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Fully Informed Jury Association
6 years ago
| Surprise Me

Don't worry! Be happy! Look at jury service as an opportunity to "do good" for yourself andothers. It's your chance to help the justice system deliver justice, which is absolutelyessential to a free society.

Also, you can do more "political good" as a juror than in practically any other way as acitizen: your vote on the verdict is also a measure of public opinion on the law itself--an opinion which our lawmakers are likely to take seriously. Short of being elected to office yourself, you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.

However, unless you are fully informed of your powers as a juror, you may be manipulated by the less powerful players in the courtroom into delivering the verdict they want, instead of what justice would require. That is why this was written--to give you information that you're not likely to receive from the attorneys, or even from the judge.

Justice may depend upon your being chosen to serve, so here are some "words to the wise" about how to make it through voir dire, the jury selection process: You may feel that answering some of the questions asked of you would compromise your right to privacy. If you refuse to answer them, it will probably cost you your chance to serve. Likewise, if you "talk too much"--especially if you admit to knowing your rights and powers as a juror, as explained below, or that you have qualms about the law itself in the case at hand, or reveal that you're bright, educated, or are interested in serving! So, from voir dire to verdict, let your conscience be your guide.

Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or in any Supreme Court decision requires jurors to take an oath to follow the law as the judge explains it or, for that matter, authorizes the judge to "instruct" the jury at all. Judges provide their interpretation of the law, but you may also do your own thinking. Keep in mind that no juror's oath is enforceable, and that you may regard all "instructions" as advice.

Understanding the full context in which an illegal act was committed is essential todeciding whether the defendant acted rightly or wrongly. Strict application of the law may produce a guilty verdict, but what about justice? If the jurors agree that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused did act as charged, then "context becomes everything" in reaching a verdict you can live with. Credit or blame for the verdict will go to you, so be sure to ask the judge how you can pose questions to witnesses, so that you can learn the complete context, should the lawyers fail to bring it out.

When they believe justice requires it, jurors can refuse to apply the law. Jurors have the power to consider whether the law itself is wrong (including whether it is "unconstitutional"), or is being applied for political reasons.  Is the defendant being singled out as "an example" in order to demonstrate government muscle? Were the defendant's constitutional rights violated during the arrest?


Much of today's "crime wave" consists of victimless crimes--crimes against the state, or "political crimes", so if you feel that a verdict of guilty would give the government too much power, or help keep a bad law alive, just remember that you can refuse to apply any law that violates your conscience.

Prosecutors often "multiply charges" so the jury will assume the defendant "must be guilty of something". But one of the great mistakes a jury can make is to betray both truth and conscience by compromising. If you believe the defendant is not guilty of anything, then vote "not guilty" on all counts.

You can't be punished for voting according to your conscience. Judges (and other jurors) often pressure hold-out jurors into abandoning their true feelings and voting with the majority " avoid the expense of a hung jury and mistrial". But you don't have to give in. Why? Because...

Hung juries are "OKAY". If voting your conscience should lead to a hung jury, not to worry, you're doing the responsible thing. There is no requirement that you must reach a verdict. And the jury you hang may be significant as one of a series of hung juries sending messages to the legislature that the law you're working with has problems, and it's time for a change.  If you want to reach consensus, however, one possible way is to remind your fellow jurors that...



6 years ago

Jurors have the power to reduce charges against the defendant, provided that "lesser included offenses" exist in law (ask the judge to list and explain them, and the range of potential punishments that go with each). Finding guilt at a lower level than charged can be appropriate in cases where the defendant has indeed victimized someone, but not so seriously as the original charges would indicate.  And, if it will be up to the judge to decide the sentence, it's within the power of the jury to find the defendant guilty of a reduced charge which will, at most, entail the amount of punishment it thinks is appropriate.

The Jury Power Page hopes the above information helps you to find a verdict that you believe is conscientious and just, a verdict which you can therefore be proud to discuss with friends, family, legal professionals, the community or the media, should any of them want to know what happened, how, and why.



Fully Informed Jury Arrest
6 years ago

Julian Heicklen, who was indicted for jury tampering in November for distributing pamphlets about the jury's power and responsibility to judge both the law and the fact, was arrested in his home this morning.


The filming of Heicklen doing his jury-power thing inspired a bogus arrest and later court victory for the right to film on courthouse property.


I blogged the other week about a Florida's judge's attempts to prohibit the passing of pamphlets on this same topic near his courthouse. The Fully Informed Jury Association is planning legal action against that prohibition, as per a press release they emailed me yesterday which read in part:


Pursuant to an administrative order issued by State Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., barring FIJA volunteers from distributing literature at or near the Orlando, Florida State Courthouse, the jury education group FIJA has retained the legal services of Florida ACLU and Walters Law Group....


Confident that the order has no standing before the First Amendment, FIJA has retained the most capable representation available: Florida ACLU’s seasoned legal experts join with Walters Law Group in representing FIJA.


Jurors can nullify 'bad laws'
6 years ago

6 years ago

I'm one of those lucky people who gets called each and every couple of years.  I have never been seated on a jury, though.  I have been asked questions by lawyers - and they didn't like my answers.


The last time I was called, I was asked if I would have any trouble sending this wisp of a 20 - something male to prison for getting caught with drugs.  The kid must have weighted 98 lbs. soaking wet.  I said that I would not, under any circumstances, vote to send him to prison, even if I thought he was guilty.  I pointed out to the lawyer that I know what happens to young men in prison - and it's horrifying. I said that they are the sexual victims of older, bigger prisoners. No way would I condone that for the perpetrator of a victimless crime (he wasn't even being accused of selling). Then I said, "Look, he didn't kill anybody..."


That's when they asked me to leave.

This post was modified from its original form on 20 Apr, 16:29

This post was modified from its original form on 20 Apr, 16:33
6 years ago

Angelica, first, I think that's a lousy question to ask a prospective juror (I thought it was supposed to be a jury of 'your peers').  I would have wanted to answer the same way, I'm sure.

6 years ago

Yeah, I know. That was a question from the DA.  Plus - the kid's drugs were recreational.  He wasn't selling.  And they wanted to throw the book at him. Why? What is that supposed to accomplish?  I couldn't help but notice that there was no one there with him but his lawyer. No family.


Plus - how's this - the judge said he wanted this case finished before everyone went home for dinner.  We all had to agree to that.  I found that astounding.

6 years ago

I hope that judge has lost his job by now


Really, I don't know how a judge, someone who is supposed to bring 'justice' can sit 'on high' and commit UNjustice in so many cases just like the one you're talking about Angelica.


No, it serves no purpose whatsoever to enforce victimless crimes - except job security for those who enforce, prosecute, defend and imprison.  It's just so embarrassing our society consents to this.  So embarrassing.

6 years ago

Agreed.  Couldn't have said it better. 


When I began to tell the DA that I couldn't agree to a guilty verdict based upon the possibility of harsh sentencing, the DA asked me, "Why?  You aren't imposing the sentence. The Judge will.  You can go home and forget about it." 


I said, "No.  I wouldn't ever be able to forget about it." 


It's like a chess game to them.  Winning is everything.

6 years ago

Well, if/when I'm ever called again I think it will serve everyone best to be more 'serving' with my answers to the selection questions.  After all, that is why we are called - to 'serve' our civic duty  It's not my fault that frankness doesn't or can't always best serve the community, so in this way being more 'servile' is more productive - and honest.


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