Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jury duty: participate, deliberate and then just say no!

At some point in our lives, most people will be called up for jury duty. So the question is; if you oppose the drug laws, how best do you use this opportunity to highlight the failure of prohibition whilst still fulfilling your duty as a citizen?

A debate was had in the Transform office about whether it is best to state one’s opposition before being selected for a drugs trial or whether to keep quiet until the jury retires to consider the verdict. The topic was first raised in the office after reading an article in Time Magazine by the writers of hit US TV show The Wire.

click to read full article

‘The writers of The Wire say, if asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.’

The article suggests what in the US they call ‘jury nullification’, in the UK its called the right of ‘jury equity’ – which is defined as:

Jury equity ‘enables a jury to reach a decision in direct contradiction with the law if they feel the law is unjust. This can create a persuasive precedent for future cases, or render prosecutors reluctant to bring a charge – thus a jury has the power to influence the law.’

Source wikipedia -

Speaking to legal representative at one of the UK’s foremost drugs and legal advice organisations, they also highlighted the role of ‘jury equity’ as a way of giving members of the jury a chance to participate in our democratic system and express their views on the rights and wrongs of the law.

So if you want to articulate your opposition to the drug laws when it comes to jury duty, participate in the trial and keep your views to yourself until the time comes to deliberate on the verdict. At this point you can voice your opposition to prohibition whilst still carrying out your duty as a member of the jury.

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