Liberty and Justice by Juries
JURY RIGHTS SUMMARY
CITIZEN CONTROL OF GOVERNMENT THROUGH FULLY INFORMED JURIES
Many Americans are looking for a way to halt the unchecked growth of government in the United States. The list of options being tried include term limits, line item veto, balanced budget amendment, initiative and referendum, campaign finance reform, and third parties.
Thomas Jefferson gave us his opinion on the subject when he said, "I consider trial by jury as the ONLY anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." (emphasis added)
The kind of juries Jefferson was thinking of were discussed in Jacob’s Law Dictionary (1782): "Juries … are not fineable for giving their verdict contrary to the evidence, or against the direction of the court; for the law supposes the jury may have some other evidence than what is given in court, and they may not only find things of their own knowledge, but they go according to their consciences."
Jefferson believed that juries can hold governments in check because they have the power and the right to find verdicts of "not guilty" when they think the law is unjust - even when the facts say that the accused has broken the law.
Up until about 1900, judges routinely told juries in criminal trials that they had the right to vote their conscience. In the twentieth century, with few changes in law, the judicial practice has evolved to a completely different stance.
Today, in trials involving controversial laws, during the jury selection process, the judge will strike "for cause" anyone who states that he or she disagrees with the law. They go even further by telling juries that they are only judges of the facts. Judges tell juries that even if they disagree with the law, if the accused is found to have broken it, the juries must convict. Finally, the judges can hold anyone in contempt of court who tries to inform juries of their right to judge the law.
At the end of World War II, in the Nuremberg trials, Americans told Germans that they should have followed their conscience instead of their government when it did wrong. Yet, in America’s courtrooms today, judges routinely tell jurors to follow the government, not their conscience. This courtroom practice is fundamentally un-American.
The mission of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) is to let Americans know about this forgotten tool to keep government from overstepping its legitimate role in our society. Lone Star FIJA is also working to change the law to allow the accused (and their attorneys) to tell juries (without challenge by the judge or prosecution) of their power to vote their conscience, and to prevent judges from striking prospective jurors because they disagree with the law.
FIJA attracts Americans across the political spectrum from civil libertarians on the left to limited government advocates on the right.
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