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, "...it 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.

References:
Ken Miller Support Site
 NY Times article on Ken Miller

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