Gov. Palin's Proclamation on Jury Rights Day:

Jury Rights Day

WHEREAS, September 5, 2007, will mark the 337th anniversary of the day when the jury, in the trial of William Penn, refused to convict him of violating England's Conventicle Acts, despite clear evidence that he acted illegally by preaching a Quaker sermon to his congregation.

WHEREAS, by refusing to apply what they determined was an unjust law, the Penn jury not only served justice, but provided a basis for the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, religion, and peaceable assembly.

WHEREAS, September 5th, 2007, also commemorates the day when four of Penn's jurors began nine weeks of incarceration for finding him not guilty. Their later release and exoneration established forever the English and American legal doctrine that it is the right and responsibility of the trial jury to decide on matters of law and fact.

WHEREAS, the Sixth and Seventh Amendments are included in the Bill of Rights to preserve the right to trial by jury, which in turn conveys upon the jury the responsibility to defend, with its verdict, all other individual rights enumerated or implied by the U.S. Constitution, including its Amendments.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim September 5, 2007, as:

Jury Rights Day

in Alaska, in recognition of the integral role the jury, as an institution, plays in our legal system.

Dated: August 31, 2007

This was of course just one of many gubernatorial proclamations for September 2007, including Winter Weather Awareness Week (you'd think they didn't need it in Alaska, but maybe it's for newbies), Alpaca Farm Day, Family Day--A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children, We Don't Serve Teens Week, and Responsible Dog Ownership Day. At the same time, it's a fair inference that the governor endorses the spirit behind those days, both the broadly uncontroversial ones and ones that might be more controversial. As best I can tell, Jury Rights Day is largely a project of the Fully Informed Jury Association, which generally supports informing jurors of their power to engage in jury nullification.

Thanks to Peter Colter for the pointer.

Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Tsk, tsk. Celebrating lawlessness! Releasing the infamous scofflaw Penn to offend yet again!
9.3.2008 9:08pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
It is not just the commemoration of an anniversary. It represents support for the position of the Fully Informed Jury Association and opposition to current prevailing judicial practices, which attempt to control jury verdicts, especially in favor of the prosecution in criminal cases, by such methods as requiring jurors to swear to follow the "law" as given by the judge, even if the law is in dispute, and denying the right of the parties and their lawyers to argue issues of law in the presence of the jury. These judicial practices are in conflict with those that prevailed in the Founding Era, and are regarded by jury rights activists as unconstitutional. The proclamation is an indication of a tendency to adopt an originalist or constitutionalist position on constitutional issues.

For more on this topic see U.S. Trial Jury Reform .

Gov. Palin's office reports that she has agreed to renew the proclamation for 2008, but for obvious reasons has been a bit busy lately.

It is also reported that when she was first asked to sign the proclamation, she asked for more information on the subject, and was handed a package of FIJA materials. After reading them, she asked for more, including historical documents. It seems she is a history buff. After researching the subject and the controversy, she signed the proclamation.
9.3.2008 9:23pm
Two things I like about her: support of gun rights and jury rights.
9.3.2008 9:33pm
Clearly this is a very clever woman. Back in Spetember of LAST YEAR, she was already making a play for Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes.

(Wow. That looks small when I type it out. PA went for Ike, giving him 32 electoral votes. Now they're only equal to IN plus MN.)
9.3.2008 9:38pm
Eric Muller (www):
No mention of Byron de la Beckwith, Roy Bryant, or J.W. Milam, however.

Dave Hardy has more of a point than he may realize.
9.3.2008 9:39pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
It took me a minute to realize "We Don't Serve Teens Week" referred to alcohol. I was rather confused that.
9.3.2008 9:43pm
Has anyone read this provocative column by the irascible "Spengler" yet?

How Obama lost the election.

He writes up a storm, but from what I gather, his prophesying record is mixed at best. Still, it's an entertaining read.
9.3.2008 9:50pm
Eric Muller (www):
Alaskan teens must occupy themselves in other ways during that week.
9.3.2008 9:51pm
Peggy Noonan (mail):
9.3.2008 9:54pm
Peggy Noonan doesn't write for free.

I'm calling shenanigans!
9.3.2008 10:05pm
Eric Muller wrote at 9.3.2008 8:39pm:
No mention of Byron de la Beckwith, Roy Bryant, or J.W. Milam, however.

Dave Hardy has more of a point than he may realize.
Beckwith was never acquitted by a nullifying jury. He was tried twice in 1964 for the murder of Medgar Evers and the jury hung. He was convicted of murder in 1994.

One can argue that some jurors nullified, but all the jurors obviously didn't, or he would have been acquitted in 1964. He died in prison, as he richly deserved.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder of Emmett Louis Till by an all white Mississippi jury in 1955. They publicly confessed in 1956. They were paid $4000 for the right to publish their confession.

Mose Wright, Emmett's great uncle was the first black man ever to testify against a white man in Mississippi and live.

Milam died of cancer in 1980. Bryant died of cancer in 1990.

In 2004 DOJ opened an investigation into the murder of Emmett Louis Till, based on evidence gathered by Keith A. Beauchamp (source for facts on these two scum above) of the participation of up to 14 others in the murder.

So two of the slimeballs escaped penalty for their hideous crime, but more participants may yet be prosecuted. I'm willing to bet that no jury will nullify if those prosecutions are brought.
9.4.2008 12:12am
A Republican candidate shows some support and Eric Muller suggests that they do so because they want to allow racists to go free for their crimes. I'm no legal scholar (although I imagine that Eric actually is one) but I doubt that there is any recent scholarly writing discussing how if juries use jury nullification racists will go free. I imagine most of it is more along the lines of "Jury nullification will prevent black people from being convicted of ridiculous drug offense that have ridiculous prison terms." But I'm pretty sure that Palin was acutally saying that she wanted Byron de la Beckwith to go free. Her support of a poll tax is also unconscionable.
9.4.2008 3:33am
TruePath (mail) (www):
The charitable interpretation of what Eric Muller was saying (which you seem to reasonably expect him to give others) is that he was pointing out that jury nullification has it's bad sides as well as it's good sides.

Regardless of what happened in this particular example and regardless of what people TALK about jury nullification accomplishing it does present the danger that people will use it to apply their prejudices and local biases.

I mean to give a less contentious example I think almost all Americans agree on the importance of having anti-theft laws, even when the theft is committed against a large corporation. However, it's one thing to agree with this in the abstract it's another thing to apply this law when the guy who committed the theft is a value community member everyone knows was going through a rough time and was tight on cash while the corporation is distant and unsympathetic.

I don't mean to suggest that this in particular would be the sort of problem one might see with jury nullification but it illustrates the fact that it allows local communities to nullify federal and state laws that might otherwise apply to them. I vaguely seem to remember we fought a war to stop this kind of practice.


To be clear I'm generally a fan of jury nullification, mostly because I think the drug laws are so bad. However, it's puzzling how jury nullification could work for drug laws but not create enough support to repeal the harsh penalties. Maybe it's something many people favor weakly and a few people oppose strongly?? Or maybe it would only work in druggie cities.

In any case the point is that there are serious drawbacks and concerns that jury nullification raises.
9.4.2008 6:33am

In any case the point is that there are serious drawbacks and concerns that jury nullification raises.

of course there are. just like there are drawbacks and concerns with having juries in the first place... see: OJ

the same could be said for gun rights.

but both do something very noble. They recognize a great responsibility and a great power are held by THE PEOPLE, not the elites in the legal system/criminal justice system (lawyers, judges).

I see the right of jury nullification much like the right to keep and bear arms. The VAST majority of people who keep and bear arms will never have to fire their gun at a person, and most will not even use it defensively (most defensive uses involve no discharge). But that right and power is there. Most juries will not nullify. Those cases are somewhat rare. But the power is there. WITH THE PEOPLE.

Palin is clearly a rugged individualist in every sense of that word.
9.4.2008 1:23pm
Clay S. Conrad (mail):
Racist jury nullification is far more rare than people believe. During Byron De La Beckwith's first trial, two cops, in uniform, testified that they saw Beckwith at a gas station two hundred miles away when Medgar Evers was "getting himself killed."

There are dozens of similar cases, several of which I discussed in my 1997 Cornell Jrl. of Law &Pub. Pol'y article, Scapegoating the Jury. Many times, the prosecution was deliberately poor, the judge was biased, the investigators and witnesses lied, and the jury was blamed. An easy way to 1) make racism appear acceptable, and 2) make the government look fair (they tried the sumnabitch, didn't they?)

Very few lynching cases, or civil rights murder cases, were ever prosecuted. Hard to blame the juries for those injustices. Those that were prosecuted in federal courts (same citizens, different prosecutors, judges and investigators) almost uniformly ended in convictions.

I trust the integrity of a diverse jury far more than I do the integrity of jaded professionals, elected by and pandering to the majority. Is the jury perfect? Hell no. But before we condemn their exercise of discretion, remember that other actors also exercise discretion, without having to explain it to 11 of their neighbors. In the solitude of the prosecutor's office or the judge's chambers, it is far easier and far safer to act on racist impulses.
9.5.2008 11:39am
I suggest anyone seeking to inform himself about jury nullification read Judge Young's excellent recent opinion on the topic. Here is the link.

9.5.2008 11:44am
Okay, here's the link. Sorry about that.

Young Opinion
9.5.2008 11:46am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
I wouldn't call Young's Memorandum (not case opinion) is "excellent". More like incompetent as legal scholarship. If you want to research the topic start here.
9.5.2008 4:32pm
Iloilo Marguerite Jones (mail) (www):
"No mention of Byron de la Beckwith, Roy Bryant, or J.W. Milam, however.
Dave Hardy has more of a point than he may realize."

What you appear to overlook is that it was not the practice of jury nullification which was flawed in this instance, but rather the practice of jury selection: at that time, blacks in the south were largely excluded from jury service.

As this was a racist killing, it apparent even at first glance that the practice of exclusion against blacks was a significant factor in a case of racist killing of a black victim.

Jury selection process, not jury nullification, is the flawed practice in this instance.

Much more could be said about the flawed practices associated with voir dire, but I will leave that for another time.

Iloilo Marguerite Jones
9.6.2008 6:46pm
Iloilo Marguerite Jones (mail) (www):
Further, one might reason that this is an issue of the definition of the vicinage: the definition of the South at this time generally excluded blacks from the vicinage.
9.6.2008 7:36pm