Sometimes the courts have to be told who’s the boss
Federal prosecutors are furious at a Montana-based group that posted signs at the Judiciary Square Metro stop reminding District of Columbia residents of their rights under the law. The offending message, sponsored by the Fully Informed Jury Association, says simply, “Good jurors nullify bad laws.” Nothing angers lawyers and judges like the empowerment of those who aren’t a member of their club.
Jury nullification is rarely discussed by lawyers at the bar, either the courtroom bar or the bar on the corner, but jury nullification has been with us since the time of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that trial by jury is the “very palladium of free government,” serving as a check against “arbitrary methods of prosecuting pretended offenses” that are the “engines of judicial despotism.” There’s no better example than juries nullifying the effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that slaves captured in free states be captured and returned in chains to their owners. Juries often preserved the freedom of these slaves by refusing to convict runaway slaves.
Like any other power, that of a jury can be abused. O.J. Simpson was set free to find the “real killers” of his wife despite substantial evidence that the guilty party was already at hand. Southern juries of yesteryear sometimes declined to convict members of lynch mobs. In our own time, jurors are sometimes unwilling to convict members of their own race on trial for serious crimes.
Under the American justice system, 13 judges sit in judgment of defendants. One presides in a black robe, and the other 12 sit in the jury box. “The 12 good men and true” (now including women) are not bound by the law or the judge’s instructions to convict a defendant; jurors are free to make up their own minds and act accordingly. This is usually the last line of defense for someone caught in the toils of an unjust law or unfair trial.
- Jury nullification signs in D.C. spark free speech debate (washingtontimes.com)
- Jury nullification signs in D.C. Spark free speech debate .. By Alex Hopkins (saveamericafoundation.com)
- Jury Nullification: A Tool for Advancing Gun Rights? (thetruthaboutguns.com)
- Billboard advocating jury nullification concerns local prosecutors (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
- DC Billboard Reminds The Public Of A Little-Known Check Against Judicial Overreach (mintpressnews.com)
- Jury Nullification Ad Appears in Subway Near DC Superior Court (silverunderground.com)
- Why Nullification? (youviewed.com)
- Billboard Advocating Jury Nullification Concerns Local Prosecutors (libertycrier.com)
- Jury Nullification Last Refuge For Justice (thesleuthjournal.com)
- “Good jurors nullify bad laws” – Campaign to promote jury nullification hits Washington D.C. (disclose.tv)
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges Saturday in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them white, reached a verdict of not guilty after deliberating well into the night Saturday.