Juror Rights Activists Seek to End the Culture of Incarcerat 
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Juror Rights Activists Seek to End the Culture of Incarceration

Juror Rights Activists Seek to End the Culture of Incarceration

By: James Babb

Unless you have experienced the “justice” system first hand, it’s hard to appreciate how biased the system is towards the prosecution. Every step of the process has been methodically refined to generate convictions and revenue for the prison industrial complex. The incarceration statistics reveal an extreme civil rights crisis. According to The Sentencing Project, “the United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years.” Millions more are on probation or other court supervision. According to the NAACP, one in 31 adults in the US is under some form of correctional control. 

Despite public support for cannabis legalization, they keep dreaming up new victimless “crimes.” Depending on your location, you can now go to jail for selling milk, watering your lawn (or not watering your lawn), growing a garden in the front yard, collecting rainwater, refusing to buy health insurance, having flares or pepper spray in your trunk, minting silver currency, and so on. The need for a remedy has never been greater.

This “culture of incarceration” has been particularly devastating to minority communities. Incredibly, if current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. 

Arguably, this trend represents the greatest civil rights crisis since chattel slavery, yet solutions seem scarce. Many have pondered how to end mass incarceration. We’ve tried voting. We’ve tried lawsuits. We’ve tried running for office. We’ve tried civil disobedience. Yet, prison populations keep growing. There is one option left that many consider to be the final peaceful safeguard against wrongful imprisonment and government tyranny. That option is jury nullification.

Every juror has the power to say "not guilty" if they disagree with the law. Every juror has the power to judge the facts of the case, the law itself, and whether or not the law is being misapplied. Also referred to as conscientious acquittal or juror vet, this is the power of jury nullification, a centuries-old tradition that goes back to the Magna Carta, and a cornerstone of our justice system. 

Sadly, many people do not understand their rights if selected for jury duty. It’s no surprise that judges and prosecutors prefer that jurors remain uninformed of their right to nullify an unjust or misapplied law. Judges have regularly threatened defendants merely for mentioning jury nullification during their trial. 

Distributing pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association at courthouses is the traditional way to inform potential jurors about their rights. Professor Julian Heicklen’s nationwide pamphleting efforts are legendary. His work has been an inspiration to many. Pamphleting at courthouses has been done thousands of times without incident, but occasionally, the activity draws the attention of “authority” figures that choose to interfere.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey even called court house pamphleting an “attempt to scuttle the judicial process” despite the fact that it is 100% legal, and the information distributed is 100% factual. Even the New Jersey Constitution clearly states "the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the fact” yet Delehey forbids mentioning this fact in “his” courtroom. Florida Chief Judge Belvin Perry issued a proclamation declaring pamphleting illegal anywhere near “his” courthouse. He even sent a man to jail for five months for violating his edict.

"The modern trend of keeping jurors in the dark about their full authority unfortunately has been encouraged by a series of court rulings enabling judges to refrain from informing or even to misinform jurors about their options," said Kirsten Tynan, executive director of the Fully Informed Jury Association. "Jurors are not required to check their consciences at the courthouse door, but they will not hear this once they are inside. In fact, a prospective juror who, if asked during voir dire, will not agree to abandon their conscience and uphold law they find unjust or unjustly applied will almost certainly be excluded from the jury," Tynan said.

Beginning in October of 2013, a campaign was started to reach a much wider audience than is possible with mere pamphleting. Grassroots funded billboards promoting Jury Nullification were placed in high traffic areas near courthouses. The Washington D.C. Metro ad campaign was wildly successful thanks to complaints from prosecutors, which triggered a media avalanche. Television, radio, newspapers and blogs all reported on the campaign and informed the masses about Jury Nullification.

In the summer of 2014, a campaign was started in Phoenix Light Rail stations, which was also widely reported on. Activists are currently working to place billboards in other major cities around the country such as Los Angeles, Springfield, Massachusetts, and New York City.

The campaign has not been without challenges. Initial funding was organized throughGoFundMe.com, which suddenly cancelled active campaigns without explanation (fundraising is now done through the FreedomsPhoenix funding center). Many of the best sign locations are controlled by local governments which only allow public service messages from the government. Getting approval for ad content can take months for transit shelter and rail station locations.

Educating the public about Jury Nullification remains a vital mission for activists seeking to end the culture of incarceration. Both mass market advertising and one-to-one street outreach offer a high rate of return on our investment. Anyone can participate. Visit the Fully Informed Jury Association online at www.fija.org to get involved. Download some pamphlets or sponsor an ad campaign. If you or a loved one is ever on the receiving end of the “justice” system, you’ll be glad for a fully informed jury.

 

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