Potential power of trial by jury

By Louis Zeno Lawrence, Prisoner of the Drug War

I am a prisoner of the war on drugs serving a 25 year sentence with no possibility of parole. I "committed" the "crime" of providing to other adult Americans their desired and freely paid for commodity of marijuana. Most of these adults are good, honest, productive citizens who simply enjoyed smoking marijuana.

The Problem: Our great country has strayed from­­or forgotten this very simple system we call liberty. The Question: How do we get back to liberty without joining the political circus or resorting to trying to outspend the lobbyists who bribe our public servants?

One Answer: A solution most citizens know little about because our judicial servants conceal it from us, and we certainly do not learn about it in school. This solution, and our rights is a Trial by Jury and its full potential power. This solution can be best explained concisely by quoting the late great constitutional lawyer, Lysander Spooner: "For more than six hundred years­­that is, since Magna Carta, in 1215 - there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused, but that it is also their right, and primary and paramount duty, to judge of the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating or resisting the execution of such laws.

"Unless such be the right and duty of jurors, it is plain that, instead of justice being a 'palladium of liberty'­­a barrier against the tyranny and oppression of the government­­they are really mere tools in its hands for carrying into execution any injustice and oppression it may desire to have executed."

One of the several reasons for Americas separation from Great Britain, listed within The Declaration of Independence, to quote: "For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:" (1776). Prior to this "depriving" juries sometimes acquitted, when according to their own conscience they felt that a law was unjust. This practice of jury nullification led to John Hancock's acquittal on "wine smuggling" charges in 1771. It was this case, among others, that led to the British Kings decision to end Common Law Trial by Jury and institute Courts of Admiralty. John Hancock's lawyer, John Adams, had this to say: "It is not only his right, but his duty . . . to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgement, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court."

When citizens act as jurors having the right to be a judge of the justice of the law, they are a very crucial part of the correct operation of our Constitution as originally designed and intended. Although by law, jurors still have the right to judge the law and some still do, most juries are not aware of the right they have as jurors.

Judges do not inform jurors of their rights, and in fact coerce brave and good lawyers into silence with the threat of losing their license to practice law if they do not "abide" by the "rules." Judges routinely withhold information pertaining to our rights, and few lawyers will risk bucking the system.

We as activists must end this ignorance and suppression at our courthouses, schools, and media outlets. We must start educating jurors and potential jurors to their constitutional rights and duties. It only takes one smart-stubborn juror of the twelve to stop a bad conviction. The founding fathers made this rule for a good reason­­majorities oppress minority views. This was the case over two hundred years ago, and it is still sad but true today. Punishable crimes should be absolutes, not contests between factions.

"Government wants to control us. To do that it must control juries. A educated juror cannot be controlled." (Minns,1998). To find out how you can as an individual or as a member of an activist group educate jurors legally at your local courthouse sidewalk.

Contact either
(1) the Fully Informed Jury Association at 1-800-TEL-JURY or www.fija.org or,
(2) contact one of your friendly local November Coalition Regional Leaders listed here.