April 25, 2002
The below is fundamental information in email form that
every citizen should have, keep and pass on to others regarding their power
as citizens when they are called upon to serve jury duty.
No citizen is obligated to follow, and indeed, quite
the contrary, is duty-bound to ignore any judge's imposition of an oath to
follow the law only as expounded to them by himself. This is jury tampering pure
and simple, and leads to tyranny.
Such judicial oath must be
treated precisely as if the judge ordered you to swear to become his
permanent personal slave and be at his whimsical beckoned call whatever and
whenever he wanted, no matter what, and then ordered you to abide by his forced
oath upon you. An oath is a contract. Can one force you sign a contract and then
order you to honor that contract? No, it is null and void by any theory of
law. -Ron Branson
America's Founders worried that the
government they created might someday grow too powerful, and begin to pass laws
which would violate the rights of the very people it was intended to protect:
ordinary, peaceful, productive folks. But they kept an "ace in the hole", a
trump card they believed citizens could use to hold this new, experimental
government in check. That ace was the right to a trial by a jury of one's
How a jury can restrain a government? The key is that juries can
say "no" to
bad laws and to arbitrary and unjust prosecutions. It's
The Founders realized that the temptations of power and corruption
eventually prove to be too much for any of the three branches of
government to resist, let alone check and balance the other branches.
knew that government "of, by and for the people" meant that the people
would every so often have to roll up their sleeves and exert their authority, to
act as the final check and balance on the whole system. Since law is the
tool by which a government exerts its control, trusting juries of
citizens to veto the use of bad law was the logical choice.
provided for trial by jury--once in the Constitution, and twice more
Bill of Rights. In those days, it was part of the definition of the word "jury"
that its members could judge the law as well as the evidence, and the judge
would often remind them of this power. For example, if jurors found the law to
be unjust or misapplied, or that the defendant's rights had been violated in
bringing the him or her to trial, they would acquit for those reasons, despite
In addition to veto power, our common law legal traditions
also provide that
if a jury decides to acquit, its decision is final. A
verdict of "not guilty" cannot be overturned, nor can the judge harass the
jurors for voting for acquittal, or punish them for voting their consciences,
even after making them swear to follow the law as given by the judge! And jurors
may be asked, but cannot be obliged, to explain their verdicts.
principles were subject to contention for centuries in England and
British Empire as citizen jurors fought to assert their rights against
power interests of the crown.
In 1670, William Penn was arrested
in London for preaching a Quaker sermon, which broke a law establishing the
Church of England as the only legal church. His jurors, led by Edward Bushell,
refused to convict him, despite being held for days without food, water, tobacco
or toilet facilities--and then fined. The most defiant four of them refused to
pay the fine and were then put in prison for nine weeks.
court of England, upon releasing them, both acknowledged and
trial jurors could not be punished for their verdicts.
Recognition of our
freedoms of religion, peaceable assembly and speech thus all trace to the
exercise of jury power, wielded by a jury unintimidated by government
In colonial America, the sedition trial of John Peter Zenger
another landmark case. Zenger, a publisher, was arrested for
critical of the Royal Governor of New York Colony and his
them of corruption. His accusations were all true, but the
his jury that under the law, "...truth is no
"Philadelphia lawyer" Andrew Hamilton then told the jurors the
William Penn, and argued that as judges of the merits of the law,
should not in good conscience convict Zenger of violating such a bad
The jurors agreed. Zenger was acquitted in about fifteen minutes, and
case spawned recognition of our right to a free press.
these therefore were part of the political heritage of the
may explain why they so appreciated jury power.
John Adams said it so
well in 1771 that the Fully Informed Jury Association
(FIJA) put his words on
a coffee mug: "It is not only...[the juror's] right,
but his duty... to find
the verdict according to his own best understanding,
conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of
First U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, writing in
Brailsford, 1794, concluded: "The jury has the right to judge both
as well as the fact in controversy".
Jefferson in 1789 told Thomas Paine: "I consider trial by
jury as the only
anchor yet devised by man, by which a government can be
held to the
principles of its constitution."
And Noah Webster, who wrote his original
1828 dictionary in order to
preserve the integrity of the language of the
Constitution, defined "petty
jury" as "...consisting usually of twelve men
[who]...attend courts to
decide both the law and the fact in criminal
A detailed historical analysis of jury veto power, also
nullification of law, appeared in the Yale Law Review in 1964. It
"The right of the jury to decide questions of law was widely
the colonies. In 1771, John Adams stated unequivocally that a
ignore a judge's instruction on the law if it violates
principles: There is much evidence of the general acceptance of
principle in the period immediately after the Constitution was
However, during the next century, judges began chipping away at
and fundamental right of free citizens, thereby transferring
to themselves. The biggest "chip" or usurpation took place in
1895, when in
Sparf and Hansen v. U.S., a bitterly split decision by our
held that failure of the judge to remind the jurors of their
powers was not
a basis for mistrial or appeal. That was the green light for
trial judges to
go mum on the topic, and they did.
That is why very
few lawyers or law professors, only some judges, and
practically no school
teachers know about jury veto power: it's "not part of
the curriculum". Few
history books give juries the credit they're due--for
stopping the Salem
witch trials, for overturning slavery in state after
state before the Civil
War, and for ending Prohibition--all by refusing to
convict because they
thought the law itself was wrong.
These days, trial by jury often doesn't
accomplish all that it should. And
the usurpation continues: trial judges now
falsely tell jurors that their
only job is to decide if the "facts" are
sufficient to convict, and that if
so, they "should" or "must" convict.
Defense attorneys can face contempt of court charges if they urge jurors to
acquit if they think the law is
unconstitutional or unjust. And
self-defenders are usually stopped and
rebuked if they even mention their
motives, or why they disagree with the
law, to the jury.
Yet to this
day, trial jurors retain the right to veto, or "nullify" bad
they are rarely told this by the courts. Prosecutors and judges
exclude people from serving on juries who admit knowing they can
law, or who have doubts about the justice of the law. This
protections jurors were supposed to be able to invoke on behalf of fellow
citizens against unjust prosecutions: how can our right to a trial by an
impartial jury be met if those with any qualms about the law are
The fact is, it cannot. Jury selection has degenerated into
contest between the attorneys and judge involved. And then,
if those who
survive the selection process bring in a verdict that the
community does not
like, who gets the blame?
Worse, after enough
verdicts have disappointed or angered enough people, the politicians move in for
the kill, arguing that the "jury system needs
reform". By that they mean
stripping even more power from the jury, using
juries in fewer and fewer
kinds of cases, allowing verdicts to be reached by
a super-majority instead
of a unanimous vote, replacing ordinary citizens
professional jurors, etc.
Beware! All such reforms will lead only to a
still more powerful government,
and a less powerful citizenry. Justice would
come to mean whatever the
government says it means, and the people would be
left with no peaceful
method of controlling government tyranny.
is why it is time to act. It is time to share what you now know about
real role and power of the jury, especially with someone who has
summoned for jury duty. Show that person this article, or invite him/her
visit the Jury Power Page--before visiting the courthouse.
want to speed up this vital national educational effort, download one
of the camera-ready documents available from the Jury Power Page,
them, and get them into the hands of prospective jurors. This can
be done by
handing them out in front of your local courthouse on jury
Or, they can be mailed to the local jury pool.
Or, you can focus all your
effort on one day--the jury selection day nearest
to September 5. Several
state governors have already proclaimed this date to be "Jury Rights Day", in
honor of the jury acquittal of William Penn. And
you can join the
organization which started the modern jury power movement, the Fully Informed
Jury Association [FIJA], by phoning its toll-free information line,
If you really want to get active, post one or more
trials on the Jury Power
Page Trial Directory. List the trial or trials that
you know about in which
you think the jury is going to need to know about its
veto power if justice
is to be served. When a trial is posted, others will
learn about it, and
perhaps show up to leaflet, or help you with a mailing,
or demonstrate, or?
The farther and faster the truth about jury veto
power spreads, the more
likely are you and your children to enjoy the
American promise of "liberty
and justice for all".
JAIL4Judges, in cooperation with FIJA, recommends you
visit www.fija.org and learn your rights when called upon for jury duty. Write fija
J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial Accountability Initiative
JAIL's very informative website is found at www.jail4judges.org
JAIL proposes a
unique new addition to our form of government.
JAIL is powerful! JAIL is
dynamic! JAIL is America's ONLY hope!
JAIL is spreading across America like a
fast moving wildfire!
JAIL is making inroads into Congress for federal
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"Give me your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor, and I will give
"..it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless
minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.." - Samuel
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one
striking at the
-- Henry David Thoreau