The issue of restoration of our heritage of jury nullification–the right of the jury to judge the validity and morality of the law as well as the facts under which a defendant is being tried–was raised as early as the 1979 Montana Libertarian Party convention.
In the interests of personal liberty, Larry Dodge, former Chair of the Montana Libertarian party, decided to educate the American people of this available but unused right. He also conceived of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA). After assessing interest in the concept during the summer of 1989, Dodge led discussions about FIJA at the National Libertarian Party convention in Philadelphia in 1989. Forty-four people attended. Later that summer, Larry Dodge and Don Doig organized FIJA National.
The appearance of FIJA quickly stimulated independent, state-level associations. FIJA National has remained the educational and promotional arm of the movement and has served as an informational clearinghouse and publisher. FIJA National offers only educational services while state-level FIJA organizations may, among other activities, conduct lobbying and ballot initiative campaigns. The only direct relationship between state-level FIJA organizations and FIJA National is the exchange of information and the recognition of state organizations, their work, and their coordinators and activists, in FIJA national publications.
FIJA received its 501(c)(3) status retroactive to January 1992 and held its first official FIJA Board of Directors meeting in June 1992. Present at the board meeting were (from left to right):
Front row: Larry Dodge, Don Doig, Honey Lanham, Larry Pratt
Back row: Gary Dussseljee, Iloilo Jones, Kathy Ballard
FIJA income is received from individual donors, foundations, and sale of materials, and goes to support educational activities and publications. FIJA policy has been to ensure that the educational message is spread as widely as possible, and to recoup costs whenever possible from donors and the sale of materials.
In recent years, FIJA has conducted successful media campaigns, including supplying prop kits to a number of television series and film producers. As well, FIJA National continues to work with writers and media professionals to ensure that an accurate message on the authority of the jury reaches the public. Under development presently are an updated website as well as an educational series of briefing papers on the status of jury health in the federal system, the fifty states, and Washington, D.C., a new online class to engage new audiences and introduce them to jury nullification and the protective role of the jury, new focused infographics designed for online audiences, and the redesign of existing literature to give it a more contemporary appearance. FIJA now uses social networking media and weekly email bulletins to stay in touch with FIJA supporters, activists, and volunteers, and to share FIJA’s message.
In 2005, FIJA added the American Jury Institute as the research and publishing arm of the organization, to promote further research and publishing of materials related to jury authority and jury issues.
FIJA Progress to Date
Since the inception of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) in 1989, the move to educate American citizens about their rights as jurors and to reinstate jury nullification to its former legally recognized status has swept the nation. FIJA National and juror rights educators around the country form a nationwide network of activists and scholars to educate the public about the independent juror’s individual ability to serve as the community check on bad laws through the use of jury nullification, or juror veto.
FIJA has reached out to grassroots organizations nationwide as well as internationally, who are concerned with liberty and individual rights. FIJA’s mission is so freedom-oriented, with such an impact on actual justice in the courtrooms, that FIJA has attracted members and supporters from the widest range of political thought and lifestyle. The American Bar Association (ABA) wrote that FIJA drew its support from a wide and unusual spectrum of political thought—from the National Rifle Association to gun control advocates, from abortion rights supporters to their opponents, and from backers of marijuana legislation to law-and-order types. The appeal of FIJA crosses the full spectrum of lifestyle and ideology because FIJA’s goals reflect the goals of those who are alert to the fragile liberties of all of our human rights.
The degree of consciousness-raising educational success attributed to FIJA is reflected in part in media events and publications. FIJA National has been featured on FOX evening news, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, and RT America as well as numerous talk radio shows nationwide and across the political specturm. Jury nullification and FIJA have been topics of discussion—or integral to story plots—on television and radio shows, including Reasonable Doubts, Nightline, Deegan, M.D., Rumpole of the Bailey, Boston Legal, and The Wire, whose writers also wrote an article which appeared in Newsweek specifically about jury nullification.
Press coverage has included hundreds of radio and television interviews. The spectrum of the audience includes listeners to the American Voice Network, the Jeff Rense Show, the Jack McLamb show and Jews for the Perservation of Firearm Ownership. Recent print articles include the Las Vegas Review Journal, Salon Magazine, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. As FIJA outreach efforts expand across the nation, more and more innocent defendants turn to jury nullification as their only hope of escaping the machinery of the corrupt incarceration system. And it works. Each year, FIJA works with individuals and other organizations to target educational efforts in key areas with the goal of ensuring defendants, attorneys, and the public have access to fully informed jurors when they need them. FIJA’s main goal, however, remains the education of all potential grand and petit jurors about their role in protecting individual rights through standing as a barrier to government tyranny through unjust arrests and prosecutions.
More than 3,000 articles in national and local publications of every political affiliation have discussed the issue of a fully informed jury and FIJA National. Articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Inquiry, Reason, the ABA’s Journal, Student Lawyer and Litigation News, The Freeman (FEE), the American Rifleman, and the Ron Paul Political Report. FIJA articles have been widely reproduced on the World Wide Web, often copied from FIJA’s own web site at www.FIJA.org. Several web on-line audio streaming sites now carry recordings of FIJA interviews, which can be played over the internet and are available to the general public. (The web site has a special section for video and audio recordings pertinent to FIJA’s message.) FIJA has been mentioned frequently in both non-fiction and fiction, by such writers as Godfrey Lehman and Vin Suprynowicz.
In the past few years, at least sixty law review or scholarly articles that discuss the concept of jury power and jury nullification have been published. The Case Western Reserve Law Review, the Washington and Lee University Law Review, Military Law Review, the American Criminal Law Review, and others have carried these articles, more than half of which discuss FIJA as well as academic aspects of nullification.
Governors of thirteen states have signed Jury Rights Day Proclamations at the request of local activists, as have the Mayor and City Council of Philadelphia and several smaller towns and cities. And more and more prominent organizations and individuals are endorsing FIJA: the Libertarian Party; the Congress on Racial Equality; the Republican Liberty Caucus; the Republican parties of Nevada, Iowa, and Montana; the South Carolina NAACP, and Gun Owners of America. Editorial boards of the Phoenix Gazette, the Arizona Republic, and the Las Vegas Review Journal have formally endorsed FIJA. So have prominent individuals including former Washington State Supreme Court Justice William C. Goodloe and retired Arkansas Supreme Court Justice John I. Purtle.
Literature distribution and display of FIJA posters continues apace. The new FIJA Powerful Poster hangs in locations ranging from public defender offices to law school professors’ offices across the country, as well as in locations in Australia, Canada, Argentina, India and New Zealand. FIJA’s new brochures designed for advocates of self-defense, body ownership, and freedom of conscience have gained broad appeal.
FIJA bills have been introduced to state legislatures in Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah and South Dakota. Each year, a number of proposed bills before the legislatures get closer to passing fully informed jury legislation. With the introduction of these bills, more people are made aware of the marvelous mechanism of justice that belongs to the independent juror.