It may very well be that an individual’s last defense against legislated law that attacks the very essence of our natural rights as citizens of this United States of America is the jury of our peers.
Let me illustrate: Say for instance that the State of Montana, under pressure of good intentioned well mannered citizens passes a piece of legislation outlawing the picking of noses in public settings such as on public streets or businesses open to the public (stores, bars, schools, etc.). In order to put teeth into this legislation the law states “Any adult over the age of 18 convicted of this offense will receive no less than 90 days in jail combined with a $500 fine for their first offence, 120 days incarceration and a $1,000 fine for a second offence, and one year in jail plus a $10,000 fine for any subsequent offense. One might think that this would be a stupid law, but stupid laws now exist all over America.
Now, let us say that Margaret Smith was standing on First Street in front of a popular restaurant without a handkerchief looks around and not seeing anyone on the street and no vehicle approaching decides to pick her runny nose and wipe the detritus on the leg of her trousers. Unbeknownst to her are 26 people sitting in the restaurant aghast watching this woman blatantly ignore this law of decency and disrespect of other law abiding citizens by openly and flagrantly wiping the detritus on her clothing. Several of these witnesses grab their cell phones and call the police, who show up and arrest the scofflaw, take her in for booking, and release her on a $500 bail since it was her fist known offense.
Let’s now move on to Ms. Smith’s court date, and since she had pleaded “not guilty” thus given a jury trial, Smith is waiting for the jury to announce the verdict. What the jury has heard in the course of this trial are 26 witnesses to this “crime” and several witnesses claiming that Ms. Smith has a reasonably “good character.”
The judge has (as almost all judges always do) informed the jury to deliberate the law as written and decide whether or not the defendant has “broken” this law.
Next, place yourself on this jury. How would you vote?
For most jurors, even though the penalties seem extreme, this would look like a clear case of a citizen ignoring the law and therefore would vote “guilty.”
What most people do not know is that a juror has the right to nullify any law that they deem wrong or unconstitutional on any particular case on which they sit. And, further more, very few judges do not or will not inform the jury that they have a right to challenge any law by a “not guilty” verdict.
A good example: During the prohibition of alcohol, jury after jury acquitted individuals and businesses charged with violating laws prohibiting the use and distribution of alcohol. In fact it became so expensive to arrest and charge those who ignored prohibition because of these juries that congress repealed the 16th Amendment that prohibited the sale and use of alcohol.
Our judges should always fully inform their juries of this important fact that the jury is the defendant’s last hope in fighting injustice.
As I see it.
David A. Merrick