If only the jurors in Martha Stewart’s trial had heard of the power of jury nullification. In our judicial system today, judges instruct juries that they can only evaluate the facts, not the law. But this is a falsehood. Traditionally, juries have had the power to judge both the facts and the law, and by right (if not always in practice) they still do. Every once in a while we still hear of a jury (sometimes in a tv show or movie) that, despite the judge’s admonition to judge only the facts, finds a law to be unjust and lets the accused go free.
Juries have final veto power over all acts of legislature. The power of jury nullification is part of the checks and balances set up in the Constitution to restrain our government. Like many other elements in the checks and balances system, it has been steadily eroded by government officials and lawyers. Jury nullification is one of the final safeguards we have against an unjust and tyrannical government. We let the government take it away from us at our own peril.
Judging from the comments of some of the jurors in Martha’s case, the power of jury nullification, if they had been aware of it, probably would not have helped her. This is due in large part to the poor education that our public education system provides and to the many sophisms uttered by politicians and the mainstream media about insider trading, the rich, economics and law in general, and Martha herself. Who knows though, if the jurors had known about the power of jury nullification, maybe they would have had a twinge of conscience and let her go.
For more information on the power of jury nullification:
Jurors’ Handbook: A Citizens Guide to Jury Duty
“An Essay on the Trial by Jury” (1852) by Lysander Spooner