Letters to the Editor
Rocky Mountain News
101 W. Colfax Avenue, Suite 500
Denver, CO 80202
I want to commend Chris Maj on his fine letter of January 24 on the rights of jurors.
Jurors rights are the most forgotten rights of all. Indeed, from before the Revolution up through the Civil War, jurors had the power to judge not only the facts of a case but also the law pertaining to that particular case. If a juror thought the law under which the defendant was being tried was unconstitutional, unjust, immoral or just plain stupid, that juror could vote to acquit and the defendant would walk. The best example of jury nullification at work can be found with regard to the Fugitive Slave Laws of the 1850s. If juror Smith opposed these laws, he could, on this basis alone, vote to acquit defendant Jones. As a result, the Fugitive Slave Laws became unenforceable.
Consider some of the onerous laws on the books today and how we could combat them if jurors only knew their rights. Imagine someone on trial for violating a tax law that not even a Harvard-educated tax attorney could understand; imagine a doctor on trial for prescribing marijuana to patients who had exhausted all conventional medical avenues; imagine a woman who uses a gun to ward off a rapist, and then faces charges when it is discovered that said gun is unregistered.
Jury nullification is the ultimate check against bad laws. Today, almost no one even knows about jury nullification. Legislators concoct new laws at a rate unthinkable a few decades ago. And the people think they are powerless in the face of a runaway government.
When I present this subject, people are often skeptical. They say things like, Why, if a juror can acquit just because he does not like a particular law, this can only result in anarchy! We cannot have people making up laws as they go along! I respond that jurors exercising their rights are not making up new laws, but acting in defense against bad laws. An unrestrained government i.e. one that makes whatever laws it willy-nilly wants whenever it willy-nilly wants to -- is far more dangerous than an educated populace that uses every available tool to restrain that government.
Far from being a crackpot theory, jury nullification is a cornerstone of constitutional government and a truly free society.
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