“I Don’t Care What the Judge Said!”
by Joel Turtel
April 22, 2007 02:00 PM EST
“Look, Mr. Straun, John, can I call you John? We’ve been at this for 25 days. We’re all sick of this. We all want to go home. You’re the only one left. You’re the one keeping us here. I got things to do at home. I got to go to work and make a living. All of us do. The judge is mad as hell at us. You’re going to hang this jury. You’re going to make this three-month trial into a farce and waste of time. You have no right to vote acquittal. You heard the judge’s instructions. The jury is not allowed to judge the law, only the facts.”
“The fact are clear as day, aren’t they?” Dillard ranted. “You even admitted that to us. The guy was found with marijuana in his car. That’s against the law. And the guy admitted the marijuana was his. What more do you need?” said Raymond Dillard, the jury foreman. Raymond Dillard was tall, beefy, in his 30’s, and he was getting mad, so mad he wanted to beat John Straun’s head in.
Straun was a small, slim man in his 30’s, with a straight back, dark brown hair, large, steady eyes, and a firm mouth. He seemed not to care at all about all the trouble he was causing. And he seemed to be fearless.
John Straun said, “I don’t care what the judge said. I happen to know for a fact that a jury has the right to judge the law. Jury nullification has a long history in this country. A jury has the right to judge the law, not just the facts.”
Raymond Dillard and a few other jurors sneered. Dillard said, “Oh, are you a lawyer, Mr. Straun? You think you know more than the judge? What history are you talking about?”
John Straun said calmly, “No, I’m not a lawyer. I’m an engineer. But in this particular case, I do know more than the judge. When I found out I was going to be on this jury, I did a little research about the history of juries, just for the hell of it. Most people don’t know this, but jury nullification has been upheld as a sacred legal principal in English common law for 1000 years. Alfred the Great, a great English king a thousand years ago, hung several of his own judges because they removed jurors who refused to convict and replaced these courageous jurors with other jurors they could intimidate into convicting the defendant on trial.”
“Jury nullification also goes back to the very beginning of our country, as one of the crucial rights our Founding Fathers wanted to protect. Our Founding Fathers wanted juries to be the final bulwark against tyrannical government laws. That’s why they emphasized the right to a jury trial in three of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. John Adams, second President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, John Jay, First Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury all flatly stated that juries have the right and duty to judge not only the facts in a case, but also the law, according to their conscience.”
“Not only that, more recent court decisions have reaffirmed this right. In 1969, in “US. vs. Moylan,” the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of juries to judge the law in a case. In 1972, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the same principal.”
Raymond Dillard said, “Yeah, if that’s the case, how come the judge didn’t tell us this?”
“That’s because of the despicable Supreme Court decision in “Sparf and Hansen vs. The United States in 1895.” John Straun said. “That decision said juries have the right to judge the law, but that a judge doesn’t have to inform juries of this right. Cute, huh? And guess what happened after this decision? Judges stopped telling juries about their rights.”
“The judge knows about jury nullification. All judges do. But they hate letting juries decide the law. They hate juries taking power away from them. That’s why judges never mention a jury’s right to judge the law, and most judges squash defense attorneys from saying anything about it in court. Remember when Jimmy Saunders’ defense lawyer started talking about it? The judge threatened him with contempt if he didn’t shut up about jury nullification.”
“And since you asked me,” Straun continued, “I’ll tell you a little more about jury nullification. Did you ever hear of the Fugitive Slave Act? Did you ever hear of Prohibition? Do you know why those despicable laws were repealed? Because juries were so outraged over those laws that they consistently refused to convict people who violated them. They refused to convict because they knew that these laws were unjust and tyrannical, that Congress had no right making these laws in the first place. So, because juries wouldn’t convict, the government couldn’t make these laws stick. They tried for many years, but finally gave up.”
“What do you think this mad War on Drugs is that we’ve been fighting the last sixty years? It’s the same as Prohibition in the 20’s. It’s the same principle. A tyrannical government is telling people that they can’t take drugs, just like in the 20’s they said people couldn’t drink liquor. What’s the difference? A tyrannical law is telling people what they can or can’t put in their own bodies. Who owns our bodies, us or the self-righteous politicians? Does the government own your body, Mr. Dillard? Do you smoke, Mr. Dillard? Do you drink beer?”
Dillard nodded his head, “Yeah, I do.”
“Well, how would you like it if they passed laws telling you that can’t smoke or drink a beer anymore. Would you like that, Mr. Dillard?”
Dillard looked at John Straun, thought about the question, then admitted, “No, I wouldn’t, Straun.”
John Straun turned to the others around the table. “You, Jack, you said you’re sixty-five years old. You like to play golf, right? What if they passed a law saying anyone over sixty-five can’t play golf because the exercise might give him a heart attack? You, Frank, you said you eat hamburgers at McDougals all the time. What if they passed a law saying fatty hamburgers give people heart attacks, so we’re closing down all the McDougal restaurants in the country, and they make eating a hamburger a criminal offence? You, Mrs. Pelchat, I see you like to smoke. Everyone knows that smoking can give you lung cancer. How would you like it if they passed a law banning all cigarettes? What if they could crash in the door of your house without a warrant to search for cigarettes in your house, like the SWAT teams do now, looking for drugs? Mrs. Pelchat, how would you like to be on trial like Jimmy Saunders because they found a pack of cigarettes you hid under your mattress?”
“Do you all see what I mean? If they can make it a crime for Jimmy Saunders to smoke marijuana, why can’t they make golf, hamburgers, and cigarettes a crime? If you think they wouldn’t try, think again. They had Prohibition in the 20’s for almost ten years, till they finally gave up. The only reason they haven’t banned cigarettes is because there are thirty million cigarette smokers in this country who would scream bloody murder. They get away with making marijuana and other drugs illegal only because drug-users are a small minority in this country. Drug users don’t have any political clout.”
Raymond Dillard sat down in his chair. The others started talking among themselves. John Straun started seeing heads nodding in agreement, thinking about what he had said.
“OK, Straun,” Dillard said. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe Jimmy Saunders shouldn’t go to jail for smoking marijuana. Hell, probably most of us tried the stuff when we were young. Clinton said he smoked marijuana in college. Bush said he tried drugs in college. Probably half of Congress and their kids took drugs one time or another. O.K. we agree with you. But what about the judge. He said we can’t judge the law.”
John Straun stood up. He was not a tall man, but he stood very straight, and he looked very sure of himself. He looked from one to another of them.
He said, “If you agree with me, then I ask you all to vote for acquittal. You are not only defending Jimmy Saunders’ liberty, but your own. You are fighting a tyrannical law that is enforced by a judge who wants the power to control you. I told you that many juries like us in the past have disregarded the judge’s instructions. They stood up for liberty against a tyrannical law. Are you Americans here? What do you va!ue more, your liberty, your pride as free men, or the instructions of a judge who doesn’t want you to judge the law precisely because he knows you’ll find the law unjust? Will you stand with those juries who defended our liberty in the past, or will you give in to this judge?”
“Here’s another thing to think about,” John Straun said with passion. ”What if it was your sister or brother on trial here? Do you know that if we say Saunders is guilty, the judge has to send him to prison for twenty years? I understand this is Saunders third possession charge. You know the “three strikes and you’re out” rule, don’t you? The politicians passed a law that if a guy gets convicted three times on possession, the judge now has no leeway in sentencing. He has to give the poor guy twenty years in prison. What if it were your sister or brother on trial? Should they go to jail for smoking marijuana, for doing something that should not be a crime in the first place? Do we want to send Jimmy Saunders to prison for twenty years because he smoked a joint, hurting no one? Can you have that on your conscience?”
“Do you know that there are almost a million guys like Jimmy Saunders in federal prisons right now, as we speak, for this same so-called “crime” of smoking marijuana or taking other drugs? These men were sent to prison for mere possession. They harmed no one but themselves when they took drugs. How can you have a crime without a victim? When does this horror stop? It has got to stop. I’m asking you all now to stop it right here, at least for Jimmy Saunders. The only thing that can stop tyrannical laws and politicians is you and me, juries like us. If we do nothing, we’re lost, the country is lost.”
“I’m asking you all to bring in a not-guilty verdict, because the drug laws are unjust and a moral obscenity. I’m asking you all be the kind of Americans our Founding Fathers would have been proud of, these same men who fought for your liberty. That’s what I’m asking of all of you.”
John Straun sat down and looked quietly at Dillard and all the others around the table. They looked back at him, and it seemed that their backs began to straighten up, and they no longer complained about going home. They were quiet. Then they talked passionately amongst each other.
Fifteen minutes later, they walked into the courtroom and sat down in the jury box. When the judge asked Raymond Dillard what the verdict was, he was stunned when Dillard, standing tall, looking straight at the judge, said “Not guilty.” Over the angry rantings of the red-faced judge, all in the jury box looked calmly at John Straun, and felt proud to be an American.