For many white advocates, the term “jury nullification” has negative connotations. It brings to mind black murderers and rapists who are set free for want of a jury of their peers that will convict them. It reminds us of horrific murders where justice was not served.
But jury nullification is a tool that can be used for great good. American colonists rebelled against British tyranny in Bushel’s Case, where William Penn was found “not guilty” by a jury of his peers – even though there was no dispute that he had violated the law. Thus, jury nullification was among the important foundations of the United States.
Just as the British judge in Bushel’s Case was infuriated, so too are his spiritual descendants today. Washington DC prosecutors and judges are concerned that some modern Americans might follow the Bushel’s Case example and vote according to their conscience. From the Washington Times:
The illuminated billboard in the Judiciary Square Metro station near the F Street entrance was strategically placed.
Prospective jurors who take the subway to D.C. Superior Court and exit near the National Building Museum see these words: “Good jurors nullify bad laws” and “You have the right to ‘hang’ the jury with your vote if you cannot agree with other jurors.”
Since the billboard went up this month, District prosecutors have been worried that the message could sway their cases. In the past week alone, they have asked judges in three cases to ensure that jurors had neither seen nor been influenced by the billboard.
The billboard is part of a growing national campaign to encourage jurors who disagree with a law, or think a punishment is too harsh, to vote for acquittal. Kirsten Tynan of the Montana-based Fully Informed Jury Association, whose name and Web address is included on the billboard, said the nonprofit group generally challenges crimes it calls “victimless,” such as vandalism by graffiti or gun possession.
James Babb, a Philadelphia-based graphics artist who organized a fundraising campaign to put up the billboard, said he raised $3,000 in about a week through Facebook and other social-media sites. He said he is concerned about laws that he thinks are too restrictive.
Tynan and Babb have my utmost respect for their actions, performed like true Americans. I’ve never had the opportunity to practice jury nullification; I’ve never been picked. Perhaps I’m on a blacklist of people who aren’t allowed to serve on juries. But no doubt some of you readers will be picked some day. When that day comes, remember to vote “innocent” if the law is unjust or the punishment is unjust.