You have a Right to Protect Yourself
Across the world, government bans on their people’s right to protect themselves with firearms is increasingly widely ignored. The enormous outcry against the gun bans proposed by President Obama, Senator Dianne Feinstein and their Democratic allies demonstrates how such bad laws are widely seen as unjust.
Some US states, such as Wyoming and Texas, are even considering laws making it a state crime for anyone to enforce new federal gun laws. Country-wide, sheriffs publicly proclaim their refusal to allow federal agents to enforce such unconstitutional restrictions.
How to Eliminate Bad Laws?
But when there’s a bad law, how do you get rid of it? Most politicians seem to think both they as well as every single one of their untested, badly thought out ideas are infallible. Unfortunately, there’s no built-in review process ensuring a law’s effectiveness is evaluated so corrections can be made and ill-considered ideas abandoned.
Nowadays, politicians have put so many laws and regulations on the books that Alex Kozinski, a US appeals-court judge, has authored a provocative essay with the title “You’re (probably) a federal criminal.” You can be jailed for breaking a regulation you’ve never heard of.
This suggests a possibly very effective yet so far untried solution: all laws should have a shelf-life, from five to twenty years, and automatically fall away unless renewed…
Juries protect you from government tyranny
Since it makes no sense for a jury just to rubber-stamp a judge’s findings, jury nullification was originally introduced in England to deliver justice and to protect citizens – you – from arrogant government officials and oppressive governments.
In 1670, the first case in which a jury nullified a law, the jury members refused to convict two Quaker activists of unlawful assembly, a peaceful meeting. The judge was incensed at their refusal to obey his direct orders and sent the whole jury to jail – ordering them to be locked up without food or water! Their imprisonment was adjudged illegal on appeal and the judge forced to accept the jury’s verdict.*
One of them, William Penn, later came to America, where King Charles III of England ceded him the territory now called Pennsylvania (Penn’s wood) to establish a Quaker colony free from oppressive government.
Jury Nullification in America
Jury nullification has a long and proud tradition in America, starting with the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger published a weekly journal in which he often criticized New York’s corrupt Governor Cosby. At the time, seditious libel laws prohibited any criticism of the King or of Cosby as the King’s appointed officer, no matter whether it was true or not.
Governor Cosby made various attempts to silence Zenger, such as requesting a Grand Jury to indict him for seditious libel, which was declined on two separate occasions. Cosby then had Zenger’s initial lawyers disbarred for objecting to the two man court he’d set up to rig the trial’s decision in his favor. Cosby even made an outrageous attempt to rig the jury selection, which was rejected by his own two hand-picked judges.
The prosecutor contended that Zenger printed “false news and seditious libels.” Yet the chief Justice denied Hamilton the right to demonstrate that Zenger’s statements were true, on the grounds that the truth is irrelevant.
Fortunately, Hamilton was able to persuade the jury that Zenger could not be guilty since his published articles were demonstrably true. The jury took little time to nullify such a bad law and find Zenger not guilty.
America’s great tradition of freedom of the press was entrenched by the jury nullifying the oppressive British government’s seditious libel laws.
State Constitutions explicitly allow Jury Nullification
Some state constitutions, such as the Georgia Constitution of 1777 and the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 state specifically that “the jury shall be judges of law, as well as fact.” In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court explained in 1879 that “the power of the jury to be judge of the law in criminal cases is one of the most valuable securities guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.”
Various Chief Justices of the U. S. Supreme Court, from the first in 1789 to Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1902 to the 12th Chief Justice Harlan Stone in 1941, have all explained that the jury should judge both the law as well as the facts of the matter.** But, unfortunately, judges can choose whether or not to inform a jury about this crucial duty. “The law itself is on trial quite as much as the cause which is to be decided.”
Jury Nullification Specified in the Bill of Rights
In Maryland and Indiana, the law explicitly allows judges to inform a jury of its right to nullify the law. The Maryland Bill of Rights states: “In the trial of all criminal cases, the Jury shall be the judge of Law, as well as of fact… “
Despite this, some judges simply ignore it, some even mendaciously inform the jury that its job is not to judge the law, but only to determine the facts. But since it’s not the judge’s job to judge the law, who does? If the jury doesn’t judge a bad law as unjust, who carries out this crucial task?
Former federal prosecutor, law professor Paul Butler explains that juries have both the right and power to use jury nullification to protest and eliminate unjust laws.*** During prohibition, some juries refused to convict for breaking alcohol laws, today judges recuse themselves from marijuana trials.
Jury Nullification is a well established constitutional doctrine giving juries the right to acquit defendants who do not deserve punishment as well as to judge bad laws as unjust. The jury’s responsibility is not to uphold the law, but to deliver justice.
Food for Thought
“I was summoned for jury duty some years ago, and.. the attorney asked me whether I could obey the judge’s instructions. I answered, “It all depends upon what those instructions are.”… I explained that if I were on a jury back in the 1850s, and a person was on trial for violating the Fugitive Slave Act by assisting a runaway slave, I would vote for acquittal regardless of the judge’s instructions. The reason is that slavery is unjust and any law supporting it is unjust.”
Dr. Walter E. Williams, influential African-American economist, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.
© Copyright worldwide Cris Baker, LifeStrategies.net Republishing welcomed under Creative Commons noncommercial no derivatives license preserving all links intact. All rights reserved.
* William Penn’s acquittal by the first jury nullification in 1670 can be found at 1215.org
** Jury nullification by U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justices is described at:
*** Former federal prosecutor, law professor Paul Butler’s New York Times article is at: