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celebrate jury rights day fija sept 5th


Celebrate Jury Rights Day with FIJA on Sept 5th

By Mark Wachtler

August 22, 2016. Helena, MT (ONN) Why would someone choose a trial by jury instead of a bench trial? Because people are more likely to receive sympathy, and justice, from other human beings just like them rather than a machine-like justice system hidden behind closed doors and controlled by an employee of that system who has unlimited and unchallenged authority, and who may or may not be drunk on his or her own power and slightly less than sane.

Another reason a person might choose a trial by jury is because Congress, state legislatures, county boards, and city councils are made up of imperfect men and women who often pass destructive or unjust laws. A judge will follow the law as written by the executive or legislative branches, regardless of any injustice it might produce. But a jury of one’s peers may protect an innocent from an unjust prosecution, if the jury has that power.

Happy Jury Rights Day – September 5th

Imagine being arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint and facing life in prison for it. Imagine being a teenager facing a trumped up charge with falsified evidence because the local police are determined to clean up the streets. Imagine being a peaceful activist who often criticizes government corruption and is rounded up and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government because of it. Those are all real examples and in each instance, juries have acquitted the defendants even though they may have been technically guilty.

What is Jury Rights Day? According to our good friends at the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA):

‘On September 5 each year for more than 25 years, FIJA has celebrated Jury Rights Day as our signature day of educational outreach.  On this day in 1670, William Penn of London was arrested for publicly preaching the Quaker religion in violation of England’s Conventicles Act, which outlawed the public practice of religions other than the Church of England.’

A recent FIJA announcement promoting Jury Rights Day goes on to explain:

‘Though he had technically broken the law, Penn pled Not Guilty. Nonetheless, the court repeatedly and with increasing agitation instructed the jurors to find Penn guilty. In punishment for the jurors’ refusal to enforce this unjust law, the court jailed the noncompliant jurors, withholding from them food and water, tobacco and fire.

Some of the jurors appealed their fines and imprisonment.  In a case known as Bushell’s case, the higher court ruling confirmed that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict, even if a law has technically been broken. Penn’s and Bushell’s cases not only firmly established our jury rights in the common law tradition, but also laid a foundation for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly that we hold dear still today.’

Participate in your community

Many of us, including your humble author, have stood on public sidewalks outside courthouses and handed out those famous yellow FIJA fliers to passers-by, many of whom are entering the courthouse on their way to jury duty. Some have even been arrested for it and charged with everything from trespassing to jury tampering. But with the free legal assistance of FIJA, each defendant has been acquitted.

The Fully Informed Jury Association has always been there for peaceful social and political activists, regardless of whether they’re left wing or right wing. And on September 5th, we can return the favor and be there for FIJA. To celebrate Jury Rights Day, the organization gives the following suggestions:

  • Participate in a Labor Day parade or other event to create more fully informed jurors in your community.

  • Speak to a local civic group or school about the history of Jury Rights Day and the protective role of the jury.

  • Submit an op-ed or write a letter to the editor of a local or national publication or website discussing jury nullification and Jury Rights Day.

  • Call into or be a guest on a talk radio show to discuss jury rights.

  • Follow @FIJANational on Twitter and use hashtag #JuryRightsDay to promote Jury Rights Day before September 5 and to inform people about jurors’ rights on September 5.

For more information, visit FIJA.org.


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