It has been awhile since the violence in Ferguson, Mo. While the violence and destruction was abhorrent, there must be a release valve in our legal system to allow for civil disobedience towards a system that seems bent on incarceration.
There is. It’s called jury nullification.
People, the wool has been pulled over our eyes.
We have been told that jurors rule on facts, judges rule on laws.
I will make few friends in the legal community by telling you that this is not true and not the intent of our founding fathers.
The facts of a case might demand conviction, but the law itself might be tyrannical.
As juror, you can, and in fact, should rule “not guilty” to express your nullification of a bad law.
It was a few South Carolinians in the 1794 case of Georgia vs. Brailsford that resulted in the Supreme Court opinion stating that, as jurors, we have the right to rule on both matters of law and fact.
While the juror can pay respect to the opinion of the judge, decisions concerning the law are “within your power of decision” as a juror.
The South Carolina Constitution also contemplates the juror’s power over both law and fact.
The case of Sparf vs. U.S. (1895) provides a lengthy discussion on the juror’s power for change over laws.
The Court in U.S. vs. Dougherty (1972) made clear that the jury system operates to allow the juror to not convict when they “empathize with the defendant, as when the offense is one they see themselves likely to commit,” or when they deem the activity within the “mores of the community.”
Why haven’t you heard about this before? It is because, as stated in Dougherty, the government is afraid that if you were informed of this right, anarchy would ensue.
This “safety valve” should only be expressed to us simpleton jurors in “exceptional cases.”
The government says you should learn of this right through our culture or media. Government deems it appropriate to have you uninformed or misinformed because you are uneducated, non-lawyers.
Fair is fair, and you don’t have to tell them why you voted the way you did.
Tired of government tyranny?
Nullify the bad law or abuse of power by making your own law.
If you believe that the never-ending criminalization of our country is wrong, get your community involved, participate in the jury system, and vote “not guilty” even if the facts suggest conviction.
You are making law, and it requires long-term thinking and looking beyond the facts in the case at hand.
Don’t wilt as a juror simply because it’s getting late in the day and the other jurors want to go home.
If you abhor the violence, take your role as juror seriously.
It is regrettable but understandable that communities erupt in response to a legal system that seems bent on their destruction. The Constitutional right of jury nullification is our “safety valve” against tyranny.
Make real change through nonviolence.
Douglas S. Delaney, J.D., LL.M is a local tax and estate planning attorney in Bluffton. www.delaneylawfirmplansahead.com