Happy (Belated) Jury Rights Day

September 7th, 2011

Tim Lynch has a great description at Cato of this commemoration of the importance of the right to trial by jury.

We started out strong. Our Constitution says, “the Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment; shall by by Jury.”  And our second president, John Adams, said, “It is not only [the juror’s] 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.”

But these days, the government pressures many defendants to enter into plea bargains so fewer and fewer cases go to trial. And the government no longer wants jurors to vote their conscience. Indeed, it goes so far as to arrest people for distributing pamphlets that discuss these matters.

When I was clerking in District Court, I once saw some guy distributing pamphlets outside the courthouse. He was giving them out on grand jury day, so it wasn’t really the right time. I took one of the pamphlets. It said something to the effect of “The Judge will instruct you not to consider the law. The Judge is lying to you.” I hung that up on the wall of my office and would always joke around in chambers about that.