Representative Charles Gregory has prefiled HB25, known as the Fully Informed Jury Act of 2013.
This act states, “In a criminal jury trial, the court shall permit the defendant or his or her counsel to argue for jury nullification in its role as the judges of the law and the facts pursuant to Article I, Section I, Paragraph XI of the Constitution.” Article I, Section I, Paragraph XI of the Georgia Constitution deals with the right to trial by jury, number of jurors, and the selection and compensation. If the Fully Informed Jury Act passes, then the Georgia Constitution would be amended to include jury nullification as a responsibility of the court.
Jury nullification has had a long tradition extended prior to American History. During colonial times, jury nullification was successfully used and juries informed of their right.
In 1734, Peter Zenger, a writer for The New York Weekly Journal was being prosecuted for seditious libel by the Royal Governor of New York. Retold in a Mises journal article “The court instructed the jury that truth was no defense. Defense counsel Andrew Hamilton, however, urged the jury to reach their own conclusions about this legal issue.” The jury came back with a not guilty verdict.
Andrew Hamilton, Zenger’s lawyer, defense was the product of The Cato Letters which were articles of liberty popular before the revolution and spark for a republican form of government and natural laws.
IN 1768 John Adams defended John Hancock for smuggling. “Colonial juries routinely acquitted smugglers (most notably, John Hancock) and others who defied unpopular laws. Jury power was rather untrammeled from the Revolution until the middle of the nineteenth century. And juries often decided, in the absence of a highly professional legal community, on the basis of their own notions of what was just, the law notwithstanding.”
Adams stated, ” It is not only his right, but his duty… to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court….“The people themselves have it in their power effectually to resist usurpation, without being driven to an appeal to arms. An act of usurpation is not obligatory; it is not law; and any man may be justified in his resistance. Let him be considered as a criminal by the general government, yet only his fellow citizens can convict him; they are his jury, and if they pronounce him innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of usurpation.”
Lysander Spooner fought against the Fugitive Slave laws in 1852. “The people, therefore, in establishing government, with trial by jury, do not surrender their liberties into the hands of the government to be preserved or destroyed, as the government shall please. But they retain them in their own hands, by forbidding the government to injure any one in his life, liberty, or property, without having first, obtained the consent of “the country” ‑‑ that is, of the people themselves ‑‑ who are supposed to be fairly represented by a jury, taken promiscuously from the whole people, and therefore likely to embrace persons of all the varieties of opinion that are generally prevalent among the people.”
However later on, the Supreme Court ruled that the jury did not need to be notified of their right to judge the law. “In 1895, the Supreme Court, under pressure from large corporations, rendered in a bitter split decision that courts no longer had to inform juries they had the power to veto an unjust law. The giant corporations had lost numerous trials against labor leaders trying to organize unions. Striking was against the law at that time. “Juries also ruled against corporations in damage suits and other cases, prompting influential members of the American Bar Association to fear that jurors were becoming too hostile to their clients and too sympathetic to the poor. As the American Law Review wrote in 1892, jurors had ‘developed agrarian tendencies of an alarming character.”(Barkan, Jury Nullification in Political Trials, 1983)
Georgia is fighting back against the Supreme Court. As John Jay so famously said, “The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy.” Rep. Gregory wants to bring back informing a jury of its right. Rep. Gregory said in the Marietta Daily Journal, “As a juror, it is your duty to protect our citizens by sending criminals to jail; however, if you believe the defendant is being prosecuted under an unjust law, you have the right, and the constitutional and moral obligation, to protect the defendant from tyrannical government and acquit.”
If you are a Georgia resident and want to see this bill get assigned to a committee, please contact your state representative here.
Visit the Georgia Tenth Amendment Center Website here.
Like us on the Georgia Tenth Amendment Center on Facebook here.