FIJA Celebrates Jury Rights Day
Helena, MT—Juror rights educators around the country, in conjunction with the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), will celebrate Jury Rights Day, mostly this week, by educating their communities about jury nullification. Inaugurated in 1991, Jury Rights Day is FIJA’s signature celebration, annually commemorating the conscientious acquittal of William Penn in 1670 that firmly grounded in common law jurors’ right to vote Not Guilty when a just verdict requires it, even if the law has technically been broken.
This year marks the 345th anniversary of jurors’ refusal to convict William Penn of breaking England’s Conventicle Act, despite clear evidence that he was in violation by publicly preaching a Quaker sermon. In refusing to convict Penn, the jurors refused to enforce what they knew to be unjust law, even when directed by the judge to return a Guilty verdict, and even when imprisoned for their act of conscience. Refusal to deliver a Guilty verdict when jurors are aware that the law has technically been broken is known as jury nullification.
“This is an especially timely celebration of our rights given recent dictatorial behavior and statements by the Denver police, Judge Michael Martinez, and Colorado Attorney General’s office” said FIJA Executive Director Kirsten Tynan. “Assistant Attorney General Matthew Grove this week told a federal judge he wants a permanent ban on precisely the behavior of which a jury acquitted William Penn—speaking in public without the government’s approval. The difference is that William Penn’s right to trial by jury allowed his jurors to protect him. If he committed the same offense today, Denver officials would try to avoid trial by jury by any means possible or, failing that, to keep Penn’s jurors completely unaware of their full authority to nullify. Such is the abysmal state of our Constitutional right to trial by jury today, having been chipped away over the course of 200 hundred or so years” said Tynan.
Jurors who were punished for their Not Guilty verdict in Penn’s case appealed to a higher court for relief. Chief Justice John Vaughan ruled in their favor and reversed their penalties, firmly establishing in English common law, not only jurors’ right to conscientiously acquit, but also providing a firm foundation for freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. The founders of the United States purposely protected all of these rights when establishing the American legal system.
This year in defense of both our right to trial by jury, with jurors empowered to exercise their consciences to deliver just verdicts, as well as our freedoms that we have demanded for centuries and which are documented in the First Amendment, the FIJA national office will join with Occupy Denver at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse plaza on Friday, 4 September for a Jury Rights Day celebration in Denver. We will kick off the day with sharing FIJA literature beginning at 7:30 am. At 11:30 am, we will co-host a press conference discussing Jury Rights Day and why it is important to defend our rights at this courthouse.
Nearly 20 other events will take place at courthouses and other public spaces across the country in September.FIJA hosted the very first Jury Rights Day on September 5, 1991, rallying activists around the country to spend an hour handing out jury nullification literature in their local communities. The tradition continues this year with individuals and organizations hosting events across the country handing out educational materials everywhere from courthouses to county fairs, speaking to local groups, holding press conferences, etc.
Activists will also carry on the tradition of requesting Jury Rights Day proclamations from their local public servants. Past Jury Rights Days have been commemorated with proclamations from governors and other public officials in New Hampshire, Alaska, Connecticut, Iowa, and elsewhere.
On this day of celebration and commemoration, juror educators hope to create many fully informed jurors who understand and are prepared to act on the knowledge that:
-Jurors cannot be punished for their verdicts.
-Jurors have the right to deliver a general verdict and are not required to explain the reason for their verdict.
-Jurors have the legal authority and the ethical duty to consult their consciences and to render a just verdict, even if it requires setting aside the law to do so.
About the Fully Informed Jury Association
The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, nonpartisan, educational organization headquartered in Helena, Montana. Focusing on issues involving the role of the jury in our justice system, FIJA seeks to preserve the full function of the jury as the final arbiter in our courts of law by informing everyone about their rights, powers and responsibilities in delivering just verdicts when serving as jurors. The organization does not advocate for or against any case in progress, but rather seeks to fully inform everyone of all their options when serving on juries. This includes the option to conscientiously acquit when a just verdict requires it by voting Not Guilty, even if they believe the law has technically been broken, without fear of punishment for their verdict.
FIJA’s national office conducts its campaign solely through educational outreach programs and materials. A variety of brochures and other materials are available for free download by anyone from the online Library or can be purchased through the online Media Catalog. Many juror rights educators use these brochures for general educational outreach at courthouses, at fairs and festivals, at public speaking engagements, and so on.