Fully Informed Jury Association

Are you fully informed about jury nullification?

FIJA in the News & Jury Nullification | 25 Sep 2012

FIJA Director Iloilo Jones Comments on Article in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


FIJA director Iloilo Jones sent the following letter to Bruce Vielmetti of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with regard to his article discussing jury nullification. We posted a link to the original article here.

Dear Bruce,
Thank you for your recent article. However, as a former SNCC Field Secretary during the civil rights era, let me set the record straight:

At the time of the trials against whites for murders of black civil rights workers, government at all levels allowed those who chose jury members to exclude blacks from juries. Those same laws allowed voter registrants to exclude blacks from voting. Such was the climate in which we found ourselves during the 1960s in the South.

While it is easy for antagonists of juror veto or juror nullification—or, as it is sometimes called, juror rebellion—to cast a dark shadow on the practice of jurors who vote their conscience and to point an accusatory finger at jurors during the Civil Rights era, what is not disclosed is the underlying racism of the entire government system at the time.

Before we toss the baby out with the bath water, let us recall that it was legally impossible to seat a black juror, and therefore very difficult to find twelve Southern jurors who would defend the rights of the victim. Jurors were under the same pressure from government employees in the courtroom—judge, prosecutor, and most of the prosecutor’s witnesses. Had Southern blacks been allowed to serve on juries at that time—and had not all jurors been advised that they must, by law, check their conscience at the door—it is highly probable that the outcomes of those trials would have been different. Government-sponsored racism was the societal code of the time. Politicians were elected for their stances in favor of racist laws.

So, before we go blaming the human right to render a verdict according to conscience for the flaws in the larger system, let us reflect on the outcome of cases in which the jurors are carefully advised of their responsibility to render a verdict based on conscience, and to bring their minds and conscience with them into the jury box and the jury room. The FIJA.org site library has a variety of reading material on such cases. Jurors who consider the full extent of their actions in rendering a just verdict—a verdict which protects the defendant as well as the community—and consider, but know they are not bound to enforce laws which may be racist, venal, misapplied, or simply not relevant to the case before the jury, will carefully render a verdict that will bring not only justice, but, it is hoped, will restore safety, peace, and balance to the community.

To vilify juror independence and jury nullification because of flaws in the government-controlled composition of Civil Rights era juries, is to disregard all the good that comes from having jurors as the final veto of the People against silly, venal, or misapplied laws, often invoked by politically ambitious government prosecutors seeking to build a career or political base on the backs of those harmless people whom they prosecute.

The entire history of jury nullification, as far back as the Magna Carta, through the trial of William Penn, and up to present-day nullification cases when jurors act to protect their neighbors from the ambition and greed of government employees, is lit with the courageous, conscientious acts of jurors who clearly understood their role in protecting the human rights of others.

It is the right of the People to have a jury trial. It is also the right of the People that each juror fully understand their authority and responsibility—not to the government, but to justice. For justice is an enduring component of a free society, while we can all agree that government is often an oppressive force against human rights. Informed jurors can protect human rights with verdicts that defend against tyranny. Is it any wonder that government employees would rather we know know about our right to veto bad laws and prosecutions with our verdicts?

For Justice and Liberty for All,
Iloilo Marguerite Jones
Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA)