Monday, February 24, 2014

Jury Nullification: A Constitutional Right to Judge Both the Law and the Facts

Did you know that jurors have the right to judge not only the facts of a case presented to them, but also the law itself?  With more unconstitutional and nonsensical laws being passed each year, citizens are starting to do just that -- rejecting laws and acquitting defendants even though they clearly violated the law.

The principle is so fundamental to our justice system that it's embedded into the Indiana Constitution in Article 1, Sec 19:
 
"In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts."

That means, if a juror believes a law to be unjust, he or she can refuse to convict.

A juror's responsibility goes beyond dispensing justice; it also goes toward protecting fellow citizens from tyrannical abuses of power, but you'll likely never hear that truth about the right to judge the law as well as the facts from a prosecutor or judge.  In fact, most defendants enter into a plea bargain before it ever gets to a jury trial. 

Can you imagine what would happen if defendants who believe they have been unjustly charged would opt for a jury trial rather than plea bargain their rights away? 

Look what happened recently after a Massachussetts high school teen was charged with a felony for joking with a friend about blowing up the school.  A jury only took 45 minutes to acquit the young man.  These types of stories are popping up throughout America as more and more people are educating themselves about their rights.

Former Tippecanoe County Judge Threatened Citizen With Arrest for Passing Out Juror Handbook to Potential Jurors

Several years ago a Lafayette citizen began passing out a Juror's Handbook to potential jurors at the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.  The trial had not begun and the court was preparing to interview potential jurors.  The citizen began to randomly pass out the booklet as potential jurors passed through the corridors.  It included a copy of the United States Constitution and information about the rights of jurors to judge the law as well as the facts.

The Tippecanoe County judge threatened the citizen with arrest for jury tampering!  That's just how much tyrants hate people power!  They'd rather jurors not know these truths that could literally set people free.

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to educate the people of our community to know their rights and responsibilities.  It is especially important in light of the fact that the Lafayette Police Department has a long history of employing cops who violate the rights of citizens and many times get away with it.

You can find a link to the Fully Informed Jury Association on the right panel of this blog.  Please take a few moments to acquaint yourself with the site.  It may come in handy if you ever become involved with the legal system.  Share it with your friends.  The contributors at the Lafayette Citizen Journal may bring guest speakers to the community to address this very important issue in the future.

Here is an essay written by one of the contributors of this blog.  We hope you'll take a few minutes to read it.  The future impact could be far-reaching.


Jury Nullification and the Importance of the Jury System
By Pat Henry
First, let’s start with a brief description of the jury system and its importance to our system of justice. The sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: ”In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence”.
So, the right in criminal trials to a jury of one’s peers is enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In theory and practice, with very few exceptions, a jury has these specific characteristics: a jury has 12 members; requires a unanimous verdict; its deliberations are secret and undiscoverable; cannot be overruled; can decide both the law and the facts; represents the general public, peers, from the same geographical area; is fully independent from the judge and prosecution.
It must be noted that the police, prosecutor and judge all represent and are a part of government. They are state actors and agents, paid by the government and with an inherent bias toward guilt and punishment of defendants. They are all professionals with vast experience in the workings of the legal system. The 12 members of a jury are the only people who represent the public; free citizens. Jurors have no inherent vested interests and no bias except to see that justice is served and the defendant’s rights are protected and preserved. Most jurors take these responsibilities very seriously.
The purpose of the jury is to protect the accused defendant from wrongful, harmful, malicious, gratuitous or unfair prosecution; to insure that justice is served; to protect the rights, property, liberty and life of the defendant. To this end, they are empowered to not only determine the facts of the case, such as whether the accused defendant did in fact commit the act or acts proscribed by law, but also, and perhaps most importantly, whether the actual law itself is fair, reasonable and just. 
 
The importance of the jury system cannot be overstated.  
There are several very important protections for the accused defendant built into the jury system, as mentioned above. Having twelve members helps to insure that there are enough of a cross section of the community to more accurately reflect their views. The requirement of a unanimous verdict means that only one person is required to hang a jury and either require a new trial or that charges be dropped.
A uniform and complete consensus is thus required to convict the defendant. Secret deliberations mean that the jurors are free to discuss among themselves the issues at hand, secure in the knowledge that neither the judge nor the prosecution can know what is said, cannot second guess their decision or influence or intimidate the jurors into convicting the defendant.  Nor can the judge punish the jurors for their verdict, although judges have tried and some may have succeeded. A jury’s verdict of not guilty is final and cannot be overturned or appealed. The prohibition against double jeopardy prevents the defendant from being tried again for the same crime.  
If all of the above were not so, then jurors and a jury would not be necessary. A judge could simply rule on a case, in what is called a bench trial.
If a law is unjust and unfair, a jury can choose to find a defendant not guilty. This has the effect of nullifying the law, making that specific law null and void. If enough people on enough juries find enough defendants not guilty, then eventually, the unfair and unjust law is likely to be overturned through either the legislative or judicial process. This is the power that juries and jurors have, and they should use it every time.
In Indiana, we believe in this concept enough that we have included it in our state constitution.   Art. 1, Sec. 19, of Indiana’s Constitution says: ”In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts”.
The concept of jury nullification is older than our republic. It is one of our few protections against government tyranny and abuse of power. But it is under increasing attack today. It remains one of our most important legal protections, and deserves our utmost support. Learn more at www.fija.org.
 

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