Sam Smith - The acquittal by a jury of the Bundy brothers has brought forth more false claims by liberals that jury nullification is a rightwing concept. This is dead wrong as I discuss here. In fact, one of the places where jury nullification would have been most useful would have been to slow down the extraordinary expansion of imprisonment for using a drug called marijuana that is less dangerous than vodka or cigarettes.
And as one of the jurors said following the conviction of the Berrigan brothers in 1980:
We convicted them on three things, and we really didn't want to convict them on anything. But we had to, because of the way the judge said the only thing that you can use is what you get under the law... I would have loved to hold up a flag to show them we approved of what they were doing. It was very difficult for us to bring in that conviction.Here's a note on my own experience with nullification:
Sam Smith, 1999 - The October issue was late because your editor was tied up in a six-hour voir dire for a double-robbery case. In the end, I maintained my perfect record of having never sat as a through a full trial. As a Coast Guard officer I was bounced from two courts martial, and I have been dismissed from three jury panels. In the one case in which I was seated, the first two witnesses -- both US Park Police officers -- identified the defense counsel as the defendant. The trial was over in 20 minutes.
In the most recent case, the judge's impressive if tedious effort to obtain a fair jury resulted in a long series of bench conferences as citizens told of their connections to crime and law enforcement. For my part I mentioned my USCG background, three house burglaries, one office break-in, one stolen car, being detained at Washington National Airport as a suspected terrorist due to a defective computer-screening machine, and the fact that one of my relatives had been killed in a drug store robbery.
Then I explained to Judge Michael Rankin that, while I doubted it was relevant in this case, I had been advised that I should reveal my long public advocacy of the right of juries to judge both the law and the facts. I noted that this view had upset some judges. Judge Rankin said it didn't bother him although he didn't mind debating the issue and had done so with Paul Butler, the black lawyer-scholar who has promoted nullification as a form of protest.
I told the judge that I didn't think Butler's arguments were effective because they were based on ethnicity rather than history, which offered a much stronger case. I then began a brief spiel the subject citing Learned Hand, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Thomas Jefferson. While previous US Attorneys had expressed hostility towards my views, this one merely asked whether there were any legal principles that I would uphold. I asked for an example and Judge Rankin said, well, you would support the presumption of innocence wouldn't you? I said, of course, and then -- brazenly rapping my hand on the judge's bench to punctuate the point -- said my concern was that the jury remain our last defense against tyranny, the final legislature deciding the law as it pertained to the case under consideration. To my amazement, Judge Rankin said, well, you'll get no argument from me. The judge and both attorneys agreed that the case under consideration did not raise such issues and that was the end of the matter. I was later dismissed on a peremptory challenge.