A former pastor from Michigan discovered the hard way that informing people of their rights under the law as jurors doesn’t sit well with the U.S. government when a judge sentenced him Friday to eight weekends in jail, six months of probation, and fines — all for passing out pamphlets discussing jury nullification.
Keith Wood contends passing out the information is well within his constitutional rights to inform potential and selected jurors that, enshrined in the Bill of Rights lies the potent ability to find a defendant not guilty if the law in question is unjust, flawed, or otherwise untenable — even if the accused indeed technically violated.
Jury nullification thus arguably acts as citizens’ access to checks and balances: When legislators craft worthless, harmful, inequitable, or just plain ‘bad’ laws, jurors can, in essence, refuse to enforce any punitive measures — refusing to find a person guilty of breaking a law that never should have been inked into the books.
This tool shines most prominently when used consistently to thwart oppressive policy. Illustrative of this principle is continued federal prohibition of cannabis and transformed public sentiment, as anti-marijuana propaganda falls apart at its politicized roots for the incarceration nightmare it created — among many others. Jurors faced with a choice in guilt of sending a nonviolent drug offender to prison might instead find the concept of incarcerating this petty ‘criminal’ who had done no harm to another unethical and ill-conceived — and choose instead a finding of not guilty to compensate for the unjust law.
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