23 July 2014
Phoenix, AZ—This week marks the start of an initial 8-week run of a billboard in Phoenix, Arizona at the Jefferson Street/1st Avenue Light Rail Station, designed to educate the community about jury nullification.
Also referred to as conscientious acquittal or juror veto, jury nullification is a traditional, legal authority of jurors to judge the law as well as the facts in any case they hear. Jurors can vote Not Guilty when they conscientiously believe a just verdict requires it, even if they believe the law has technically been broken.
“If you are selected for jury duty, the normal instinct is to find a way out of it. That is completely understandable, especially if you don’t understand the incredible opportunity you have as a juror to stop wrongful imprisonment and government tyranny,” said project facilitator James Babb.
Funded through crowd-sourced donations contributed by activists around the country and sponsored by Freedom’s Phoenix, who hosted the fundraising effort at FreedomsPhoenix.com, the billboard builds on the initial success of Babb’s efforts last fall that placed billboards in the Judiciary Square metro station in Washington, D.C. On October 29, 2013, The Washington Post reported that D.C. prosecutors were so upset by the educational billboards that they were asking judges to ensure jurors were not influenced by the information they provided.
This effort is part of a nationwide educational campaign. Activists are currently working to place billboards in other major cities around the country such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and elsewhere.
Jurors around the world have had the right to conscientiously acquit via jury nullification for centuries. All jurors in the United States have this right still today, but many are completely unaware of it.
“The modern trend of keeping jurors in the dark about their full authority unfortunately has been encouraged by a series of court rulings enabling judges to refrain from informing or even to misinform jurors about their options,” said Kirsten Tynan, executive director of the Fully Informed Jury Association. “Jurors are not required to check their consciences at the courthouse door, but they will not hear this once they are inside. In fact, a prospective juror who, if asked during voir dire, will not agree to abandon their conscience and uphold law they find unjust or unjustly applied will almost certainly be excluded from the jury,” Tynan said.
Ernest Hancock of Freedom’s Phoenix explained the timeliness of this message in Phoenix. “Arizona has been a hotbed of FIJA activism since the early 1990’s,” said Hancock. “Ours was the first state to have a legislative body pass fully informed juror legislation. Continued public education has created a foundation from which to launch another wave of public awareness and to insert jury rights into the public debate,” he explained.
The initial billboard run will encompass Jury Rights Day, celebrated each year on September 5. Founded by the Fully Informed Jury Association in 1991, Jury Rights Day commemorates the famous case of jury nullification in 1670 in which English jurors refused a judge’s order to convict William Penn for publicly preaching the Quaker religion. Even though they were imprisoned for their verdict, several jurors in this case steadfastly maintained their refusal to convict.
By reversing their sentences, a higher court firmly established in English common law not only jurors’ right to conscientiously acquit, but also freedoms of speech and religion. The founders of the United States preserved all of these rights in the new government they designed. Americans enjoy them still today as part of the Constitutional system designed to keep government power in check.
About the Fully Informed Jury Association
FIJA is a non-profit association dedicated to educating the general public about their full rights, powers, and responsibilities in delivering just verdicts as trial jurors. The organization publishes and distributes educational literature and maintains a web site at FIJA.org to inform the general public of their Constitutional authority to protect human rights by refusing to enforce bad laws. FIJA encourages all jurors to consult their consciences when deliberating over a case, and to refuse to enforce any law that violates the human rights of the defendant.
About Freedom’s Phoenix
Freedom’s Phoenix is a multi-media news and opinion platform from a voluntarist and libertarian perspective. The organization maintains a website at FreedomsPhoenix.com as a daily resource for current and relevant political news.