A Journal for Western Man

 

 

 

Revolt by Jury

Michael Miller

Issue XI- February 14, 2003

 

 
Suppose government passed a law, and couldn't enforce it. 

This can happen legally, thanks to an ancient English institution: trial by jury. 

In the 19th century, the English government tried to sabotage free speech by seeding rallies with police informers. Some informers became seriously dead. When no jury would convict anyone for their deaths, the government gave up. If juries refuse to convict, the government's hands are tied. 

Trial by jury is one of the most potent checks on government power ever devised. It can't force government to do something, but it can prevent government doing almost anything. It has the power of flat obstruction: a veto. That veto power is limited to a single case, but a government would be crazy to ignore a string of them. It would risk destruction of all respect for law. 

Best of all, this veto is built into the law itself. It is not rebellion or disobedience. Juries which refuse to enforce unjust laws are neither outside the law nor disobeying the law: they are playing their proper role within the law. They are exercising legal rights sanctioned by a thousand years of history,1. and are teaching government its proper limits.2. Juries are not in rebellion when they veto bad laws, any more than voters are in rebellion when they turf out a bad government. 

Juries have always been the common man's institution. The Crown was usually rapacious. Parliament was always (and will always be) the preserve of those with money and connections. Juries stood as protection from the schemes of both. For the most part, the average Englishman could expect his legal fate to be decided by neither, but by twelve "honest men of the vicinage:" his neighbors. 

In Canada, what goes on in a jury room is sacrosanct: no one is allowed even to ask jurors the reasons for their verdict! The US has eroded the rights of jurors, subjecting them to inquisitions before they serve, and interrogations afterwards. US citizens may have to keep their views to themselves to get on a jury and to avoid reprisals, but they still have a veto. 

Jury power is not destroyed by use, but strengthened by use. It is like muscles, not like matches. We must learn to use it. 

Jury power resides in the moral character of jurors. If jurors regard themselves as moral imbeciles, mere passive enforcers of state decrees, then juries are impotent. But if jurors know their moral obligations, and take them seriously, they can shatter government delusions of omnipotence. 

Trial by jury is based on the view that justice is knowable, and is known to any honest man. To be valid, formal law must be just. So any honest man may judge a case, and a unanimous vote of 12 honest men may decide issues of life and death. Law must be reasonable, so any reasonable man is competent to judge it. 3. 

It is often said that a jury is sole judge of fact, but must accept the law as laid down by the judge. Clearly, a juror should accept the judge's explanation of the law, but he must then decide for himself if that law is just. The justice or injustice of the law is the primary fact of every case. 

The plain fact is that a juror has an overriding moral responsibility to seek justice in the case before him. If a law is evil, he has an absolute moral obligation to vote not guilty. A juror's first obligation is to judge the law. 

If you think this sounds like anarchy, you have been infected with notions alien to jury trial. Think what it would mean to sit on a jury, and expose someone to financial loss, imprisonment or death for breaking a law which you knew should never have existed, a law which you knew was evil. (Think of the laws of Nazi Germany if that helps focus your mind.) You would become an accomplice of the evil of the writers of that law. 

What could you plead in your moral defense? That you were just following orders? That you had no choice? But you did have a choice, a choice protected from all reprisals by an ancient and fundamental legal tradition. The choice was yours alone.  

Law is notoriously complex. You may wonder if ordinary men are competent to judge it. The answer is easy: they are. 

A law which cannot be understood is--by that very fact--unjust. The point of having laws is to know what is allowed and what is forbidden. If a juror--a normal man of average abilities--cannot understand a law, then normal men cannot know what it forbids. The juror must therefore judge it unjust, and vote not guilty as a matter of moral obligation. 

Finally, a law which is generally just may impose injustice in a particular case. This is the situation in which judges may fine someone one cent, and give him 99 years to pay it. (An Alberta judge levied such a fine some years ago on a woman who was charged with leaving the scene of an accident when she drove to the police station to report it!) A judge has discretion in sentencing and may convict, but a juror must vote not guilty. 

Because a jury verdict must be unanimous in criminal cases, every juror on a convicting jury is personally inflicting the law's punishment. The general moral standard for the juror is this: All things considered, am I morally justified to inflict the law's punishment myself? If the answer is no, a vote for acquittal is a moral necessity. 

That series of thuds you just heard is the statists in the land crashing to the floor in a dead faint! This view of the moral responsibilities of jurors is not anarchic--but it is truly revolutionary. It has been revolutionary for a thousand years! 

If you are ever charged under a law which you deem unjust, consider demanding your right to trial by jury. If even one juror shares your view, and takes his responsibilities as a juror seriously, you cannot be convicted. If re-tried, you will have the same chances again. 

It is reported that Mr Rock's gun controls are opposed by at least 30% of Albertans. If Albertans can be convinced to shoulder their responsibilities as jurors, 4. Mr Rock's chances of convicting anyone in Alberta aren't worth betting on! 

What are the chances of convicting a man for failing to register a firearm if I'm on the jury? Precisely zero! What are the chances of convicting someone who kills a robber during a robbery if I'm on the jury? Precisely zero! What are the chances of convicting anyone of tax evasion if I'm on the jury? Precisely zero! 

Revolt by jury is a legal means of tax revolt. Governments are spending like drunken sailors; failure to convict in a series of tax cases would sober them up right smartly. All we have to do is persuade one man in twelve that jurors have a moral obligation to acquit when the law is evil. 5  

Tax revolt by jury can serve as a stopgap until we can establish the inviolability of property rights. 

I've been told that publishing this moral theory might cause me legal problems; those who wish jurors to be moral imbeciles might construe it as counseling the commission of a crime! If I were to be charged, I would demand trial by jury. This paper would be the main evidence. What would the jury decide? 

What would you decide? 

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1. Give or take a few centuries. 
2. Governments are slow learners. 
3. This differs radically from the Continental European view of law. On that view, law is regarded as essentially arbitrary, made up by the state--a mysterious, arcane subject known to few. Judgments are handed down by agents of the state. After all, who else could be well-versed in the state's arbitrary decrees? 
4. It's up to you to convince them. Paper the province with this article. See QP #4:
Quackgrass activism.
5. Whether taxes are evil, at least at today's rates, is not worth debating. But see QP #13: Tax heroes. 

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You needn’t despair at media bias—you can become a Quackgrass activist! Copy this article! Keep the original for future copies. Paper meetings with it! Paper your office! Leave a stack on your business counter! If you expect hostility, use stealth and cunning—it’ll drive your opponents wild! Be ingenious! Have fun!

Michael Miller is an engineer and Objectivist filosofer with thirty years of experience. He had been a member of Boycott Alberta Medicare in 1969 and of the Association to Defend Property Rights from 1973 on. He writes in-depth filosofical theory for Quackgrass Press, which can be accessed at http://www.quackgrass.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue XI Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.

 

 

 

 

 

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