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Forum Post: Jury Nullification: Why Every American Needs to Learn This Taboo Verdict

Posted 6 years ago on May 25, 2014, 2:39 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Jury Nullification: Why Every American Needs to Learn This Taboo Verdict

Sunday, 25 May 2014 10:56
By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | Op-Ed


Did you know that, no matter the evidence, if a jury feels a law is unjust, it is permitted to “nullify” the law rather than finding someone guilty? Basically, jury nullification is a jury’s way of saying, “By the letter of the law, the defendant is guilty, but we also disagree with that law, so we vote to not punish the accused.” Ultimately, the verdict serves as an acquittal.

Haven’t heard of jury nullification? Don’t feel bad; you’re far from alone. If anything, your unfamiliarity is by design. Generally, defense lawyers are not allowed to even mention jury nullification as a possibility during a trial because judges prefer juries to follow the general protocols rather than delivering independent verdicts.

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court has routinely agreed that judges have no obligation to inform juries about jury nullification. Paradoxically, jury nullification is permitted to exist as an option to all juries, yet this option cannot be discussed in most courtrooms.

A few years ago, Julian Heicklen handed out pamphlets to passersby on jury nullification to people outside of a federal courthouse. While the former professor was merely attempting to educate people about how the jury system works, he was charged with jury tampering. The prosecution labeled Heicklen “a significant and important threat to our judicial system,” but the judge ultimately disagreed and dismissed the case. Nonetheless, the fact that this case went to court at all shows how those in the legal system are willing to intimidate those who vocalize this loophole.

Jury nullification is undoubtedly feared because of its ability to upset the system. A jury that considers drug laws to be outrageous can nullify. A jury that is aware of the mass inequality in incarceration rates and believes a defendant was targeted via racial profiling can nullify. A jury that believes a harmless defendant is a victim of the prison industrial complex rather than a perpetrator can nullify. This counter-verdict exists so that citizens can right the wrongs inherent in our supposed “justice” system.

Of course, as the New York Times points out, jury nullification hasn’t always been used to “do good.” Historically, racist southern juries have nullified cases involving hate crimes and overly optimistic juries have nullified instances of police brutality, unwilling to fault police officers. However, if you agree that an informed jury can produce the correct verdict, nullification remains a valuable tool in the pursuit of justice.

Jury nullification would be helpful in a case like the recently publicized trial of Cecily McMillan. After having her breast groped from behind by a police officer, McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist, reflexively elbowed backward and was subsequently charged with assaulting an officer. After the judge suppressed relevant evidence, the jury ultimately felt compelled to render a guilty verdict, but its members were surprised to later learn that that verdict carried a potential seven-year sentence. Nine out of twelve jurors later wrote a letter to the judge urging him not to send McMillan to prison. Had these jurors known about jury nullification, they could have initially said, “Technically guilty, we supposed, but COME ON!” and not left her subject to harsh, unwarranted punishment.

It’s absurd that such an immense power remains a secret to jurors throughout the process. Essentially, it’s a crapshoot as to whether a juror has prior knowledge of the ability to nullify – an unfair fate given what’s at stake.

Whether or not you choose to exercise the option of jury nullification the next time you serve on a jury is up to your own discretion, but all jurors should at least be aware that this option is available to them. Spread the word.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

If the Law Is Bullsh*t, You Must Acquit

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 15:47
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed


You and I have the power to end Nixon's failed War on Drugs once-and-for-all. In fact, it's our constitutional right to do so.

Imagine for a second that you've been selected as a juror for the trial of someone like Jacob Lavoro, the 19-year-old Austin, Texas man currently facing anywhere from five years to life in prison for making a pound-and-a-half of pot brownies.

You know that based on the all evidence presented by the prosecution that the defendant is probably guilty, but you and other jurors on the case have serious doubts about convicting him because you know that doing so will ruin the defendant's life.

You're trapped. The law says one thing, but your conscience says the other. So what do you do?

Easy - you use your power of jury nullification. You declare the defendant "not guilty" regardless of the evidence and let him walk free, "nullifying" the unjust or unfair law.

Just like the Supreme Court has the power to strike down laws, you too as an American citizen have the power to reject laws when you're serving on a jury.

If you haven't heard of jury nullification before, that's not all that surprising. The powers that be really don't want anyone to know about it because it represents a direct threat to the status quo. Defense lawyers, for example, aren't allowed to talk about a jury's right to nullify during a trial and saying that you know about nullification is actually one of the easiest ways to avoid jury duty altogether.

In some cases, people who spread the word about jury nullification have even been accused of committing a crime. Just three years ago, for example, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged a 78-year-old former chemistry professor named Julian Heinecken with "jury tampering" for handing out flyers outside a courthouse that informed jurors of their right to nullify.

But however much they try, the authorities will never actually be able to stop people from using their jury nullification powers. That's because the right to nullify is given to us by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, the same part of the Bill of Rights that gives us the right to trial by jury.

Judge Jerry E. Smith of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made this clear in an opinion he wrote earlier this month deciding the case of United States of America v. Juan Agudin Salazar.

According to Smith, when a Texas judge ordered a jury to find Juan Salazar guilty after he confessed in court to drug and gun charges, that judge violated Salazar's right to have a jury decide whether or not he was guilty or innocent. As Smith wrote, "the Sixth Amendment safeguards even an obviously guilty defendant's right to have a jury decide guilt or innocence."

When you really think about it, jury nullification is among the most important rights we have as Americans. It gives us the power and freedom to say "no" to unjust laws. It gives us, "We the People," the final say over what kind of laws we want enforced.

And with Nixon's failed War on Drugs now in its forty-third year, it's never been more important for Americans to understand that they have this immense power

Ever since Nixon declared a War on Drugs in 1971, the incarceration rate has skyrocketed. As a result, the United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

This is costing us billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars. In fact, according to the Washington Post, over the past 20 years, "Spending on incarceration at the state level has outpaced budget increases for just about every other function of government, including education, transportation and welfare. Only spending on Medicaid at the state level has grown faster."

And because people of color are disproportionately arrested, imprisoned, and charged with drug crimes, the War on Drugs has stunted a lot of the progress we made with integration in the 1960s. Mass incarceration has become such a problem for people of color that sociologist Michelle Alexander now calls it the "new Jim Crow."

Thankfully, Washington has started to wake up to the failure of the War on Drugs. Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, has made sentencing reform one of his major second term initiatives.

But sentencing reform will only get us so far. Each year, hundreds of thousands Americans are sent to prison - sometimes for life - for either possessing or selling harmless drugs like marijuana.

This has to stop and it has to stop now.

Americans need to start exercising their Constitutionally-provided power of jury nullification when it comes to nonviolent drug crimes. In lieu of a law passed by Congress, it's the single best way to stop mass incarceration and end Nixon's failed War on Drugs once-and-for-all.

To paraphrase Nancy Reagan, it's time for all of us to "just say no" to convicting anyone of a nonviolent drug crime.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.

[-] 1 points by grapes (5232) 6 years ago

Not just every American but every citizen of the liberated world must treasure and exercise this ancient power reserved for us by our ancestors who had gone through at times very bloody struggles to gain for us - no less than an heirloom. It is a substantive expression of the sovereignty of the People to review and rectify the exercise of justice.

We are the stewards and stewardesses of this fundamental Liberty. Use it well, spread it around, and pass it on.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 6 years ago

Meet the Woman Who Was Assaulted by a Cop For Taking Tylenol

Saturday, 24 May 2014 13:04
By Robin Marty, Care2 | Op-Ed


Standard procedure, or excessive force? That's the question being asked in Ohio, where an officer assaulted a woman in a waiting area, claiming that she was violating custody rules because she took a dose of painkiller for an infected tooth. The graphic, disturbing video of the room and her resulting hospital visit has many wondering if the police officer was really just doing his job, or if his violent attack was unjustified.

According to Phil Trexler of the Beacon Journal, 35-year-old mother of three Siobhan Householder was in a holding room waiting while a arrest warrant was being lifted when she reached into her purse and took a dose of prescription Tylenol, then went to take one additional pill when she was stopped by Deputy Eric Vaughan. Householder told the reporter that Vaughan demanded she spit out the medication, and she tried to tell him she wasn't able to because she had already swallowed it, when Vaughan launched himself at her, physically restraining her on the floor as he attempted to get her mouth open.

Video of the event shows Vaughan pulling her hair, cramming his fingers in her mouth, and trying to pry her jaw open. "He was pulling down on my bottom lip and squeezing my face at the same time," she told the Journal Beacon. "He basically pulled my lip away from my teeth."

By the end of the scene Householder was handcuffed in a scrum of four officers, and according to reports she was treated in the room by paramedics. Later she was taken to a hospital, and also charged with "resisting arrest and obstructing official business."

Notably, despite the prescription pills, a sandwich bag of ibuprofen in her purse, and allegations that she had a latex glove with a few pills in it, she was not charged for anything involving drugs.

Local police officials respond that the incident, and all of Vaughan's actions, were totally justified and not at all out of proportion. "The deputy became concerned because she was in custody and she was under his care and control at that point," Summit County Sheriff's Office Inspector Bill Holland told a local Fox News affiliate. Holland stated that Vaughan's attack was standard procedure since he could not determine how many pills she had swallowed, what they were, and that he was simply protecting Householder's "safety."

"The fact of the matter, everything aside, was that the deputy was not sure how many pills she had ingested and was concerned for her safety and that's why he did what he did," said Holland, who also said that the follow up trip to the hospital was about ensuring she hadn't attempted suicide by ingesting medication, not about potential injuries suffered in the altercation.

Lawyers aren't so sure. Law Professor Jonathan Turley wrote in his blog that Householder wasn't officially in custody, making Vaughan's actions unjustified, and that he believed the follow up charges from the police department against Householder are likely being used in an attempt to scare her out of suing the department.

"Given the sudden action by the officer, it is hard to see the basis for resisting arrest in this video and the obstruction charge seems to be redundant and equally problematic," wrote Turley. "We have seen in the past how victims of abuse are often hit with multiple charges that are later dropped. The concern is that police will charge individuals not only to justify their actions but to encourage a plea deal or at least an agreement not to sue the police."

Excessive and unprovoked police violence is becoming a growing problem in our nation. We've already seen it happen during arrests, and now, it may be spreading out to holding rooms, even when people aren't in an officer's custody. Unprovoked officer violence must be stopped. A person should not have to fear for their safety simply for taking a painkiller while waiting for a warrant to be dropped.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] -1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 6 years ago