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Grand Jury

  1. Aug 5, 2010 #1
    I have been selected to serve on a grand jury. We don't decide guilt or innocence as would a petit jury, we determine whether or not there will be a trial in the first place. The purpose is to limit the power of the govt to arrest people without probable cause. I assume that the prosecutors know what a grand jury will pass and what it won't pass and won't innundate us with poorly investigated cases.

    My problem is that there are certain crimes that I don't think should even be crimes and which apparently are a large percentage of what we are going to pass judgement on. I am only supposed to determine if the law was broken. I am not supposed to judge whether the law itself is good.

    What would you do if you thought that the law had indeed been broken, that the evidence against the defendant was sufficient, but that the law was a bad one? After all, you have a duty to the law and the state (county in my case), but also to the community.
     
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  3. Aug 5, 2010 #2
    There is jury nullification. The courts do not like it and would probably make it illegal if they could. I am unsure if jury nullification extends to grand juries as well though.

    A quick search seems to indicate that it can be used by grand juries. Of course you may also get in a spot of trouble if the court does not like what you are doing.
     
  4. Aug 5, 2010 #3
    "I am only supposed to determine if the law was broken. I am not supposed to judge whether the law itself is good."

    You answered your own question.
     
  5. Aug 5, 2010 #4
    What if it were Arizona? Would you fall into line?
     
  6. Aug 5, 2010 #5

    turbo

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    If you were called upon to judge Harriet Tubman based on the laws of the day, could you do it? If you were asked to judge the guilt of Rosa Parks for defying a Jim Crow law that said negroes had to give up bus seats to whites, could you do it? It might take jury nullification to undermine laws that are unjust. If you dig in your heels when you are told that you must strictly apply the law in all cases, you probably won't be selected for jury duty, but then again, you won't be on the jury, and able to nullify unjust laws.
     
  7. Aug 5, 2010 #6
    Truth. You are ethically obligated to judge the merits of the case, not the merits of the law.

    But you are not a machine, and jurors can and do adjudicate cases based on their perception of what the law ought to be, rather than what the law is. This is an intentional quirk of the justice system, and why we have trial by jury (when it is more common in the history of law generally to have trial by judges, who would be less likely in principle to let personal opinion sway their reasoning).

    Your peers are your last defense against a government run amok, so to speak.
     
  8. Aug 5, 2010 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    You are ethically obligated to a higher law when there is clearly an injustice. I defer to the Declaration of Independence for that argument.

    Given that a juror cannot be prosecuted for nullification, it is effectively a right.
     
  9. Aug 5, 2010 #8

    lisab

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    Yes but I think that's idealized. And I think it's recognized that if a juror has an issue with the law and/or the punishment, that's a legitimate reason to be dismissed.

    For example, in cases that could conceivably result in a death penalty, I'm pretty sure jurors who oppose capital punishment are omitted from selection. But I've not had first hand experience with this; has anyone here?
     
  10. Aug 5, 2010 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    I would never act as a mindless instrument of an unjust law.
     
  11. Aug 5, 2010 #10

    Evo

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    It's not your decision to make so you would need to exclude yourself from being selected. If you can't be fair you need to say so.

    Like if a murderer goes free, you can take the law into your own hands?
     
  12. Aug 5, 2010 #11
    I looked for information on jury nullification as it applies specifically to grand juries, but did not find any. Can you point me to what you found?

    What I did find was that for petit jury, it has become practice to prevent lawyers from telling the jury about their right to nullification, but to impose no penalty if the jury nullifies. My search was neither deep nor broad and so may be worthless. I also read that jury nullification of violations of alcohol prohibition reached to 60% of cases and contributed to the repeal of that law. Please do not consider that authoritative as I only did a cursory search.
     
  13. Aug 5, 2010 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    It is my decision to make. That is why I have the right to make it.

    Is there a law against it? No. Just because the justice systems tries to hide this fact, it is still a fact and how things are supposed to work.

    Not the same as this has been a tool of our justice system since the beginning. It is THE conservative point of view.

    You are comparing a right, to a crime.
     
  14. Aug 7, 2010 #13
    In the wiki article it mentions a grand jury refusing to indict the Earl of Shaftesbury. That was centuries ago though. Jury nullification is completely based on common law so it shouldn't make any difference unless there has been a precedent that has changed it.

    I didn't make a thorough search, just a quick google. It seems that you can simply refuse to indict. I do not think that there needs to be a unanimous decision in a grand jury though so the person may still be indicted even if you vote against.
     
  15. Aug 12, 2010 #14
    Today was the first day that we were presented with cases. As I expected, in every case, the witnesses, all police officers, presented clear-cut probable cause for an indictment. There were three cases where I exercised my right to jury nullification and I looked directly at the eyes of the prosecutor as I did so in order to remove any doubt as to what I was doing. However, the prosecutors were deliberately looking away from the jury as if they didn't want to know how we voted. Since I was voting no-bill on open and shut cases, I did draw the attention of the jury foreman who asked me about it. When I told him I wouldn't vote for indictment on cases of a particular kind he said that it was my duty to judge whether the law had been broken, not on the law itself. I asked him to look up jury nullification on the web and we could discuss it next week when we meet again. I intend to continue in this fashion until the end of my tour of duty, or I get kicked off.
     
  16. Sep 3, 2010 #15
    I was removed from the grand jury yesterday by the administrative judge who was not swayed by my forceful argument that jury nullification is a power given to the people.
     
  17. Sep 3, 2010 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Do you think you were denied your rights? It would be interesting to see what the ACLU has to say about it.

    If enough people do the same thing, it would be pretty tough to populate a jury. I guess it's a numbers game.
     
  18. Sep 3, 2010 #17

    Hurkyl

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    Shame on you for abusing the system.

    It's a wonderful thing that our justice system that a juror need not fear legal consequences for rendering what he judges to be the correct verdict.

    Fortunately, abusing this trust is not widespread, otherwise it would have to be revoked to re-establish the rule of law. (Or, I suppose, the right to a trial by jury could be revoked instead?)
     
  19. Sep 3, 2010 #18

    Evo

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    He wasn't judging guilt, it was a Grand Jury, it was simply deciding if a law had been broken so the police could pursue a suspect. This wasn't a trial.
     
  20. Sep 3, 2010 #19
    Actually, it was widespread during the prohibition era. 60% of cases brought acquital in spite of the evidence. The trust was not revoked. Instead the law against alcohol was repealed.
     
  21. Sep 3, 2010 #20

    Evo

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    So were these moonshiners or drug dealers you were against the law on?
     
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