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items tagged with Juries

How Jury Trials Could Have Softened the Blow of the Financial Crisis
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2015-05-13 14:10:33

For most of our history, lawyers have thought of themselves as the unofficial fourth “arm” of the government. This view is more understandable from lawyers’ past role as “trial advocates” than from the present relationship between the bench and bar, which reduces the significance lawyers have in the administration of justice.

Under the law in effect in most colonies at the time our Constitution was written, lawyers were advocates who had the right to argue the merits of their clients’ cases directly to a jury. Juries, not judges, had the right to decide most cases as they saw fit both with regard to the facts and the law. As the Supreme Court noted in 1943’s Galloway V. United States: “In 1789, juries occupied the principal place in the administration of justice. They were frequently in both criminal and civil cases the arbiters not only of fact but of law.”

The king’s denial of the right to a trial by jury was one of the reasons justifying separation from England in the Declaration of Independence.

Many believed the right to a jury trial was not adequately guaranteed in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution. Anti-federalists urged rejection of the Constitution unless it was amended to include a Bill of Rights, which secured the right to trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases. Patrick Henry, a lawyer and well-known patriot at that time, argued: “Trial by jury is the best appendage of freedom. ... No appeal can now be made as to fact in common-law suits. The unanimous verdict of impartial men cannot be reversed.” This result was not because the jury would always be right, but because the result came from impartial members of the community.


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“A Law Unto Themselves”: Jury Nullification and the Deck Stacked Against It
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Feature Stories

2010-07-22 11:46:52

(Editor's note: "Fully Informed Juries: A New Hope for Freedom," Don Doig's commentary on jury nullification, can be found here.)

Like most people, Mike Angelos was surprised to learn about the power of juries to disregard the law. "The courts are really stacked against people," he said.

And he's trying to change that.

For more than a year, Angelos (a retired electrical engineer) and three other people have been handing out information regarding jury rights, including the power to return a verdict of "not guilty" if jurors believe that the law itself is unjust -- regardless of the facts of the case. This is commonly called "jury nullification" of laws, and the effort to spread the word about that power is known as the "fully informed jury" movement.

"The message we try to get to people is that it's the jury's right and duty to judge the law -- laws are arbitrary, bad, and misapplied -- as well as the facts of the case," Angelos said. "This was a new concept to me."


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New Hope for Freedom: Fully Informed Juries
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2010-07-13 11:57:14

(Editor's note: A feature article on jury nullification -- "'A Law Unto Themselves': Jury Nullification and the Deck Stacked Against It" -- can be found here.)

With the resurgence of the ideals of free markets and individual liberty throughout the world, an English and American common-law tradition is being resurrected in the United States that has profound implications for emerging democracies. This idea, incorporated into the constitutions of nations, can provide a lasting barrier against the assumption of arbitrary power by government.

The founders of the United States were worried that the government might someday grow too powerful, and pass laws that would violate the rights of the very people the government was created to protect: ordinary, peaceful citizens. They knew there was one institution that might hold the government in check: the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers.

How can a jury protect people from arbitrary and unjust prosecution, or from bad laws? The legislature creates laws. Aren't citizens supposed to obey them, and lobby their legislators for any changes that need to be made?

Traditionally, U.S. citizens have had a more substantial and direct means by which to protect themselves from oppressive laws. The founders of the United States realized that the temptations of power were too great to leave it to the legislature, executive, and judicial branches of government to define citizens' rights. Ultimately, citizens acting in accordance with the dictates of individual conscience were to have final say. The people would have a veto power over bad laws.


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