government.  The fundamental purpose of government is to punish the evil and protect the innocent.  Now we have the very opposite happening to the unborn, the disabled and the elderly.

      How did these men show inconsistency?  We could talk about issues like the debt crisis that neither politically party has answers for because they both see the problem as the solution (I'm referring to the whole money system that is based on debt).  With the most important issue of the sanctity of life both men were not consistent with their personal views and their political policy.  They both have allowed political expediency to dictate their public policy in regard to protecting  the most innocent and most vulnerable segment of society.  Both men said they believe life begins at conception.  Both say religion holds an important area in their lives.

     The position Biden took was to say his public policy is not influenced by his personal beliefs.  How could it be that a man that has tremendous power to do good will not because the truth he knows in his heart can't influence his public policy?  The truth is that he does allow his personal views to influence his public positions because he later defended his position by saying that abortion was only a matter of a woman choosing what to do with her own body after he said he believes life begins at conception.  His role to protect the innocents goes beyond political affiliation as his responsibility as a public servant is to uphold the Constitution and protect people's rights including the right to life.  For that matter, his responsibility goes beyond the Constitution to the law of nature where we understand it is wrong to kill the innocent.  His responsibility in protecting life  goes beyond the law of nature because of the law of heaven which says "if a man sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed."  Under the callused belief that Biden expressed no one would be safe.   

      Ryan made it known that his beliefs are the same publicly as they are privately.  He expressed his desire to be consistent and not two-faced.  But then his challenger reminded him of how he changed a position he had before he joined Romney's campaign.  He was against all abortion.  His new position allows abortion in the cases of rape and incest.  The problem is that the innocent party, the unborn child, should not become the victim of murder even if his life was the result of a tragic situation.  He is a real person that is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life.  The tragic problem with taking compromised positions like the exceptions that Ryan took is that it undermines his credibility.  His purposes might be good, but I believe that taking a pragmatic approach will only complicate matters and chip away at giving real solid answers.

     America needs real answers, not great debate performers. I think it is great if someone can express the truth with clarity. The problem is that the truth won't always be popular as Romney found out when he mentioned the problem of having so many people receiving entitlements.  Yet, to truly find answers that will pass the test of time, we need people to speak the truth without apology.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jury Nullification, A Forgotten Right

                                          Ken Miller might have received a "not guilty" verdict
                                         had jurors known the true rights they have.

There is a forgotten right that many are not aware of that the founding fathers gave to the citizens of America. This is the ability of jury members to not just determine if a defendant is innocent or guilty, but also have the ability to judge whether a law is just or unjust. This is called jury nullification. The name almost sounds opposite from what it means as one might first get the impression that the jury is nullified, but it is speaking of the ability of the jury to nullify the power of a bad law. The jury members can not change law, but they can restrict a law they deem unjust from being enforced. This was a wise safeguard that was given by wise men with a lot of foresight. 
Taking time to fulfill the duty to be a jury member can be inconvenient, but it is a privilege and right that is to be cherished.  It's not very helpful to complain about our eroding freedoms and then not be willing to practice the ones we have.

There was a news story that caused me to think about how the truth of jury nullification needs to be publicized.  This was the case of a pastor who received a felony conviction for trying to help a woman protect her daughter from being given to someone she didn't trust.  This was alleged to be against a court law.  The case was given to a jury to decide the case.  The directions were given to the jury to decide if the pastor broke the law.  The case was more convincing that the pastor broke the law and he was convicted as being guilty.  One jury member appeared to be emotional because of the decision.  Though we don't know why this was the case, if it was because the jury member believed that the law was unjust, that jury member could have said "not guilty" and the pastor would not have received the felony charge.  The pastor would not be faced with going to prison and being separated from his family.  This is the power that that the founding fathers left with us that gives the power to one individual in a jury to determine if a man is pronounced not guilty.

Most juries in the United States are told by judges that they are to only judge the facts that are given to them and if those facts violated a law.  This has left people without the knowledge of their true right to also be able to judge the law that was said to be violated.  John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said, "The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy."
In the first jury trial before the Supreme Court the charge was given to the jury that said, " is presumed, that the juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that the courts are the best judges of law.  But still both objects are within your power of decision."  In other words the real power of decision is with juries; the judge is to act as a referee that is bound by the Constitution.

     Perhaps in the future more people will be aware of what "jury nullification" is, and, being armed with knowledge, be able to stop the enforcement of bad laws.

Ken Miller Support Site
 NY Times article on Ken Miller