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."

Sources:
Citizens Rule Book
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification
http://www.awesomestories.com/famous-trials/penn

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