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There's a button that some wear on election day. It says "I voted." It's as if voting makes them feel powerful.

But the vote they cast typically isn't for a specific law - it's usually for a politician who they believe will enact and enforce laws reflective of their own ideology. One of the problems that manifests from such a process is that politicians don't typically keep their promises or do what they say they will do. Many times, the laws that are ultimately implemented are against the very values for which you voted. So, although you might feel powerful from voting, your power doesn't get you very far in accomplishing what you want.

Throughout history, politicians have created laws that are not agreeable with our ideals (e.g., slavery, prohibition, marijuana for medical use). For the most part, even when you vote for new politicians, laws that are "on the books" rarely change. Ask any police officer or judge and they will tell you that, if you break the law, even if the majority considers it morally wrong, you're going to jail.

But should we really be convicting people for breaking unjust laws? Jury nullification is the process by which jurors in criminal trials can refuse to convict a defendant because they believe it would be unjust. It has a long history of use. For example, people used to refuse to convict abolitionists who violated the Fugitive Slave Law. A juror who refuses to convict based on his belief that a law is unjust cannot be punished, and the defendant cannot be retried. So important did the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court think jury nullification was that he wrote "The jury has the right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy."

Do you think jury nullification is important? What are the ramifications of making jury nullification illegal? Should juries be allowed to judge the justice and fairness of the law? If more people knew about jury nullification, what do you think would happen? Do you agree with the prosecutor in this case?

Advocating for a controversial legal tactic known as jury nullification can get U.S. citizens prosecuted for jury tampering, according to one Manhattan prosecutor who's pursuing that very charge against a 79-year-old former chemistry professor.

Indicted last year, all Julian P. Heicklen says he was doing is handing out pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association near a courthouse. He wasn't targeting any specific jury or juror, and his activism has taken him to dozens of courthouses around the country, according to The New York Times.

Manhattan prosecutor Rebecca Mermelstein argued in a recent court filing examined by the paper that because he hoped to "target prospective jurors," he was tampering with the legal process.

"I'm not telling you to find anybody not guilty," he allegedly told an undercover officer. "But if there is a law you think is wrong then you should do that."

Essentially, he's right: Jury nullification is the right of citizens to nullify the application of laws the feel are unjust. During alcohol prohibition, nearly 60 percent of trials were nullified by jurors. Nullification was often used in cases involving the Alien and Sedition and Fugitive Slave Acts, but it was also common in the South, where it was used to stymie civil rights trials...

Unsurprisingly, Heicklen has asked the judge for a jury trial.

The prosecutor, also unsurprisingly, is opposed. Mermelstein wrote that Heicklen would just "urge a jury to [nullify] in a case against him," which, in her view, is "not protected by the First Amendment."

Prosecutor: Advocating jury nullification 'not protected by the First Amendment'


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Nov 30, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=671

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