When Julian Heicklen was arrested for informing jurors of their rights I gave a brief overview of jury nullification. Nullification is a power juries have that the government has been trying to keep secret because not doing so would allow the people to effectively reign in government power. Information regarding jury nullification has been creeping out after the arrest of Mr. Heicklen and is now hitting the New York Times:
IF you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote “not guilty” — even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer.
One thing to note is the right of jury nullification doesn’t come from the Bill of Rights but from the fact juries aren’t punished for their verdict. If you’re a juror and find somebody not guilty you are not required to justify your ruling nor can you be punished for voting “the wrong way.” Besides that point the article is a good read. Unfortunately if you don’t inform yourself about jury powers you’ll never hear about them thanks to the Supreme Court:
In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that jurors had no right, during trials, to be told about nullification. The court did not say that jurors didn’t have the power, or that they couldn’t be told about it, but only that judges were not required to instruct them on it during a trial. Since then, it’s been up to scholars like me, and activists like Mr. Heicklen, to get the word out.
When the Supreme Court said judges were not required to inform juries of their rights it was interpreted as judges being able to make up any line of bullshit they want while never informing jurors what they can and can’t do. Judges usually inform juries that they’re required to uphold the letter of the law, an idea that’s entirely false. This is irrelevant because judges, like police officers, can legally lie to you all they want (but it’s a crime if you lie to them).