I’ve never been called to be on a jury, although I’m eligible and have never tried to dodge a call. As a matter of principle, I oppose compulsory service, but if I had the opportunity I’d exercise it, since I might be able to help justice happen or avoid an injustice. I’m less susceptible to peer pressure than the large majority of people; that’s too obvious to count as bragging.
I might, in some cases, be able to prevent conviction under an unjust law, and I was pleased to read this account by a juror that refused to convict a New Hampshire man of marijuana possession. Reason.com provides an account of the nullification. Doug Darrell is a Rastafarian who reportedly was growing 15 marijuana plants for his own religious and medical use. These were discovered by a National Guard helicopter that was flying below the FAA-designated safe altitude to snoop on people’s back yards and get people thrown in jail for what they were growing there. The judge had instructed the jury that “even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case.” The jury acted accordingly.
The juror, identified only as Cathleen, said:
We put the facts aside to give nullification consideration. The written definition was requested and posted on a chalk board. Some discussion occurred regarding what would be extraordinary enough to nullify. Several law and order proponents (not to say we all don’t want some law and order) had serious concerns about the precedent a not guilty verdict would set. What kind of chaos would ensue if this became common? Would finding this defendant not guilty give him a pass to keep on breaking the law? One by one the responses were offered and chewed upon. I fully expected a deadlock. One juror even felt relief at the prospect on the chance that the prosecution would retry.
The turning point was when one of the jurors declared that after reading the definition on nullification its reliance on “conscientious feeling” and “fair result”. It nowhere said extraordinary. And thus the last three jurors agreed that they could nullify.
One of the best defenses against a government that tries to ruin people’s lives is the simple refusal to give it your support. That’s what Cathleen and the other jurors did, and even if it made a difference only in one person’s life, it was worth it. The ripple effects could reach much further.
This is how I wish everyone would live. Don’t volunteer help for the destruction of freedom, either your own or another’s. Don’t use convenient but unjust laws to make your neighbors conform. Don’t turn people in for victimless crimes because you don’t like them. Don’t lobby to stomp on your competitors or to give you subsidies at the unchosen expense of others.