(Dedicated to Gabby)
A couple weeks ago, I was texting with my daughter, getting caught up on what was going on in our lives, when she mentioned being on grand jury duty. The discussion inevitably, with a Tenther for a Dad, went to jury nullification. I felt like a failure as a parent when she told me that she was not familiar with the concept. It was then that I knew I had to work hard to make up for lost time.
There are many things that are important to discuss with your kids if you are a parent. Some of them are things that, if you don’t talk to them, I can guarantee someone else will, such as drugs. I have to confess, I tried to find a link to an old PSA from when I was a teen, but had no luck. Other things, if you don’t talk to your kids, there’s a good possibility no one will. Ronald Reagan, in his farewell address spoke of a new patriotism, and urged the youth of America:
All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ‘em know and nail ‘em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
Jury nullification fits into that latter category. Better late than never, I explained how the jury has the right not only to decide based on the facts of the case, but based on the law itself and whether or not that law is just and/or constitutional. I then proceeded to share with her some of the history of jury nullification, from William Penn’s trial in 17th Century England to the NJ Weedman case last year. As I explained the cases, I was told that was, “interesting.” I replied, “And empowering as well.”
Since the rules for grand jury are different from a trial jury, I confessed not knowing about the possibility of grand jury nullification, but I planned to do a little research. For those unfamiliar, a grand jury does not decide matters of guilt, but rather, if there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial. After asking the Tenth Amendment team for some input and doing a little reading of my own, I came across an entry from the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA discussing the duties and the powers of the grand jury. Paraphrasing, the grand jury is responsible not only for investigating possible criminal conduct, but for protecting citizens against arbitrary and oppressive government action. In general, I recommend FIJA as a resource. If the Tenth Amendment Center is the general practitioner in the practice of nullification, FIJA is the specialist in jury nullification.
It turned out, in the process of teaching a little bit about jury nullification, I wound up forcing myself to learn more as well. None of this would have happened if I had kept silent and not discussed it. This needs to be dinner table conversation. This needs to be cup of coffee or a couple of beers conversation with friends. When we have information like this, it’s important to share it whenever possible. That would be a very American thing to do.