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Fully Informed Jurors Need to Know of Jury Nullification

April 9, 2009
 
by Iloilo Marguerite Jones   
Friday, 05 September 2008
Jury Rights Day

September 5, 2008 marked the 338th anniversary of 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 ignored 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 served justice, and provided a basis for our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, and peaceable assembly. For refusing to find Penn guilty, the judge sent four of Penn’s jurors to prison. Their exoneration fixed forever the English and American doctrine that jurors have the responsibility to decide both matters of law and fact in any case before them. Individual jurors are last line of defense for people who are prosecuted under bad laws by overzealous prosecutors and court officials.

The Founders intended that jurors would use their rights and responsibilities to judge the law and the facts in every trial, and do justice. The Sixth and Seventh Amendments were included in the Bill of Rights to guarantee that every person brought to trial has Juror Protection.

Juror nullification is integral to our judicial system. It is one of the “checks and balances” of justice required by a free society. An individual juror has the authority to stop an unjust prosecution by refusing to convict. No reason for the verdict is required. Most Grand and Petit Jurors do not know about their authority. This authority must be restored to protect us.

Our Founders embraced juror nullification as necessary to a free society. Nullification is the test that all laws must pass. Juror nullification has been used by jurors throughout our history to “nullify” unpopular and unjust laws, ranging from laws against witches, publishing the truth, free speech, religion, hiding slaves, and Prohibition.

The Fully Informed Jury Association (www.fija.org) is dedicated to educating all Americans about the authority of the Juror. 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 efforts.

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