Reblogged from The Secular Jurist:
By Robert A. Vella
Nullification is a term used in American political nomenclature to identify the constitutionally-invalid proposition that states can ignore federal laws they disagree with. This notion became a popular rallying point in the Antebellum South when plantation owners fought to preserve the institution of slavery. It was also used to justify the infamous Jim Crow laws which sprang-up in the former Confederate states after the U.S. Civil War. Even today, the idea of nullification is being championed by the Tea Party in an effort to legitimize its radical anti-government agenda.
But, there is a perfectly legal way of nullifying federal, state, and local laws very few Americans know about because the U.S. judicial system is deliberately concealing it. From Wikipedia:
Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury acquits a defendant, even though the members of the jury believe the defendant to be guilty of the charges. This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case. A jury can similarly convict a defendant on the ground of disagreement with an existing law, even if no law is broken (although in jurisdictions with double jeopardy rules, a conviction can be overturned on appeal, but an acquittal cannot).
A jury verdict contrary to the letter of the law pertains only to the particular case before it. If a pattern of acquittals develops, however, in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offence, this can have the de facto effect of invalidating the statute. A pattern of jury nullification may indicate public opposition to an unwanted legislative enactment.
In the past, it was feared that a single judge or panel of government officials may be unduly influenced to follow established legal practice, even when that practice had drifted from its origins. In most modern Western legal systems, however, juries are often instructed to serve only as “finders of facts“, whose role it is to determine the veracity of the evidence presented, and the weight accorded to the evidence, to apply that evidence to the law and reach a verdict, but not to decide what the law is. Similarly, juries are routinely cautioned by courts and some attorneys not to allow sympathy for a party or other affected persons to compromise the fair and dispassionate evaluation of evidence during the guilt phase of a trial. These instructions are criticized by advocates of jury nullification. Some commonly cited historical examples of jury nullification involve the refusal of American colonial juries to convict a defendant under English law.
Juries have also refused to convict due to the perceived injustice of a law in general, or the perceived injustice of the way the law is applied in particular cases. There have also been cases where the juries have refused to convict due to their own prejudices such as the race of one of the parties in the case.
Obviously, general application of this legal concept would open up a gigantic can-of-worms in jury trials, and that is certainly the reason why it is being kept under wraps. Prosecutors would be forced to dismiss prospective jurors who understood and believed in its validity. That could pose enormous logistical problems for court proceedings.
Jury nullification does, however, offer intriguing prospects for mitigating patently unjust laws such as Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground statute which enabled the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. How this could be employed without allowing egregious abuses, such as acquittals based solely on race, remains completely unresolved. If a workable solution could be found, jury nullification might prove to be an effective tool in combating the gross inequality now pervading the American system of justice.
Further reading: Nullification: Jurors’ Secret Weapon Against Harsh Sentencing
Watch video of politically savvy actor Matt Damon express disappointment in Pres. Obama’s second term. He also criticizes the Stand Your Ground law in regards to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.
Marissa Alexander is many things- a black woman, a mother, a domestic abuse survivor, and a violent criminal serving a 20-year bid.
Her crime in the eyes of a jury that took only 12 minutes to render their verdict was three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, according to TheGrio.com.The thing is, no one was actually hurt. That’s unless you consider a ceiling a person.
It all happened during a confrontation between Alexander and Rico Gray, her then-husband, in which she felt threatened. Considering the fact that Gray had a history of abusing her physically, it is not hard to understand why she may have been frightened.
So, in the course of the confrontation she took out a gun and fired it above her husband’s head, presumably to scare him off, since she never once aimed at him directly. His two children happened to be in the room during the incident, hence the three counts, though the children were never hurt, either.
A typical self-defense case? In the eyes of many, yes. A Stand Your Ground-worthy case? In the eyes of the law, it should have been. In fact, Alexander attempted to use the law as her defense, but the judge in the case rejected it.TheGrio.com explains the outcome of the case:
“The fact that Alexander, a domestic violence victim, was denied use of ‘Stand Your Ground’ to facilitate her claim of self-defense has served as an example for some of how the law is not equally applied to all races and all genders.”
The fact that George Zimmerman actually did shoot someone, and that person died, yet Zimmerman is walking free doesn’t make much sense in comparison to Alexander’s case. Zimmerman shot and killed someone “in self defense” who was smaller than himself and was unarmed; Alexander fired a warning shot in self defense that didn’t hit anyone and was not intended to hit anyone, while trying to protect herself from someone who had battered her before. Yet she’s in prison and he’s not.
Fortunately for Alexander, Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard also sees this as an imbalance of justice. According to TheGrio:
“State Senator Dwight Bullard sent letters to three members of the governor’s cabinet Monday, requesting that Alexander be granted a pardon and released from prison. The letter was sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi, the state’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Attwater, and the Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putman.”
Under the Florida constitution, the governor has the authority to give pardons. In the letter, Bullard writes:
“[Alexander] was denied a defense under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ protections, and was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Surely Ms. Alexander had a clear right to defend herself and not retreat from the middle of an altercation in which her life and safety were at stake.”
So what are the chances the pardon will be issued? Bullard is optimistic, saying that the work of the Dream Defenders (a group of young activists fighting to have Stand Your Ground repealed) has helped bring more exposure to Alexander’s case. He says:
“When [the Florida government] looks at the facts of the case it’s obvious, and that’s what gives me optimism,” says Bullard, “Opponents of ‘Stand Your Ground’ didn’t have much to look forward to [after the Zimmerman verdict] but between the success of the Dream Defenders who have been protesting for weeks in the capital, people are now doing a serious analysis of the flaws in ‘Stand Your Ground’ and this will carry over to Ms. Alexander’s case. For the everyday citizen [it] is hard to understand how one person [George Zimmerman] goes free claiming self defense for killing an unarmed teenager and another person goes to jail for killing no one.”
“These facts should create an uneasiness and from the political standpoint it would be in the best interest of the governor to pardon Ms. Alexander.”
There are several petitions on Alexander’s behalf calling for a pardon, as well.
Folding to revolutionary pressure, Florida lawmakers announced Friday that they will hold hearings this fall on the state’s controversial and racially biased “Stand Your Ground” laws, reports Raw Story. Will Weatherford, the speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives, made the announcement, which marks the largest victory to date for the bold and courageous ‘Dream Defenders.’
For the full story and video, go to newsone.com.