Got Jury Duty? Consider This

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Written by Cato:

In the days since jurors in the Trayvon Martin case decided to let George Zimmerman live out the rest of his life as a free man, there’s been a lot of emotion and a lot of shaming society. Fair enough, but this post is not about shaming society, it’s about a lesson you can apply the next time you can’t get out of jury duty.

So, a kid armed with nothing but a bag of skittles was shot—to death—by a man who admittedly continued a vigilante’s hunt well after law enforcement was informed of the situation and told him to stop. Most sane individuals seem to believe that Martin’s death was a tragedy, and that justice was not fully served, though Zimmerman may have acted within the bounds of the law. But we — you and I — were neither jurors, nor Martin, nor Zimmerman. We just watched reports in the media and drew our own conclusions. We based them not just on the facts, but also on the ideas we hold about guns and race. Had we been in the court room, holding a man’s future in our hands, perhaps things wouldn’t seem so clear.
Jonathan Turley, an apologist for the jurors, seems to think you’d see things differently had you been in court:

“The fact is that this jury had little choice given the case presented by the prosecutors. This is why I predicted full acquittal before the case even went to the jury. The problem began at the start. Many of us criticized State Attorney Angela Corey for overcharging the case as second-degree murder. The decision to push the second-degree murder charge (while satisfying many in the public) was legally and tactically unwise. The facts simply did not support a claim beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted with intent and a ‘depraved mind, hatred, malice, evil intent or ill will.’ Had Corey charged manslaughter, the case might have turned out differently.”

He’s probably right, and maybe the jury made the right decision based on the law. But this jury could have disregarded the law to reach a more just outcome. Jury Nullification is “a sanctioned doctrine of trial proceedings wherein members of a jury disregard either the evidence presented or the instructions of the judge in order to reach a verdict based upon their own consciences.” It espouses the concept that jurors should be the judges of both law and fact.

“The traditional approach in U.S. court systems is for jurors to be the “triers of fact,” while the judge is considered the interpreter of law and the one who will instruct the jury on the applicable law. Jury nullification occurs when a jury substitutes its own interpretation of the law and/or disregards the law entirely in reaching a verdict. The most widely accepted understanding of jury nullification by the courts is one that acknowledges the power but not the right of a juror or jury to nullify the law.”

When jurors retire to deliberate, the judge gives them instructions about the law. But the law is just a tool we use to try to bring about justice, and sometimes the tools in the box are inadequate to get the job done.

No matter where your beliefs fall regarding this case, there is an important lesson here for every American: when you serve on a jury, you have the most direct power over the system that you will ever have. Your vote counts, and it is not bound to the law. The first question you probably want to ask yourself regarding your decision is not whether the person’s actions were legal, but what a just outcome might look like in this instance. If the law comports with that, good, uphold the law. If the law fails to that end, you should probably exercise your nullification power.

(picture by Matt Freedman)

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