The jury is the people’s final, peaceful check and safeguard against unjust statute law and tyranny. Jury nullification is the common sense solution to government oppression. Citizens have ultimate authority in the courts to nullify unjust, unconstitutional statutes.
A peaceful line in the sand against tyranny, lies in the power of the jury to nullify statues by refusing to convict our fellow Americans in court cases. Considering a statute unfair, you (as a juror) can refuse to convict. It is your duty to protect fellow Americans from state or federal laws which violate the rights of the people.
Courts nowadays do not inform jurors of their power, but it’s clearly enumerated in the united States Constitution and many state constitutions. Jury nullification isn’t taught in compulsory government schools. The term is omitted from encyclopedia and dictionary, and is dropped from law schools and references books.
Juries can protect fellow Americans by exercising their power to determine guilty or not-guilty. They decide what facts, law and evidence apply to the case. Government courts always try to control both law and evidence; the issue of whether an evil act has occurred, becomes irrelevant to the government court. Enforcement of their control, their statutes, their laws, is the only consideration. True justice is denied with a trial by government and not a trial by jury!
A vote of not guilty is final. A juror has the power of his sacred vote – the juror is a sovereign citizen and judge of the case. Regardless of the pressures or abuse extended by the court or other jurors, a juror may vote his own conscience and convictions. One juror can stop tyranny with a not guilty vote.
So here lies the opportunity for accomplishing “liberty and justice for all”. If jurors will vote not guilty in such cases where statutes laws unjust, these statutes will become as ineffective as if they had never been written. Juries are needed to protect the people!
Why aren’t jurors told that they have the power to nullify?
For the first one-hundred years of American history, government judges had discretion on whether to inform jurors of their nullification power. That changed near the turn of 20th century (Sparf v U.S. 156 U.S. 51, 1895). The Supreme Court, under pressure from large corporations, rendered a bitter split decision that courts no longer had to inform juries of their power to nullify unjust law. Although juries have the right to ignore a judge’s instructions, the jury shouldn’t be aware of it.
Giant corporations had lost numerous trials against labor leaders trying to organize unions. Striking was against the law at that time. Juries also ruled against corporations in damage suits and other cases, prompting influential members of the American Bar Association to fear that jurors were becoming too hostile to their clients and too sympathetic to the poor. (Barkan, Jury Nullification in Political Trials, 1983)
Government will never tell people the truth about juror power. The objective of government is to control people, to make them live as directed by statute laws. Jurors must learn of their power from non-government sources. Most jurors are limited to learning government propaganda: they are told that evilness of a law doesn’t matter. A defendant’s fate, and the fate of society, depends upon the actions of jurors.
All juries are falsely instructed by a government judge. Juries are told that laws must accept cannot be challenged, and they can only consider “the facts in the case”. This destroys the purpose of a jury, and permits the imposition of tyranny upon the people.
Juries were originally introduced in England to protect the individual from the tyranny of government. Jury’s power to determine justice, to hold laws invalid by a voting not guilty dates back to the Magna Carta, in 1215. King John could mandate any statute law any time he pleased. These laws were enforced by judges appointed and removed at his whim, servants of the King. Oppression became so great that the barons of England compelled the King to pledge no punishment for breaking a law without the consent of a jury.
King John violently protested the Magna Carta, and declared that “he would never grant such liberties to the people”. But after fearing seizure of his castle and the loss of his throne, he reluctantly signed the Magna Carta – thus placing the liberties of the people in their own safe-keeping. Echard’s History of England, p. 106-107 [Spooner])
Magna Carta was a great step forward in the control of tyrannical leaders. But the jury was often met with hostility. By 1664 English juries were routinely being fined by the King for acquitting defendants. In 1670, William Penn, who was charged with preaching Quakerism to an assembly. Four of the twelve jurors voted not guilty – and continued to vote not guilty even after being imprisoned and starved for four days. Under such duress, three jurors went along with government, changing their vote to guilty. One juror, Edward Bushell, refused to recant and brought his case before the Court of Common Pleas. Chief Justice Vaughan ruled that jurors could not be punished for their verdicts. Bushell’s Case (1670) was a cornerstone development in the common-law history of the jury.
Jurors continued to exercise this power of nullification in 18th-century England in the trials of defendants charged with sedition, and they often mitigated death-penalty cases. In the American Colonies, jurors refused to enforce forfeitures under the English Navigation Acts. This prompted England to extend the jurisdiction of the (non-jury) admiralty courts in America, beyond their ancient limits of sea-going vessels. Depriving a defendant of the right to a jury trial became the King’s most effective method used to enforce trade statues. (Holdsworth, A History of English Law (1938) XI, 110)
John Hancock was a colonial patriot, smuggler, and Declaration of Independence signer. Hancock was prosecuted via admiralty jurisdiction in 1768, and fined £9,000 – triple the value of the goods aboard his boat, which had already been forfeited. (U.S. v One 1976 Mercedes Benz 280S 618 F2d 453 )
John Adams argued Hancock’s case, chastising the English Parliament for depriving Americans of their right to trial by jury. Adams later said of the juror, “it is not only his right, but his duty – to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” (Yale Law Journal, 1964:173)
Earlier in America, jury nullification decided the celebrated seditious libel trial of newspaperman John Peter Zenger. Zenger’s newspaper had openly criticized the royal governor of New York. Current law made it a crime to publish any statement (whether true or false) criticizing public officials, statutes, or the government in general. The jury was told to decide only if such criticism had been published; the government judge would decide if criticism had violates the statute.
Zenger asked the jury to use their consciences, and they acquitted him even though the government judge ruled that truth was no defense. The jury’s nullification in this case is praised in history textbooks as a hallmark of freedom of the press in America.
America was founded on the idea that jurors would enact justice by judging the law and the facts in every trial, that unjust statutes could be nullified, and that juror nullification was necessary for a free society. All statutes must be validated by juries. Punishment of an individual who violates a stature can only occur with a jury’s approval. The Sixth and Seventh Amendments of the united States Constitution, included in the Bill of Rights, guarantees that every person brought to trial has Juror Protection.
Juror nullification has been used by jurors throughout American history to “nullify” unpopular and unjust laws, including laws against witches, publishing the truth, free speech, religion, hiding slaves, and Prohibition.
Once a jury returns a Not Guilty verdict, that verdict cannot be questioned by any court and the “double jeopardy” clause of the Constitution prohibits a retrial on the same charge. A single not guilty vote by any juror a prevents Guilty verdict.
Several state constitutions, including the Georgia Constitution of 1777 and the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 specifically provided that “the jury shall be judges of law, as well as fact.” In Pennsylvania, Supreme Court Justice James Wilson noted, in his Philadelphia law lectures of 1790, that when “a difference in sentiment takes place between the judges and jury, with regard to a point of law,…The jury must do their duty, and their whole duty; They must decide the law as well as the fact.” In 1879, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted 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.” The Tennessee Constitution (Article I, Section 19) says: . . . in all indictments for libel, the jury shall have a right to determine the law and the facts, under the direction of the court, as in other criminal cases. Jury nullification is a constitutional provision in Tennessee.
It is not only the juror’s right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement and conscience, though in direct opposition to the instruction of the court.
–John Adams, 1771
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1789
The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy.
John Jay, 1st Chief Justice – United States supreme Court, 1789
The supreme Court of the United States originally held jury trials. In the February term of 1794, the supreme Court conducted a jury trial and instructed the jury: “…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.”
The jury has the right to determine both the law and the facts.
Samuel Chase, U.S. supreme Court Justice, 1796, Signer of the unanimous Declaration
All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.
Marbury vs Madison, 5 US (2 Cranch) 137, 174, 176, (1803)
Jurors should acquit, even against the judge’s instruction… if exercising their judgment with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction the charge of the court is wrong.
— Alexander Hamilton, 1804
An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no right; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.
Norton vs Shelby County 118 US 425 p.442 (1886)
The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both law and fact.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. supreme Court Justice, 1902
The law itself is on trial quite as much as the cause which is to be decided.
Harlan F. Stone, 12th Chief Justice – U.S. supreme Court, 1941
The trial jury has an …unreviewable and irreversible power…to acquit in disregard of the instruction on the law given by the trial judge.
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, 473F 2dl 113 (1972)