There is hope, however, in a little detail of law that reverses the entire balance of power in the courts. A residual right that supercedes all the law and instructions that make up our legal system and vests the common citizen with virtually dictatorial powers in every trial, which is why judges not only neglect to tell you about it but often ban any mention of that right in the trial or even in the parking lots outside the courthouse. I’m talking about jury nullification.
In 2003, in a California federal court, Ed Rosenthal, a longtime marijuana activist, was convicted of growing something over a thousand pot plants. Rosenthal had been appointed an official of the Oakland city government to create a working program for the distribution of marijuana to medically qualified people with a variety of diseases and conditions that are relieved by the use of the drug. The program grew from the California “Compassionate Use Act,” passed by the voters in 1996 and left to the local governments to implement. The California act and Oakland plan both conflict with the federal ban on pot, and thus the federal trial and its draconian mandatory sentence of 10 to life. After the verdict, several jurors said they supported the medical use of pot and didn’t want to punish Rosenthal but they were bound by the instructions of the judge to rule narrowly on whether the self-styled “guru of ganja” had committed the acts of which he stood accused. The jurors claimed they had no choice but to obey the instructions.
Once a citizen is chosen for jury duty and seated, he or she becomes the most powerful person in the American legal system. A juror can rule, not only on the narrow instructed legalisms of the case, but on any basis they wish, from disapproval of the law itself, as in the case of the Rosenthal jurors, to personal prejudice against the police. They can vote to acquit because the defendant is left handed if they wish and no judge or lawyer can intervene or challenge that decision. The juror is omnipotent in the American system, which requires a unanimous verdict to convict.
The U.S. judicial community collectively has chosen to hide these facts from the public out of fear that fully informed jurors might disturb the precedent-based legal system, and they worry rightly. If people begin to judge the laws they might force changes and reforms that undermine the current regime of law and regulation on which our government depends for its powers.
The last time the Informed Jury movement surfaced was in the mountain west where tax resistors of the neo-con militia fringe so dominated local juries that the IRS refused to prosecute cases in the Utah, Montana and Idaho districts. In Idaho the same extremists challenged the state’s driving license laws and vehicle registration, again depending on their neighbors to refuse conviction in court.
Jury nullification is powerful medicine, and dangerous, like all basic rights, but if the patient is demonstrably ill and getting worse, strong medicine is called for, and the current outlook for the federal courts is certainly symptomatic of a bad case of incipient tyranny. Jury service is a patriotic duty and your best chance to overthrow the government, if you want to make a federal case out of it.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.