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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 21 Apr 2014

-Jury Nullification Can Protect Second Amendment Rights


IMG_1132cropAs the deadline for registration of certain items under the SAFE Act in New York has passed, Forbes magazine reports there may be as many as a million newly-defined “criminals” in New York, in addition to perhaps 300,000 fictionally created by law in Connecticut at the end of last year.
As Many As One Million Armed New Yorkers Are About To Break The Law

This year April 15 is more than the tax deadline for an estimated one million New York State residents. It’s also the deadline to register “assault weapons” and “high-capacity” magazines. If they don’t, they’ll begin living outside the law. A lot of them have decided to do just that. They’ve decided to practice civil disobedience even though failure to register an “assault weapon” by the deadline is punishable as a “class A misdemeanor,” which means a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

I put “assault weapon” and “high-capacity” in quotes because their definitions vary by state—they’re political terms. In New York State, the SAFE Act passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2013, uses an expansive and elaborate definition of “assault weapon” that includes a lot more than AR-15s. Now even a semiautomatic Remington Model 1100 shotgun—a popular shotgun first made in 1963 that is used by millions of hunters and skeet shooters—is an “assault weapon” in New York State if the shotgun has a pistol grip. Many other commonly owned pistols, shotguns and rifles are also now labeled “assault weapons” in New York State.

This is the same dilemma Connecticut gun owners found themselves in at the end of 2013. As of December 31, 2013, according to Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police (CSP CSPI -2.98%), the state had received 41,347 applications to register “assault weapons” and 36,932 applications to register “high-capacity” magazines. That means that more than 300,000 Connecticut residents decided not to register their “assault weapons,” moved them out of state, or sold them.

Already, we have seen a notable case crop up under the new SAFE Act in New York. One of three initial charges was been dropped, but both a felony and a misdemeanor charge are still being leveled against New York gun control activist Dwayne Ferguson, who strongly advocated for its passage. Ferguson was arrested after being discovered in possession of a holstered firearm during a lockdown at Harvey Austin Elementary School. In spite of this discovery, Ferguson has so far maintained a Not Guilty plea against these charges, including one which was bumped from a misdemeanor to a felony with passage of the SAFE Act, which he supported.

Despite the arbitrary redefinition of certain activities as crimes under the law, Lysander Spooner explains that, “Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.” With the passage of a law and a deadline, people who are acting no less peaceably today than they were a few weeks ago have suddenly been legally redefined as criminals because of the mere possession of certain items.

Fortunately, we have a jury system in the country, and jurors have the power to protect peaceful people from the arbitrary redefinition and punishment of certain activities as so-called crimes by exercising their power of jury nullification. Jurors are neither required to nor meant to simply rubber stamp prosecutions under unjust laws. Rather, they are to consider whether or not the law is valid and just, as well as whether or not the facts suggest it was broken. Is it unconstitutional? Jurors can and should vote Not Guilty. Is the law unjust? Jurors can and should vote Not Guilty. If there is no victim, there is no crime.

Our full-color, tri-fold brochure Jury Protection for the Second Amendment is available for free download in our Library or for purchase in our Media Catalog. We are very interested in getting these into the hands of people in key areas such as New York and Connecticut. If you are associated with a group who would like to conduct a juror education campaign, please call us in the office at 406-442-7800 or email us at aji@fija.org to discuss how to organize a campaign.