True or False?
When you sit on a jury, you may vote on the verdict according to your own conscience.
"TRUE", you say --and you’re right. But then . . .
 Why do most judges tell you that you may consider "only the facts"?
--that you are not to let your conscience, opinion of the law, or the motives of the defendant affect your decision?
In a trial by jury, the judge’s job is to referee the trial and provide neutral legal advice to the jury, beginning with a full and truthful explanation of a juror’s rights and responsibilities.
But judges rarely "fully inform" jurors of their rights, especially their power to judge the law itself and to vote on the verdict according to conscience. Instead, they end up assisting the prosecution by dismissing any prospective juror who will admit to knowing about this right --starting with anyone who also admits having qualms with the law.
We can only speculate on why: Distrust of the citizen jury? Disrespect for the idea of government "of, by, and for the people"? Unwillingness to part with power? Ignorance of all the rights and powers that trial jurors necessarily acquire upon assuming the responsibility of judging a case? Actual concern that trial jurors might "misuse" their power if told about it?
 How can people get fair trials if the jurors are told they can’t use their conscience?
Many people don’t get fair trials. Too often, jurors actually end up apologizing to the person they’ve convicted --or to the community for acquitting when evidence of guilt seems perfectly clear.
Something is definitely wrong when the jurors feel ashamed of their verdict. They should never have to explain "I wanted to use my conscience, but the judge made us take an oath to apply the law as given to us, like it or not."
Too often, jurors who try to vote their consciences are talked out of it by other jurors who don’t know their rights, or who believe they are requited to reach a unanimous verdict because the judge "said so".
If jurors were supposed to judge "only the facts", their job could be done by computer. It is precisely because people have feelings, opinions, wisdom, experience, and conscience that we depend upon jurors, not upon machines, to judge court cases.
When it’s your turn to serve, remember:
 you may --and should --vote your conscience;
 you cannot be forced to obey a "juror’s oath";
 it is your responsibility to "hang" the jury with your vote if you disagree with the other jurors!
THE RIGHT DECISION - WHEN THE LAW IS WRONG
What is the Fully Informed Jury Asssociation--"FIJA"?
"FIJA" is a national jury-education organization which both educates juries and promotes laws to require that judges resume telling trial jurors "the whold truth" about their rights, or at least to allow lawyers to tell them. FIJA believes "liberty and justice for all" won’t return to America until the citizans are again fully informed of their power as jurors, and routinely put it to good use.
Resume? Did judges fully inform jurors in the past?
Yes, it was normal procedure in the early days of our country, and in colonial times. And if the judges didn’t tell them, the defense attorney very often would. The Nation’s Founders understood that trials by juries of ordinary citizens, fully informed of their powers as jurors, would confine the government to its proper role as the servant, not the master, of the people.
John Adams, our second president, had this to say about the juror: "It is not only his right, but his duty...to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court."
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, put it like this: "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."
These sound like voices of hard experience. Were they?
Yes. Only four decades earlier, a jury had established freedom of the press in the colonies by finding John Peter Zenger not guilty of seditious libel. He had been arrested and charged for printing critical --but true --news stories about the Governnor of New York Colony.
"Truth is no defense", the court told the jury! But the jury decided to reject bad law, and acquitted.
Why? Because defense attorney Andrew Hamilton informed the jury of its rights: he related the story of William Penn’s trial --of the courageous London jury which refused to find him guilty of preaching Quaker religious doctrine (at that time an illegal religion). His jurors stood by their verdict even though held without food, water, or toilet facilities for four days.
The jurors were fined and imprisoned for refusing to convict William Penn --until England’s highest court acknowledged their right to reject both law and fact, and to find a verdict according to conscience. It was excerise of that right in Penn’s trial which eventually led to recognition of free speech, freedom of religion, and of peaceable assembly as individual rights.
American colonial juries regularly thwarted bad law sent over from mother England. Britain then retaliated by restricting both trial by jury and other rights which juries had won or protected. Result? The Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution!
Afterwards, to forever protect all the individual rights they’d fought for from future attacks by government, the Founderes of these United States in three places included trial by jury --meaning tough, fully informed juries --in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
"Bad law" --special interest legislation which tramples our rights --is no longer sent here from Britian. But out own legislatures keep us well supplied . . . That is why today, more than ever, we need juries to protect us!
Why haven’t I heard about "jury rights" before now?
In the late 1800’s, powerful special-interest groups inspired a series of judicial decisions which tried to limit jury rights. While no court has yet dared to deny that juries can "nullify" or "veto" a law, or can bring in a "general verdict", some --hypocitically --have held that jurors need not be told about these rights!
Today, it’s a rare and courageous attorney who will risk being cited for contempt for telling jurors their powers without first obtaining the judge’s approval.
However, jury veto power is still recognized. In 1972 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the trial jury has an " . . . unreviewable and irreversible power . . . to acquit in disregard of the instruction on the law given by the trial judge. The pages of history shine upon instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge; for example, acquittals under the fugitive slave law." (473F. 2d 1113)
What will happen when proposed FIJA laws are passed?
Three good things:
(1) Unjustly accused persons and their trial jurors, as well as crime victims and their communities, will more often be satisfied that the jury system actually delivers justice.
(2) Legislators will again receive regular feedback from ordinary people, sitting on juries, as well as the usual high pressure from special-interest groups, lobbyists and other political sources. With better information, they can better represent the people.
(3) When the laws of the land respect the will of the people, as revealed by their jury verdicts, people, in turn, will show more respect for the law.
BE AWARE! Thousands of harmless citizens are in prison only because their trial juries were not fully informed, and the U.S. now leads the world in percent of population behind bars! More prisons are being built than ever before --for those whose "crime" is to upset the government "master", and not to victimize anyone.
BE ALERT! Consider every day to be Jury Rights Day. Be wary and or critical of any proposals to "streamline" the jury system, or to create jurisdictions or regulation which "do not require" trial by jury (two of the means by which your power as a juror is stolen!)
BE ACTIVE! Let other people know what you now know about jury veto power! Advise them all that before a jury deliberates, each member should consider:
• Is this a good law?
• If so, is the law being justly applied?
• Was the Bill of Rights honored in the arrest?
• Will the punishment fit the crime?
As a juror, if you answer "no" to any of these questions, your vote should be "not guilty!"
--FOR MORE INFORMATION--
Locally, singlehandedly and in groups, FIJA activists hand out educational materials in front of courthouses on jury selection days. In some states they press for FIJA Legislation. Many sport FIJA t-shirts or bumper stickers, show or broadcast FIJA's public service announcements, or "speak FIJA" on local talk shows. And every September 5, activists around the Nation celebrate Jury Rights Day (which has now been proclaimed official by several state governors.)
You can help locally, contact:
Fully Informed Jury Association
You’ll receive a free "Jury Power Information Kit" when you call 800-TEL-JURY and record your name and address. Or call FIJA National at 406-793-5550
To join FIJA National, send $15 (basic membership) to:
P.O. Box 59
Helmville, MT 59843
We’ll send the "Kit", your membership card, and the next four issues of our quarterly newsletter, the FIJActivist.