The Power of Juries
Orange County Register
Monday Sep. 8, 1997
Source: Orange County Register -- metro, page 6
Some jury activist organizations have declared September 8 as Jury
Rights Day, in commemoration of the day in 1670. This stubborn exercise of
all the rights of a jury - exercised despite the fact that four jurors
spent nine weeks in prison for refusing to heed the instructions of the
court -- was instrumental in establishing not only the rights of juries,
but freedom of religion, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of
religion, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and habeas
corpus. All because a jury exercised its right to judge not only the facts
in a case, but also whether the law was just and applicable.
It was a jury exercising what is sometimes called "nullification"
that led to the establishment of freedom of the press in the United
States. John Peter Zenger in 1735 was indubitably guilty of printing in
his newspaper what was defined under law as seditious libel. But a jury
refused to convict him, setting a precedent that led to increased
discussion of the importance of press freedom and, eventually, the First
Juries are commonly told these days that their job is to judge the facts
in a case and to adhere strictly to the judge's instructions when it comes
to the law and its interpretation. This is different from an older,
sturdier American tradition.
The Supreme Court in 1794 was quite clear: "It is presumed that the
juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed
that the courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are
within your [the jury's] power of decision."
As recently as 1972, in U.S. v. Dougherty, the Supreme Court affirmed
this view: "The jury has an unreviewable and unreversible power ...
to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial
judge." The opinion continued that "jury law lessness is the
greatest corrective of law in its actual administration. The will of the
state at large imposed on a reluctant community, the will of a majority
imposed on a vigorous and determined minority, find the same obstacle in
the local jury that formerly kings and ministers faced."
Intelligent, informed juries can be an important safeguard of liberty
and individual rights. It is appropriate to understand, celebrate and
preserve those rights.
Produced by: The Media Awareness Project (MAP)
Edited by: Kiril H. Dubrovsky (email@example.com)
Re-distributed by the:
Jury Rights Project (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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