It’s no secret I’ve been active in jury nullification outreach. You see, jurors in the United States act as the people’s voice in the justice system, protecting against an overreaching government putting citizens in jail for ridiculous reasons. Part of this sacred duty is the ability to refuse the conviction of a defendant, even if the facts clearly point to the law being broken. Sometimes, the moral thing to do is to nullify a bad law, or a bad application of the law.
Here’s four things I learned while educating jurors about this right to nullify:
1: Jurors want to go along with the flow. These are random citizens who have been required by the government to come in and do something most don’t want to do. They have no clue what to do and are scared of getting into trouble. If most see you as this activist trying to fight the system, your response rate will be extremely poor. If, however, you seem like a “safe” option, just part of the drill, you’ll have jurors lining up to take the flyers. The court takes advantage of this psychological factor when convincing jurors that they can’t nullify bad laws, giving them the impression that they’ll somehow “get in trouble.” Use this same wish to go with the flow to educate them otherwise.
2: Most defendants are obviously poor and low-class. Jurors are easily identified not only by the piece of paper in their hands, but by their appearance as “normal folk.” When you see one who has a few more tattoos than usual, less on-point hygiene, shabby clothes, and smoking, however, you can bet they’re a defendant. To me, this underscores the uncomfortable reality that bad laws disproportionately affect those with low incomes and education. If you don’t have the money for a speeding ticket, are driven to drugs and alcohol by a life of economic desperation, or can’t afford legal counsel or education, odds are you’ll end up being a victim of the law.
3: Cops are people once you get past the “defend my territory” reflex. When approaching a courthouse for activism purposes, you may have an encounter with police or court employees that’s less than ideal. When you read between the words, though, you’ll see behavior similar to an animal defending its territory. Once you get past that initial growling and gruffness and signal that you aren’t a territorial threat, you start to see the human behind the badge. Some are naturally grumpy, some are polite, some don’t like what you’re doing, others love the Constitution and support jury nullification. A lot of your success as an activist depends on getting past this territorial posturing and relating to cops person-to-person.
4: Effecting change is like dealing with a startled animal. Humanity is highly resistant to change. Real change is rarely effected by introducing some radical element alone: it has to have a degree of assumed safety. Any action that gets in the way of “what’s supposed to happen” triggers humans’ natural aversion to the unknown. What this means for jury nullification outreach is that you have to be consistent. Keep educating jurors, selection after selection, over a period of years, without doing anything too startling. Keep talking to people one-on-one. Make what is radical into something safe, and you’ll win.