The Oregon Jury Nullification Bill
Throughout the history of western civilization, there is a legal concept wherein individual jurors or an entire jury will either forgo and set aside the evidence as presented or the instructions given to them by the judge, or both and reach a verdict based on their own conscience. It comes from a sanctioned doctrine subscribing that jurors are the judges of the facts, the law, and the moral imperative.
Oregon is unique in the sense of already having a state constitution that enumerates this exalted tradition of jury discretion. The sixteenth amendment states that, “In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law, and the facts under the direction of the Court as to the law, and the right of new trial, as in civil cases,” which should be fully disclosed to every jury at every trial to ensure their impartiality.
Since this is presently not the case, State Senator Kim Thatcher recently introduced a bill, SB924, which would interject wording pertaining to jury discretion into the jury instructions. The bill states that, “As jurors, if you feel that a conviction would not be a fair or just result in this case, it is within your power to find the defendant not guilty even if you find that the state has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Many legal experts, including Constitutional Attorney KrisAnne Hall and Professor Roger Roots PhD, are confident that adding this single sentence, or a similar statement to the jury instructions in every courtroom is one lawful remedy to level an imbalance that is absent in the Judicial Branch of government today. In Oregon, it would help restore the dwindling confidence and pride in the state’s legal system.
The Sixth Amendment espouses that every individual has a right to an impartial jury.
The impartiality of a juror will always be in question unless they are knowingly informed of the jury’s “power to acquit” and “right to nullify” even if guilt of the defendant is proven beyond reasonable doubt. The only way for a defendant to have absolute knowledge that a jury of their peers is aware of this inherent authority is if the Judge in their case explains this right to the jury from the jury instructions before deliberations.
The term for this authority is “Jury Nullification,” which does not actually invalidate any law. It just nullifies the law in a particular case at the jury’s discretion.
The court system has been overlooking the jury’s “power to acquit” and the “right to nullify” to the point of nonexistence. Many times during US history, precedence has been set allowing the jury to find a defendant innocent, even when the decision was clearly contradictory to the law. Yet today many Judges tell the juries that there is no such right. In some cases, judges have rejected jurors from the jury panel due to their intent to nullify the law, and the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit validated this practice in a decision made in 1997.
Consider this, before every interrogation of a suspect, an officer is supposed to read that person their Miranda Rights to afford them the opportunity of making an objective decision pertaining to their legal situation. More importantly, it reiterates the fact that for the record the suspect was knowingly aware of their rights thus preserving the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings, which could possibly prevent the government losing the case on appeal. Now extend that theory of acknowledgement to a jury. A jurist that is unaware of their legal authority and individual rights, the “power to acquit” and the “right to nullify,” would automatically be partial to the prosecution’s position in any trial due to this omission, thereby abolishing the defendant’s ability to receive an unbiased verdict by an impartial jury of their peers.
The Fifth Amendment states, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” which establishes double jeopardy protections. During the colonial era, the king would prosecute revolutionary colonists repeatedly until the royal court found them guilty. The Founding Fathers were accustomed to this legal treachery and it is the reason why they held trial by jury as a very revered institution, and that the decision made by the jury was final, no matter what the court may have proven. Jury discretion was and still is one of the few mechanisms a free society utilizes to keep the chains on unrestrained government.
Unfortunately, the US court system currently operates on the assumption that individuals on a jury may or may not be aware of their rights as a jurist and for Judges and Prosecutors ignorance is bliss, but for defendants it is a dangerous bias. In many other jurisdictions, the jury instructions have gone from “may” convict to “must” convict when the prosecution proves that a defendant is guilty of breaking a law, which eliminates any chance for a jury to use their own discretionary authority and common sense when deliberating a case.
The ingrained system for both the federal and state courts are not going to exert any effort in explaining to prospective jurors of their legitimate duty, because it benefits the government’s ability for an easy conviction.
The Legislature will have to initiate change to reform this systemic failure of the Judiciary. Federal and state lawmakers will have to write new laws to compel the courts to inform the jury of their duties and rights by passing legislation that will forcibly insert that information into the jury instructions and compel the Judges to read those instructions before deliberations, or suffer the specified consequences.
Click the following link to find out more information on SB924 the Oregon Jury Nullification Bill. www.facebook.com/oregonjurynullificationlaw & www.CoosCountyWatchdog.com
Keep track of the bill on OLIS at
About the author:
Rob Taylor is the founder of a virtual network of local activist at CoosCountyWatchdog.com, and a chief petitioner for the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance.