Quote From the Diary of John Adams on the Right of Juries ~ 1771 Feb. 12
[It] has already been admitted to be most advisable for the Jury to find a Special Verdict where they are in doubt of the Law. But, this is not often the Case–1000 Cases occur in which the Jury would have no doubt of the Law, to one, in which they would be at a Loss. The general Rules of Law and common Regulations of Society, under which ordinary Transactions arrange themselves, are well enough known to ordinary Jurors. The great Principles of the Constitution, are intimately known, they are sensibly felt by every Briton—it is scarcely extravagant to say, they are drawn in and imbibed with the Nurses Milk and first Air.
Now should the Melancholly Case arise, that the Judges should give their Opinions to the Jury, against one of these fundamental Principles, is a Juror obliged to give his Verdict generally according to this Direction, or even to find the fact specially and submit the Law to the Court. Every Man of any feeling or Conscience will answer, no. It is not only his right but his Duty in that Case to find the Verdict according to his own best Understanding, Judgment and Conscience, tho in Direct opposition to the Direction of the Court.
A religious Case might be put of a Direction against a divine Law.
The English Law obliges no Man to decide a Cause upon Oath against his own Judgment, nor does it oblige any Man to take any Opinion upon Trust, or to pin his faith on the sieve of any mere Man.
Quote from John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ~
Jury Instructions in Georgia v. Brailsford (1794)
It may not be amiss, here, Gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule, that on questions of fact, it is the province of the jury, on questions of law, it is the province of the court to decide. But it must be observed that by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy. On this, and on every other occasion, however, we have no doubt, you will pay that respect, which is due to the opinion of the court: For, as on the one hand, it is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumable, that the court are the best judges of law. But still both objects are lawfully, within your power of decision.
Quote by Victor S. Yarros Jury Reform originally published in Liberty, 1 June 1895
It is needless to say that no one has suggested the reform of making the jury judges of law as well as of fact. Indeed, in view of the widespread dissatisfaction with jury trial, the suggestion must seem paradoxical. But, in reality, such a reform would, even under present conditions, prove highly beneficial. It would simplify the proceedings and check legal juggling. It would diminish injustice and introduce common sense, which is all but banished from common-law jurisprudence.
Quote by William Kunstler Former ACLU director and co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights Jury Nullification in Conscience Cases
Historic cases apparently conflict with the court’s approach in Berrigan. More than two centuries ago, Andrew Hamilton addressed a colonial jury in New York in defense of the printer, John Peter Zenger. Zenger was, under the law as it then existed and the facts of his case, clearly guilty of the crime of seditious libel with which he was charged, yet his lawyer was permitted to urge the twelve men sitting in judgement upon him “to see with their own eyes, to hear with their own ears, and to make use of their consciences and understanding in judging of the lives, liberties, or estates of their fellow subjects.”
Because Andrew Hamilton was permitted by this colonial judge to appeal to the conscience of the jury his client was acquitted and the great principle of freedom of the press became one of our most cherished traditions. Yet today, in a theoretically more enlightened age, American juries cannot be told that under the law they have the power to decide any criminal case as they see fit, and that no one can question their decisions, no matter how contrary to law and fact they might be. This produces an interesting anomaly: juries possess the power, but they cannot be told of it as they are of every other aspect of the juridical process.
The law, ancient and modern, was explicit on the inalienable power of jurors to follow their consciences, if that was the decisional route they desired to take.
The Fully Informed Jury
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