The Independent Gazette visited the Luzerne County Courthouse Thursday, April 11th, and personally delivered the following letter to the county judges to whom it’s addressed. We will be following up on responses throughout the next couple of weeks.
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April 11, 2013
Louis R. Jasikoff
PO Box 509
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703
Judges Thomas Burke, Jennifer Rogers, Michael Vough, William Amesbury, Tina Polachek Gartley, David Lupas, Fred Pierantoni, Lesa Gelb, Richard Hughes, Joseph Sklarosky, Jr., and District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis
RE: FIJA (Fully Informed Jury Association) and Juror Rights
The Honorable Judges of Luzerne County and the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office:
Our Wilkes-Barre Independent Gazette May issue, hitting the streets May 7th, will include a full page article on juror rights and jury nullification—what nullification is and how it works.
On June 18, 2012, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed into law HB 146, which states:
“[A] Right of Accused.
In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”
This, of course, is the essence of jury nullification and yet throughout the United States, judges have forbidden defense attorneys from informing juries that they have a right to nullify a law based on their assessment of that law as unjust or in conflict with the US Constitution or their own state constitution. For example, a defense attorney in California who argues on grounds of nullification could face disbarment or other sanctions by the court.
It was none other than John Adams who said about the juror, “It is not only his right, but his duty . . . to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, framed the matter in this way: “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which government can be held to the principles of the constitution.”
Remaining in the Founding Fathers’ period, the case of John Peter Zenger is illustrative. He was found “not guilty” of seditious libel only after Andrew Hamilton informed the jury of its rights. The prosecution in the case argued that “truth is no defense,” because at the time it was forbidden by law to print damaging stories about the Royal Governor of the New York Colony, be they true or not.
Our question to each of you is simple and straight to the point. Where do you stand on this issue? We would like to know what would happen in your courtroom if a defense attorney were to relate this nullification information notifying the jurors that they not only possessed the right to judge a case based on its facts, but to judge the law itself.
Would they be cited for contempt or face even harsher penalties?
We’re going to pose a hypothetical question and one for which we’d like a direct answer. It is not intended as a typical “gotcha” question, but intended only to get to the heart of the matter, and should clearly indicate your stance regarding jury nullification. We’re letting you know the question beforehand, so you have ample time to formulate your response.
In most courtrooms today the judge will instruct the jury to uphold the law as he presents it to them. Now, if Rosa Parks were to appear in your courtroom today, would you permit her defense attorney to instruct the jury regarding its prerogatives and obligations without fear of sanctions? The facts of the matter would not be in dispute: it was against the law for Parks to sit where she was sitting. If Parks’ defense attorney were not allowed to notify the jury of it rights, that jury would have no choice but to return a guilty verdict.
I have included the previous two editions of our newspaper. Currently, we print 5,000 copies per issue, and expect to increase this quantity to somewhere between 7,500 and 10,000 for the May edition. We also enjoy a robust online presence, coordinating our efforts with those of numerous groups in the area. A Scranton edition of the Independent Gazette should launch in May or June.
Your responses will be posted in both newspapers, among online groups and local and national legal organizations. We also possess a broadcast radio outlet, as “Tea Party Mike” and I are heard Saturday mornings on 94.3FM, The Talker.
Thank you for your cooperation and we look forward to your responses.
Louis R. Jasikoff