Jury Veto Power!
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California April 25, 2002The 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 BransonJury Veto PowerAmerica'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 peers.
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 true!
The Founders realized that the temptations of power and corruption would
eventually prove to be too much for any of the three branches of our
government to resist, let alone check and balance the other branches. They
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
main tool by which a government exerts its control, trusting juries of
ordinary citizens to veto the use of bad law was the logical choice.
So they provided for trial by jury--once in the Constitution, and twice more
in the 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 good evidence.
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.
These principles were subject to contention for centuries in England and the
British Empire as citizen jurors fought to assert their rights against the
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.
The highest court of England, upon releasing them, both acknowledged and
established that 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 judges.
In colonial America, the sedition trial of John Peter Zenger established
another landmark case. Zenger, a publisher, was arrested for printing news
critical of the Royal Governor of New York Colony and his cronies, accusing
them of corruption. His accusations were all true, but the court informed
his jury that under the law, "...truth is no defense".
"Philadelphia lawyer" Andrew Hamilton then told the jurors the story of
William Penn, and argued that as judges of the merits of the law, they
should not in good conscience convict Zenger of violating such a bad law.
The jurors agreed. Zenger was acquitted in about fifteen minutes, and his
case spawned recognition of our right to a free press.
Cases like these therefore were part of the political heritage of the
Founders, which 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,
judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of
First U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, writing in Georgia v.
Brailsford, 1794, concluded: "The jury has the right to judge both the law
as well as the fact in controversy".
President Thomas 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 prosecutions".
A detailed historical analysis of jury veto power, also called jury
nullification of law, appeared in the Yale Law Review in 1964. It held that
"The right of the jury to decide questions of law was widely recognized in
the colonies. In 1771, John Adams stated unequivocally that a juror should
ignore a judge's instruction on the law if it violates fundamental
principles: There is much evidence of the general acceptance of this
principle in the period immediately after the Constitution was adopted."
However, during the next century, judges began chipping away at this vital
and fundamental right of free citizens, thereby transferring citizen power
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 Supreme Court
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
laws, though they are rarely told this by the courts. Prosecutors and judges
try to exclude people from serving on juries who admit knowing they can
judge the law, or who have doubts about the justice of the law. This
destroys the 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
excluded from serving?
The fact is, it cannot. Jury selection has degenerated into a jury-stacking
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
with government-licensed 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.
That is why it is time to act. It is time to share what you now know about
the real role and power of the jury, especially with someone who has been
summoned for jury duty. Show that person this article, or invite him/her to
visit the Jury Power Page--before visiting the courthouse.
If you want to speed up this vital national educational effort, download one
or more of the camera-ready documents available from the Jury Power Page,
duplicate 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
selection days. 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, 1-800-TELL-JURY.
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 at
J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial Accountability Initiative Law
JAIL's very informative website is found at www.jail4judges.org
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"Give me your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor, and I will give you your country" -Ron Branson"..it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.." - Samuel Adams
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is
striking at the root." -- Henry David Thoreau