In Minnesota, a man accused of the illegal sale of raw milk was acquitted, not because he did not violate Minnesota state law, but because the jury decided the law itself was unjust, and therefore no law at all. The story by JG Vibes was reported in September of 2012, but is certainly worth reviewing as a blueprint for using the power of the jury to nullify unjust federal, state and local laws.
The concept of jury nullification is older than the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation and even the Declaration of Independence. In 1670 (h/t Dr. Julian Heicklen), William Penn and William Mead were out on trial as Quakers for “unlawful assembly,” as Quakers did not have the freedom to worship in England. The jury refused to convict the two men, even under orders from the judge to go without food or drink until a guilty verdict was delivered. After further refusal to convict, the jurors were jailed, but their sentence was overturned on appeal in the Common Court of Pleas.
Jury nullification was introduced into the colonies in 1735, when John Peter Zenger repeatedly attacked New York Governor William Cosby in his publication, a blatant violation of libel laws at the time. The laws claimed that even a true statement could be found libelous. The jury didn’t buy it, and found Zenger not guilty within minutes.
Many state constitutions have contained clauses clearly outlining jury nullification. While New Jersey’s first constitution of 1776 did not specifically outline jury nullification, the second state constitution of 1844, Article I, Paragraph 5 and the current state constitution of 1947 Article I, paragraph 6, both state:
In all prosecutions or indictments for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury; and if it shall appear to the jury that the matter charged as libellous is true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted; and the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the fact.
That is just an example of one state, a state that completely bans the sale of raw milk to private consumers, a state that applied jury nullification beyond libel laws in the case of Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion. Why not apply the same to food freedom issues, gun rights, free speech or even charitable giving (just to show how far we’ve sunk)? Jury nullification is a powerful tool among many to restore state, local and individual freedoms long usurped by DC. Start using it.
Benjamin W. Mankowski, Sr. [send him email] is a blogger with the Tenth Amendment Center. He writes from New Jersey.
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