Monday, March 10, 2008

Jury Nullification

Radley Balko over at Reason mag posted a blurb about jury nullification based on the statements of Ed Burns and Company (creators of the show "The Wire") from Time Magazine:

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren't fictional.

This set off a 300 comment discussion over at Patterico's Pontifications. It's a good back and forth that I would recommend reading. Patterico is a prosecutor in LA county, so take his perspective with a grain of salt.

I'm of the opinion that a jury has a duty to judge the law as well as the facts precisely for the reasons that the creators of "The Wire" give. Lawmakers create stupid laws all the time and one of the reasons that we have 1 in 100 Americans in jail now is because we have a criminal justice system that has moved away from letting juries decide the merits of the law and only judge the facts presented in a case.

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