By Andrew Lepore | USA
With my 18th birthday quickly approaching, I will soon likely receive a white slip in the mail summoning me to the involuntary task of jury duty. Traditionally the prospect of impending jury duty has been dreaded by the apolitical and political-minded alike, and one can see why. It is a dull and tedious activity, but it is one that big brother has declared compulsory. Although us liberty minded individuals dislike, even hate the idea of anything involuntary backed by the threat of government force; there is a silver lining to this situation and a golden opportunity for the advancement of liberty. This opportunity lies in the right of the jury to nullify laws, which means for the jury to return a not guilty verdict, not based on insufficient evidence, but because they believe the law to be immoral or wrongly applied to the defendant. In other words, jurors have the right to judge the morality of the law, and from that conclusion produce a verdict. Jury nullification is one of the greatest populist checks and balances in our common law judicial system. Armed with it, even an individual juror can render all the evidence which the prosecution has collected completely irrelevant. Jury Nullification is “the-right-which-shall-not-be-named” for judges and prosecutors. They don’t like to even talk about it. It’s the kryptonite of statism.
Jury duty is a responsibility that every American has, yet if you took a survey on the street I almost guarantee that 9 out of 10 have not a clue what Jury nullification is. This truly is a shame since the result of many landmark cases, and the course of American history itself may have been drastically different, had the jurors been informed of their right to nullify unethical laws. Although cases where the morality of the law has been challenged are few and far between, there have been multiple cases in American history where the right to nullify has been successfully applied. In The 1850s, in response to the passing of the fugitive slave act, many Northern juries refused to convict those who aided escaped slaves. And in the 1930s in response to alcohol prohibition, jury nullification was widely practiced. Although the practice has experienced periods of popularity, the trend was never truly solidified; most likely due to the fact that in most states, the courts have no obligation to inform jurors of their right to nullify. In fact, in many cases jurors are misled into thinking they must apply the law exactly as it is given. In the last 10 years, jury nullification has seen a resurgence in popularity due to activist groups like FIJA (Fully Informed Jury Association) and with the Libertarian party supporting jury nullification in their party platform. Many modern advocates of jury nullification view it not only as a form of checks and balances but as a way to fight the drug war and other efforts to systematically punish victimless action.
A recent case where nullification was applied to secure a not guilty verdict occurred a few years back in 2012 when a New Hampshire jury found Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old father of four, not guilty on charges of felony marijuana possession. Darrell was found growing a small plot of marijuana for his personal spiritual and medicinal use and was taken into custody. The jury did admit that he was guilty of growing cannabis beyond a reasonable doubt, but they could not in good conscience turn a guilty verdict. Cathleen Converse, a juror involved in the case said on the matter “Many of us wondered what kind of precedent this would set.” Converse continued, “But after chewing on all of the possibilities and re-reading the definition of nullification, we all decided that the only fair thing to do was to vote with our consciences and acquit the defendant of all charges. I knew that my community would be poorer rather than better off had he been convicted.” Without The prospect of jury nullification, this jury would have had no choice but to return a guilty verdict, sentencing the father of four to 7 years away from his family in a state penitentiary.
In conclusion, Jury duty should not be viewed as a tedious requirement of the state which one should dread. For the liberty-minded, you may see no better opportunity to advance liberty on an individual yet highly effective level. Jury duty is an opportunity for the individual to do real good in the advancement of liberty, and to foil plots of injustice by the state.