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Rule Of Law And Jury Nullifiction

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walsh
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I have been wondering whether or not the idea of jury nullification exists within the rule of law. It would seem not to, because juries enter, willfully or not, into the judicial branch of the government, and enter into the system of laws, not men. But it seems a very pervasive idea among libertarians, pot smokers, etc.

The thing is, if jury nullification is a part of the rule of law, then we have some serious problems in the US legal system. Lawyers who suggest it are fined in contempt of court. Jurists who declare it are either not selected for a jury, or are fined in contempt of court. Judges have been instructed to leave those particular ideas off of the instructions they give to juries.

Does anyone here with a good knowledge of the rule of law know whether or not the concept of jury nullification is necessarily part of the rule of law?

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I have been wondering whether or not the idea of jury nullification exists within the rule of law.  It would seem not to, because juries enter, willfully or not, into the judicial branch of the government, and enter into the system of laws, not men.  But it seems a very pervasive idea among libertarians, pot smokers, etc.

Just the people most opposed to the rule of law.

Jury nullification undermines the rule of law because, under objective law, the jury is only supposed to rule on the facts and not on the law. If they do, they are breaking the law.

If the law itself is unjust, that is not the way to go about changing it.

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Walsh,

Before you change your mind, I would suggest something in case you have not done so already. Make this less of an abstract idea. Instead, do some research into actual instances of jury nullification. (Try Google) Try to understand the types of circumstances under which juries have broken the law?

Check out the cases where juries refused to prosecute runaway slaves the way the law demanded. Figure out why a jury would let a murderer go when they found out that he had killed the killer of his child, whom the law had not been able to prosecute.

Ask yourself how many times jury nullification has been used to give justice to the individual, and how many tim,es it has been used as a democratic tool of mob-rule.

A good way to "chew" on this would be to place yourself in the jury, and ask yourself this: "if I were to decide the fate of this person, would I be acting morally if I acted to ensure that this individual got justice, while I simultaneously strengthened the precedence of jury-nullification, and therefore the potential denial of justice to others."

My take on this is that juries are typically thoughtful, responsible people and only break the law under the most serious circumstances, where theycannot bring themselves to do injustice to an individual.

We have much more to fear from judges and from the law itself than from juries.

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Fifi-

Perhaps you misunderstood me. I don't fear juries. But if jury nullification were more of a force today, I would fear them precisely as much as I feared both the law and judges.

That is a very empathic appeal. But the rule of law is more important, at least the way I see it. It is what motivates justice. Jury nullification is short term justice. The rule of law is the long term.

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I understand the need of objective law and the crucial role it must play in a proper system of government. However, I still object to the argument against jury nullification on the basis that it undermines the law. The only justifiable laws are those that are Constitutionally based which in turn are moral and uphold individual rights, from which the government itself flows.

When there are laws passed that directly and blatantly undermine individual rights, I cannot see how it is either proper or moral to follow these laws when you are going to be directly repsonsible for making use of them to infringe on another citizen's individual rights, as you would be doing by voting on a jury to convict somebody under a blatantly immoral law. For instance, to knowingly send someone to jail for smoking pot is immoral. The law is not absolute. It must be created by human reason and be rational and objective. When a law fails to conform to these standards, it should be actively opposed by legislative action long-term, and I believe if necessary, jury nullification short term.

But the rule of law is more important, at least the way I see it. It is what motivates justice. Jury nullification is short term justice.

If you can choose between justice and injustice, why wouldn't you?

This certainly is a tough issue. I can also see how all sorts of personal and religious bias can some into play as well, and work against good law. Its not immediately clear to me what the solution is. I do know that if I were presented with the choice of opposing enforcing an immoral law, I would do so.

I am sure some of you have arguments against this, I would like to hear them.

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Jury nullification undermines the rule of law because, under objective law, the jury is only supposed to rule on the facts and not on the law.  If they do, they are breaking the law.

I'm afraid that this is a mistaken view. Juries are supposed to make a determination whether the facts indicate a violation of the law. It is not sufficient to determine that a particular act was performed: you must also determine whether that act constitutes a violation of the law. The law requires the jury to interpret the law, to determine whether an act constitutes a violation, and under the law there are very few ways for a jury to break the law in their interpretation (being bribed or violating procedural rules is about it, as far as I know).

When the immorality of a law is clear for all to see, it is a perversion of justice to punish a person for committing no immoral act.

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Check out the cases where juries refused to prosecute runaway slaves the way the law demanded.

The proper way of dealing with slavery is ABOLISHING slavery, not letting a particular slave avoid the law. Jury nullification undermines the law AND perpetuates slavery.

Figure out why a jury would let a murderer go when they found out that he had killed the killer of his child, whom the law had not been able to prosecute.

That could be, and should be a mitigating circumstance when it comes to sentencing -- something the jury DOES have discretion over according to the law, but you cannot let someone who takes the law into his own hands off scot free.

If you do, what about the guy who kidnaps his children when the court gave custody of them to his wife or the person who steals your car because the cops refused, for lack of evidence, to accept his claim that you stole it from him?

As for the situation you cite where the law was not able to prosecute a child killer, jury nullification is not the answer and will not prevent similar injustices in the future. WHY wasn't the killer convicted? Poor police work? Then something has to be done about the police department. A corrupt District Attorney? The man should be prosecuted and removed from office. Etc.

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A good way to "chew" on this would be to place yourself in the jury, and ask yourself this: "if I were to decide the fate of this person, would I be acting morally if I acted to ensure that this individual got justice, while I simultaneously strengthened the precedence of jury-nullification, and therefore the potential denial of justice to others."

Since I believe jury nullification is a BAD thing which undermines the rule of law, here's how I would handle a person being prosecuted under an unjust law if I were on the jury:

I would refuse to render ANY verdict.

That would result in a hung jury, get a huge amount of media attention, and give me a public platform for challenging the immoral law.

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Since I believe jury nullification is a BAD thing which undermines the rule of law, here's how I would handle a person being prosecuted under an unjust law if I were on the jury: 

I would refuse to render ANY verdict. 

That would result in a hung jury, get a huge amount of media attention, and give me a public platform for challenging the immoral law.

That is as much of a violation of the law as jury nullification is. The law, as stated in the jury instructions, compels (not allows) you to find the defendant guilty. Rendering judgment is not optional under the law: you are simply advocating jury nullification at the individual level.

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That is as much of a violation of the law as jury nullification is. The law, as stated in the jury instructions, compels (not allows) you to find the defendant guilty. Rendering judgment is not optional under the law: you are simply advocating jury nullification at the individual level.

No. Jury nullification is a form of anarchism, one in which the person is, in effect, making his own law. By contrast, as I understand what Betsy describes, her actions are a form of civil disobediance. She publicly disobeys the law in order to bring public attention to the injustice and directly challenges the law. She would also be held legally responsible for her actions.

Another alternative would be to effectively disqualify yourself from the jury by making it known that you are morally antagonistic to the law that applies to the case you are to judge.

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I do not see how "refusing to obey the law" is civil disobedience while "disobeying the law" is anarchism.

Either way, the individual is guilty of pitting his own individual opinion against the will of the collective, as represented in the laws passed by the bodies appointed by the collective.

There may be tactical reasons why one approach may be better than the other, but I see no fundamental difference.

Reminds me of the "prove a negative" versus "do not prove a positive" arguments.

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I do not see how "refusing to obey the law" is civil disobedience while "disobeying the law" is anarchism.

You are missing the clear principles involved.

Anarchism is the opposite of rule by law. Jury nullification is an anarchistic action since the individual decides for himself not to apply the law when he is legally bound to do just that. The juror circumvents the law and keeps his indiscretion to himself.

Civil disobediance is a willful action for the purpose of legally challenging the law, not for secretly disobeying it, and doing so with full knowledge and expectation of being held legally repsonsible for his actions.

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No. Jury nullification is a form of anarchism, one in which the person is, in effect, making his own law. By contrast, as I understand what Betsy describes, her actions are a form of civil disobediance. She publicly disobeys the law in order to bring public attention to the injustice and directly challenges the law. She would also be held legally responsible for her actions.

Refusing to convict, when the facts indicate that the defendant did the deed proscribed by the law, violates the law. The only difference between an individual violating the law by not voting for guilt, and jury nullification, is that the entire jury engages in civil disobediance in the case of jury nullification.

You're implying that there is a "take your lumps" distinction between one person refusing to obey the law and 12 people refusing to obey the law. Now, I would also agree that if some number of jurors between 1 and 12 are to refuse to obey the law, they should make that refusal known, meaning that they shold not pretend that the finding of fact was at fault. Dishonesty is not implicit in the concept of jury nullification.

Another alternative would be to effectively disqualify yourself from the jury by making it known that you are morally antagonistic to the law that applies to the case you are to judge.

I agree on this point, though it does require that you clearly know the particulars of the law in advance, and that would be unusual (in our society). A drug sales charge is one where any rational and half-educated person would know in advance that the law is immoral. But a juror may not know in advance that an ostensibly moral purpose, rights protection, is being subverted in a particular instance if for instance they don't understand what the RICO statutes say, and just think it has something to do with gangsters (who we all agree are bad).

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The only difference between an individual violating the law by not voting for guilt, and jury nullification, is that the entire jury engages in civil disobediance in the case of jury nullification.

No, that is not the only difference. Not even the crucial one in regard to this scenario. Jury nullification is not an act of civil disobediance, at least not as I characterized civil disobediance. The purpose of civil disobediance is to publicly protest and legally challenge the law -- to set up a test case for the challenge -- with conscious knowledge of paying the price for doing so. Jury nullification is just a way for a jury to secretly decide not to apply the law.

If the jury were to publicly proclaim to the judge that they chose to ignore the governing law in the case that they judged, and the reason for doing so was that they thought the law to be unjust and they are making this a test case, and that they are willing to be indicted for their actions, then that would be a case of civil disobediance.

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Stephen,

Is open revolt versus secret revolt the key difference here? The key is that breaking the law openly is okay  while breaking the law secretly is wrong?

I am not sure I can make the point any better than I already have, but I will try one more time.

The purpose of civil disobediance is to use the act of breaking a law as a test case to challenge the law. After committing the act one submits oneself to the rule of law and is fully prepared to take any legal consequences that ensue. Such an act remains a tribute to the rule by law.

The purpose of jury nullification is to find a defendant innocent or guilty, not based upon the law but based on whether or not one is in agreement with the law. It is an act of dispensing justice as one sees fit, rather than abiding by the rule of law. Such an act remains a tribute to anarchy.

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Fifi,

Even in the US, many laws are unjust. Ordinarily, you should obey unjust laws even if that means that you are being unjust to specific individuals in the process.

Who do you think you are to oppose the law anyway? What is your individual judgement when matched against the collective wisdom? I once read a post by a so called objectivist who wanted to go through red lights, because he judged it was safe to do so.

The bigger picture is that you benefit from the rule of law. If a few individuals have to be sacrificed, that is a price that is worth paying.

If you do decide to pit your individual judgement of right and wrong against that of the popularly elected legislature, then you must do so in open revolt. While this will often cause the legal system to act against you and to continue deliver the injustice you sought to prevent, it will have the effect of changing the world to be a better place. This is a noble goal to which you should be willing to "sacrifice" the two individuals -- yourself and the victim of the "unjust" law. In fact, it is not a sacrifice at all because while to hurt yourself, you will end up saving many other potential victims.

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What is your individual judgement when matched against the collective wisdom?
According to the Obectivist principles, the individual judgement IS held above the "collective wisdom", whatever that means. No matter how many people think that a victimless crime is immoral, I will never allow the "collective" to inferfere with my judgement that it is not.

If a few individuals have to be sacrificed, that is a price that is worth paying.

That is a disturbing statement. I think you must have meant it in some other sense. There is no justification for sacrificing a single person for any "price worth paying."

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That is a disturbing statement. I think you must have meant it in some other sense. There is no justification for sacrificing a single person for any "price worth paying."

"Sacrifice" is the wrong word. Sacrifice means destruction of value -- giving away something of higher value for something of less value. The question is what value you place on the rule of law. It is not good if the rights of an individual are mistakenly restricted by the application of a law, but it is equally bad if the rights of another individual are mistakenly restricted by not applying the law. Since rights cannot conflict, someone is in error, and that would include the person who holds "this law is immoral". In matters of law, someone must have their rights taken away -- the only question is, who?

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There is one factual mistake in this thread, the idea that jury nullification is illegal. Juror’s cannot be charged with contempt with court for nullification, and cannot discuss what was said so as to incriminate anyone even if it were against the law. One of the odd contradictions of the American legal system is even though jury nullification is legal, it is not always legal for the lawyer to tell the jury they have such an option.

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Whether through jury nullification or through forcing a hung jury... when one does not cooperate with the law, one places one's judgement above that of the collective (as manifested in the law).

The only difference is how one *acts*.

Jury nullification results in "justice now", for the specific case at hand. It may result in a furor in the press and populace and may ultimately result in a change of law.

A hung jury nullification may delay injustice for the specific case at hand. It may result in a furor in the press and populace and may ultimately result in a change of law. It may or may not result in justice for the specific case at hand.

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There is one factual mistake in this thread, the idea that jury nullification is illegal. Juror’s cannot be charged with contempt with court for nullification, and cannot discuss what was said so as to incriminate anyone even if it were against the law. One of the odd contradictions of the American legal system is even though jury nullification is legal, it is not always legal for the lawyer to tell the jury they have such an option.

There's a subtle (really, totally academic) distinction between the fact that the law does requires a juror to vote guity if certain facts hold, and the fact that the law has no ability to enforce the requirement. [i don't actually know what would happen if a juror refused to render any judgment]. So the requirement is rhetorical, and misleading since words like "must" when uttered by a judge imply an empty "or else".

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This link may shed some light on this discussion.

http://www.fija.org/

I have always accecpted the idea of the fully informed juror - and have been dismissed as a juror on two occasions because of it. The funny part is that I had no qualms about the particular law in question in either case. The system just doesn't want informed jurors around.

Best wishes.

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