Trial By Jury

When someone is charged with a criminal act, their own rights are in jeopardy. Those charging them (the government for instance) intended to punish them with retaliatory force. Unless they are given a fair trial, the alleged retaliatory force could be an initiation of force. One means of ensuring a fair trial is by submitting the question of guilt to the jury of peers.

The Trial by Jury has a couple of uses, each important in preserving individual rights. The first is straightforward from above. The jury is comprised of non-biased individuals who judge the evidence and the charge. If the man is innocent, he will not be convicted, and the use of force will be prevented. If he's guilty, though, he will be punished appropriately. By allowing a group to decide, and forcing a unanimous decision, it helps to prevent the use of force against innocent people.

A second feature of the Trial by Jury has been almost forgotten. The jury has the responsibility to judge both the crime, as well as the law. Judging the law means determining whether the law is just or not, and whether it should even be a law. In this way, the jury acts as a final defense against government abuse. The jury has the ability to prevent an unjust law from being implemented. Its formal name is Jury Nullification.

This developed after the trial by jury was invented. There used to be laws that required the jury to vote according to the law, and prevented them from judging it. The first jury to violate this law was then put on trial. Not surprisingly, the jury in that trial voted not-guilty. Since then, the Trial by Jury has been a powerful tool at preventing government misuse of force.


Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands