Your Right and Duty to Acquit
by Bill St. Clair
If you serve on a jury in a criminal trial, the judge will likely tell you that his job is to interpret the law, and to inform you about it, and that your job is only to determine whether the defendant did the thing of which (s)he was accused. Wrong.
The judge is the referee of the proceedings. His job is to maintain order, and to ensure that witnesses are sworn in, and properly questioned and cross-examined.
The job of a jury is to protect citizens from the awesome power of the state. If the state does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, if the statute allegedly violated does not involve a real crime, if the punishment is too severe, it is your right and duty to acquit, denying the state the power to cage a human being like an animal.
Crime is the intentional harm of the person or property of a non-consenting sentient being. Period. If an action harms nobody, it is not a crime. If the person harmed consented to that harm, it is not a crime. If no harm was intended, it is not a crime. No matter how many people voted to criminalize that action, it is not a crime. As a juror, you have a right and duty to acquit a defendant so accused.
Defendants are innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt in your mind that the defendant intentionally caused direct harm, it is your right and duty to acquit.
Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. If you think the punishment is too severe for the crime of which the defendant is accused, it is your right and duty to acquit. If the judge is hamstrung by a mandatory minimum sentence, and you think that minimum is excessive, it is your right and duty to acquit.
Ours is a constitutional republic. Our governments have only the powers that are specifically granted by their constitutions. If the Constitution of the state in which the defendant is accused, or, in federal court, the US Constitution, does not explicitly grant authority to criminalize the alleged crime, you have a right and duty to acquit.
In federal court, this nullifies automatically every drug statute (drugs are not mentioned in the Constitution), every gun statute (Second Amendment: “…, the right of the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”), every licensing and registration statute (neither “license” nor “registration” appears anywhere in the US Constitution), and much more.
Prior restraint is the criminalizing of an action that might cause harm. If there was no actual harm to an actual person or their property, there is no crime. You have a right and duty to acquit.
To fully acquit a defendant, the jury must vote unanimously. But the defendant cannot be imprisoned unless the jury votes unanimously to convict. A retrial, with a unanimous verdict, is required for that. If you think the defendant is innocent, try to convince the other jurors to acquit. But if you can’t do that, vote to acquit and cause a mistrial. Make the prosecutor go through another trial before he is allowed his punishment.
As a juror, you are the last protection an innocent person has against being caged like an animal. No victim? Punishment too harsh? Guilt not proven beyond a reasonable doubt? You have a right and duty to acquit. Do it.
For more information, visit the Fully Informed Jury Association at FIJA.org
Copyright © Bill St. Clair, 14 May, 2013