For Immediate release
Jury Rights Day September 5, 2008
This Friday, September 5, 2008, marks the 338th anniversary of the day when
jurors refused to convict William Penn of violating England's Conventicle
Acts, despite clear evidence that he acted illegally by preaching a Quaker
sermon. In refusing to convict Penn, the jurors refused to enforce what
they knew to be an unjust law. This is known as jury nullification.
By refusing to enforce what they knew was an unjust law, the Penn jurors not
only served justice, but provided a basis for our First Amendment rights to
freedom of speech, religion, and peaceable assembly. For their refusal to
obey the judge's instruction to find Penn guilty, the judge sent four of
Penn's jurors to prison for nine weeks. Their later release and exoneration
established forever the English and American doctrine that it is the right
and responsibility of all jurors to decide matters of law and fact in any
case before them. Jurors stand as the last line of defense for people being
prosecuted under unjust laws by overzealous government prosecutors and court
The founders of this nation intended that jurors in all cases would know of
their rights and responsibilities to judge the law, its application, and the
facts in each case, to ensure that justice is served. The Sixth and Seventh
Amendments are included in the Bill of Rights to guarantee that every person
brought to trial has the benefit of the protection of a jury.
It was understood by the founders that all matters brought to the courts
were to be considered by a jury of independent, free individuals, who were
not beholden to the courts or government, and who would freely render a
verdict based on justice, even if in direct opposition to the courts and the
Jury nullification is an integral part of our judicial system, serving as
one of the "checks and balances" required by a free society. An individual
juror has the power to stop an unjust prosecution by refusing to convict.
This fact is unknown to most jurors today, and has contributed greatly to
the decline of the authority of the jury in our court system.
Our Founding Fathers accepted the common law principle of jury nullification
as an important safeguard for a free society: a test that all laws must
pass. Jury nullification has been used by jurors throughout our history to
"nullify" unpopular and unjust laws, from laws against free speech to
slavery to Prohibition.
The Fully Informed Jury Association (www.fija.org) is a non-profit
association dedicated to educating all Americans about their rights, powers,
and responsibilities as trial jurors. FIJA publishes and distributes
educational material but depends upon grassroots activists to inform jurors
of their rights and to undertake state-level lobbying or ballot-issue
Governors across the nation have signed Jury Rights Day Proclamations
recognizing this right and authority of the juror to render a verdict based
on conscience and in the service of justice. This year, Proclamations have
come from Connecticut, the State of Washington, and from Alaska's Governor,
Sarah Palin, who is now a Vice-Presidential candidate.
This September 5, private groups across the nation will hand out educational
literature, provide interviews, give talks to civic groups, and send letters
to their local newspapers to encourage people to learn more about the rights
and responsibilities of jury service, as well as to encourage those on trial
to demand their right to a trial by jury.
For additional information on juror rights, call the Fully Informed Jury
Association's toll-free line at 1-800-TEL-JURY, or visit their website at
www.fija.org. To help spread the word, you can contact your local or state
FIJA worker through the list of State Contacts on the website.
The Fully Informed Jury Association is a not-for-profit research and
educational group dedicated to informing all Americans of their right and
duty to judge both the law and the facts, and to render a verdict based on
their conscience and their own best sense of justice, even if contrary to
the directions of the court.
Iloilo Marguerite Jones
Constitution Society 2900 W Anderson Ln C-200-322, Austin, TX 78757
512/299-5001 www.constitution.org jon.roland@...