"I copy that" is walkie-talkie talk for - I understand, will do, gotcha, ok, alright, yup, uh-huh, and much more depending on the inflection of the voice.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

law is neat.

Besides my current obsession with bill frist ruining congress, I have started looking into jurys and how laws are made, and when and how one can be a figure of change from the jury box.

This started with reading anah's post (she was on a drug trial where the punishment did not fit the crime) and one of the comments brought up "Jury nullification". I thought to myself, "Myself, you should find out more" and so I did. I found an informative site where they hope to, " inform all Americans about their rights, powers, and responsibilities when serving as trial jurors. Jurors must know that they have the option and the responsibility to render a verdict based on their conscience and on their sense of justice as well as on the merits of the law." Meaning - if a law is wrong, a jury can find the person not guilty even if there is overwhelming evidence against said person.

So, now I am going to give you a gigantic quote from this article.

"An Abbreviated History of Jury Nullification
Jury independence is well established in American law. In 1804, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase was impeached for denying a jury's right to judge law. He holds the dubious distinction of being the only Supreme Court ever impeached. Why did the Founders give juries such awesome power? Theophilus Parsons, first Chief Justice of Massachusetts, explained:

The people themselves have it in their power to resist usurpation, without an appeal to arms. An act of usurpation is not obligatory; it is not law; and any man may be justified in his resistance. Let him be considered a criminal by the general government, yet only his fellow citizens can convict him; they are his jury, and if they pronounce him innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of usurpation.

Or, as Patrick Henry put it: Why do we love this trial by jury? Because it prevents the hand of oppression from cutting you off. This gives me comfort – that as long as I have existence, my neighbors will protect me.

American history is full of proud examples of jury nullification. The common-law tradition of freedom of religion and of assembly has its origins in the 1670 trial of William Penn, accused of preaching an illegal religion in Gracechurch Street , London . The jury refused to convict Penn in spite of clear evidence of guilt, because they were unwilling to brand a man a felon for worshiping God according to his own beliefs. When the court attempted to punish Penn's jury for their act of nullification, a higher court reversed on the principle that it is only the jury, not the judge, which has the authority to decide whether a defendant is guilty. The American tradition of freedom of the press began in 1735, when a New York jury acquitted John Peter Zenger of seditious libel for publishing criticisms of the royally appointed Governor of New York. Even though 18th Century law didn't recognize truth as a defense to seditious libel (the rule was the greater the truth, the greater the libel), Zenger's jury acquitted because Mr. Zenger's words were true.

But jury nullification of the law is not just a remnant of Colonial days, when Americans were still proud, independent and free. During the nineteenth century, juries as far South as Georgia refused to convict whites who assisted slaves escaping from bondage. (Escaped slaves were not entitled to trial by jury. A judge deciding whether to return an escaped slave to bondage was paid twice as much for finding the accused was a slave than for finding he was free.) The inability of the South to see the Fugitive Slave Act enforced led to the Civil War and thus the end of chattel slavery. As many as sixty percent of alcohol prohibition cases ended in acquittal, leading to the repeal of Prohibition. (Remember that under alcohol prohibition, possession and use of alcohol was legal - only sales, distribution and manufacturing were banned.)"

If you know anyone who gets one of those magic jury notification letters, please encourage them to learn about their rights. No matter what else is going on and what I may question - I am a fan of this little upstart of a country we have here.

1 comment:

Chishiki Lauren said...

One time my heel got caught in an elevator and Bill Frist helped me out. So...I don't completely loathe him. Two days later Hillary Clinton complimented those same shoes...yeah, that just sums up the Senate so well in my opinion.