FIJA'S SELECTED QUOTES John Adams, who became the second U.S. President, in 1771 said of t
FIJA'S SELECTED QUOTES
John Adams, who became the second U.S. President, in 1771 said of 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." Quoted
in Yale Law Journal 74 (1964):173.
Alexander Hamilton (1804): Jurors should acquit even against the judge's instruction "...if
exercising their judgment with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the
charge of the court is wrong." Quoted in Joseph Sax, Yale Law Review 57 (June 1968):
John Jay, first Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, in Georgia v. Brailsford, 1794:4 said: "The
jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy."
Samuel Chase, Supreme Court Justice and signer of the Declaration of Independence, 1804:
"The jury has the right to determine both the law and the facts."
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Thomas Paine, 1789: "I consider trial by jury as the only
anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of
Theophilus Parsons, "...a leading supporter of the Constitution of the United States in the
convention of 1788 by which Massachusetts ratified the Constitution, appointed by President
Adams in 1801 Attorney General of the United States, but declining that office, and
becoming Chief Justice of Massachusetts in 1806" said:
"The people themselves have it in their power effectually to resist usurpation, without being
driven to an appeal to arms. An act of usurpation is not obligatory; it is not law; and any
man may be justified in his resistance. Let him be considered as a criminal by the general
government, yet only his fellow citizens can convict him; they are his jury, and if they
pronounce him innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they
certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of usurpation." 2
Elliot's Debates, 94; 2 Bancroft's History of the Constitution, p. 267. Quoted in Sparf and
Hansen v. U.S., 156 U.S. 51 (1895), Dissenting Opinion: Gray, Shiras, JJ., 144.
"Unless the jury can exercise its community conscience role, our judicial system will have
become so inflexible that the effect may well be a progressive radicalization of protest into
channels that will threaten the very continuance of the system itself. To put it another way,
the jury is...the safety valve that must exist if this society is to be able to accommodate its
own internal stresses and strains...[I]f the community is to sit in the jury box, its decision
cannot be legally limited to a conscience-less application of fact to law." William Kunstler,
quoted in Franklin M. Nugent, Jury Power: Secret Weapon Against Bad Law, revised from
Youth Connection, 1988.
"Every jury in the land is tampered with and falsely instructed by the judge when it is told
it must take (or accept) as the law that which has been given to them, or that they must
bring in a certain verdict, or that they can decide only the facts of the case." Lord Denman,
C.J. O'Connel v. R. (1884).
"For more than six hundred years--that is, since Magna Carta, in 1215, there has been no
clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases, it is
not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what
was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and
paramount duty, to judge of the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in
their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating, or resisting the
execution of, such laws." Lysander Spooner, An Essay on the Trial by Jury, 1852, p. 11.
"In the trial of all criminal cases, the Jury shall be the Judges of Law, as well as of fact,
except that the Court may pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction."
Article XXIII, Constitution of Maryland.
"Because of this constitutional mandate, this instruction is given to criminal jurors in
'Members of the Jury, this is a criminal case and under the Constitution and the laws of the
State of Maryland in a criminal case the jury are the judges of the law as well as of the facts
in the case. So that whatever I tell you about the law while it is intended to be helpful to
you in reaching a just and proper verdict in the case, it is not binding upon you as members
of the jury and you may accept or reject it. And you may apply the law as you apprehend
it to be in the case. '" Alan Scheflin and Jon Van Dyke, Jury Nullification: The Contours
of a Controversy, Law and Contemporary Problems, 43, 83. (1980)
"If the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit,
even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by a judge, and contrary to the evidence...If
the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent
circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their
logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that
decision." United States v. Moylan, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1969, 417 F.2d at 1006.
The jury has an "unreviewable and irreversible power...to acquit in disregard of the
instructions on the law given by the trial judge...The pages of history shine on instances of
the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and instructions
of the judge; for example, acquittals under the fugitive slave law. U.S. v. Dougherty, D.C.
Circuit Court of Appeals, 1972, 473 F.2d at 1130 and 1132. (Nevertheless, the majority
opinion held that jurors need not be told this. Dissenting Chief Judge Bazelon thought that
they ought to be so told.)
"The arguments for opposing the nullification instruction are, in our view, deficient because
they fail to weigh the political advantages gained by not lying to the jury...What impact will
this deception have on jurors who felt coerced into their verdict by the judge's instructions
and who learn, after trail, that they could have voted their consciences and acquitted? Such
a juror is less apt to respect the legal system." Alan Scheflin and Jon Van Dyke, "Jury
Nullification: the Contours of a Controversy," Law and Contemporary Problems, 43, No.4,105-
"In a representative government...there is no absurdity or contradiction, nor any arraying of
the people against themselves, in requiring that the statutes or enactments of the government
shall pass the ordeal of any number of separate tribunals, before it shall be determined that
they are to have the force of laws. Our American constitutions have provided five of these
separate tribunals, to wit, representatives, senate, executive...jury, and judges; and have made
it necessary that each enactment shall pass the ordeal of all these separate tribunals, before
its authority can be established by the punishment of those who choose to transgress
it...there is no more absurdity in giving a jury a veto upon the laws than there is in giving
a veto to each of these other tribunals." Lysander Spooner, An Essay on the Trial by
"In all criminal cases whatsoever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the
facts." Article 1, section 19 of the Indiana Constitution. Upheld, Holliday v. State 257 N.E.
"It is useful to distinguish between the jury's right to decide questions of law and its power
to do so. The jury's power to decide the law in returning a general verdict is indisputable.
The debate of the nineteenth century revolved around the question of whether the jury had
a legal and moral right to decide questions of law." Note (anon.), The Changing Role of the
Jury in the Nineteenth Century, Yale Law Journal, 74,170 (1964).
"Underlying the conception of the jury as a bulwark against the unjust use of governmental
power were the distrust of 'legal experts' and a faith in the ability of the common people.
Upon this faith rested the prevailing political philosophy of the constitution-framing era: that
popular control over, and participation in, government should be maximized. Thus John
Adams stated that 'the common people...should have as complete a control, as decisive a
negative, in every judgment of a court of judicature' as they have, through the legislature, in
other decisions of government." Note (anon.) The Changing Role of the Jury in the
Nineteenth Century, Yale Law Journal, 74, 172,(1964).
"Since natural law was thought to be accessible to the ordinary man, the theory invited each
juror to inquire for himself whether a particular rule of law was consonant with principles
of higher law. This view is reflected in John Adams' statement that it would be an
'absurdity' for jurors to be required to accept the judge's view of the law, 'against their own
opinion, judgment, and conscience.'" Note (anon.) The Changing Role of the Jury in the
Nineteenth Century, Yale Law Journal, 74, 172, (1964).
"...[T]he right of the jury to decide questions of law was widely recognized in the colonies.
In 1771, John Adams stated unequivocally that a juror should ignore a judge's instruction
on the law if it violates fundamental principles:
'It is not only...[the juror's] right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to
his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the
direction of the court.'
There is much evidence of the general acceptance of this principle in the period immediately
after the Constitution was adopted." Note (anon.), The Changing Role of the Jury in the
Nineteenth Century, Yale Law Journal 74, 173 (1964).
"During the first third of the nineteenth century,...judges
frequently charged juries that they were the judges of law as well as the fact and were not
bound by the judge's instructions. A charge that the jury had the right to consider the law
had a corollary at the level of trial procedure: counsel had the right to argue the law--its
interpretation and its validity--to the jury." Note (anon.), The Changing Role of the Jury in
the Nineteenth Century, Yale Law Journal 74, 174,(1964).
Alexander Hamilton, acting as defense counsel in a seditious libel case, said: "That in
criminal cases, nevertheless, the court are the constitutional advisors of the jury in matter of
law; who may compromise their conscience by lightly or rashly disregarding that advice, but
may still more compromise their consciences by following it, if exercising their judgments
with discretion and honesty they have a clear conviction that the charge of the court is
wrong." 7 Hamilton's Works (ed. 1886), 336-373.
New York Supreme Court Justice Kent (1803): "The true criterion of a legal power is its
capacity to produce a definitive effect, liable neither to censure nor review. And the verdict
of not guilty in a criminal case, is, in every respect, absolutely final. The jury are not liable
to punishment, nor the verdict to control. No attaint lies, nor can a new trial be awarded.
The exercise of this power in the jury has been sanctioned, and upheld in constant activity,
from the earliest ages." 3 Johns Cas., 366-368. Quoted in Sparf and Hansen v. U.S., 156
U.S.51, 148-149. (1894) (Gray, Shiras, JJ, dissenting).
"Within six years after the Constitution was established, the right of the jury, upon the
general issue, to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy, was unhesitatingly and
unqualifiedly affirmed by this court, in the first of the very few trials by jury ever had at
its bar, under the original jurisdiction conferred upon it by the Constitution.
"The report shows that, in a case in which there was no controversy about the facts, the
court, while stating to the jury its unanimous opinion upon the law of the case, and
reminding them of 'the good old rule, that on questions of fact it is the province of the jury,
on questions of law it is the province of the court to decide,' expressly informed them that
'by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction', the jury 'have
nevertheless a right to take upon themselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as
well as the fact in controversy.'" Supreme Court, Sparf and Hansen v. U.S., 156 U.S. 51,
154-155 (1894), from the dissent by Gray and Shiras.
"It is universally conceded that a verdict of acquittal, although rendered against the
instructions of the judge, is final, and cannot be set aside; and consequently that the jury
have the legal power to decide for themselves the law involved in the general issue of guilty
or not guilty." From the dissent by Gray and Shiras, Supreme Court, Sparf and Hansen v.
U.S., 156 U.S. 51, 172 (1894).
"...[I]t is a matter of common observation, that judges and lawyers, even the most upright, able
and learned, are sometimes too much influenced by technical rules; and that those judges who
are...occupied in the administration of criminal justice are apt, not only to grow severe in their
sentences, but to decide questions of law too unfavorably to the accused.
"The jury having the undoubted and uncontrollable power to determine for themselves the
law as well as the fact by a general verdict of acquittal, a denial by the court of their right
to exercise this power will be apt to excite in them a spirit of jealousy and contradiction..."
"...[A] person accused of crime has a twofold protection, in the court and the jury, against
being unlawfully convicted. If the evidence appears to the court to be insufficient in law
to warrant a conviction, the court may direct an acquittal...But the court can never order the
jury to convict; for no one can be found guilty, but by the judgment of his peers." From the
dissent by Gray and Shiras, Supreme Court, Sparf and Hansen v. U.S., 156 U.S. 51, 174
"But, as the experience of history shows, it cannot be assumed that judges will always be just
and impartial, and free from the inclination, to which even the most upright and learned
magistrates have been known to yield--from the most patriotic motives, and with the most
honest intent to promote symmetry and accuracy in the law--of amplifying their own
jurisdiction and powers at the expense of those entrusted by the Constitution to other bodies.
And there is surely no reason why the chief security of the liberty of the citizen, the
judgment of his peers, should be held less sacred in a republic than in a monarchy." From
the dissent by Gray and Shiras, Supreme Court, Sparf and Hansen v. U.S., 156 U.S. 51, 176
"The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both the law and facts." Oliver
Wendell Holmes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Horning v. District of Columbia, 138 (1920).
"If juries were restricted to finding facts, cases with no disputed factual issues would be
withheld from the jury. But such cases are presented to the jury. By its general verdict of
innocence, the jury may free a person without its verdict being subject to challenge. The
judge cannot ask jurors to explain their verdict, nor may the judge punish the jurors for it.
Although judges now generally tell jurors they must obey the judge's instructions on the law,
the jurors may not be compelled to do so. If the jury convicts, however, the defendant is
entitled to a broad range of procedural protections to ensure that the jury was fair and
"When a jury acquits a defendant even though he or she clearly appears to be guilty, the
acquittal conveys significant information about community attitudes and provides a guideline
for future prosecutorial discretion in the enforcement of the laws. Because of the high
acquittal rate in prohibition cases during the 1920s and early 1930s, prohibition laws could
not be enforced. The repeal of these laws is traceable to the refusal of juries to convict
those accused of alcohol traffic." Alan Scheflin and Jon Van Dyke, Jury Nullification:
The Contours of a Controversy, Law and Contemporary Problems 43, No.4, 71 (1980).
"Jury acquittals in the colonial, abolitionist, and post-bellum eras of the United States helped
advance insurgent aims and hamper government efforts at social control. Widespread jury
acquittals or hung juries during the Vietnam War might have had the same effect. But the
refusal of judges in trials of antiwar protesters to inform juries of their power to disregard
the law helped ensure convictions, which in turn frustrated antiwar goals and protected the
government from the many repercussions that acquittals or hung juries would have brought."
Steven E. Barkan, Jury Nullification in Political Trials, Social Problems, 31, No. 1, 38,
"...[T]he institution of trial by jury--especially in criminal cases--has its hold upon public favor
chiefly for two reasons. The individual can forfeit his liberty--to say nothing of his
life--only at the hands of those who, unlike any official, are in no wise accountable, directly
or indirectly, for what they do, and who at once separate and melt anonymously in the
community from which they came. Moreover, since if they acquit their verdict is final, no
one is likely to suffer of whose conduct they do not morally disapprove; and this introduces
a slack into the enforcement of law, tempering its rigor by the mollifying influence of
current ethical conventions. A trial by any jury...preserves both these fundamental elements
and a trial by a judge preserves neither..." Judge Learned Hand, U.S. ex rel McCann v.
Adams, 126 F.2d 774, 775-76 (2nd Circuit, 1942).
"It's easy for the public to ignore an unjust law, if the law operates behind closed doors and
out of sight. But when jurors have to use a law to send a man to prison, they are forced to
think long and hard about the justice of the law. And when the public reads newspaper
accounts of criminal trials and convictions, they too may think about whether the convictions
are just. As a result, jurors and spectators alike may bring to public debate more informed
interest in improving the criminal law. Any law which makes many people uncomfortable
is likely to attract the attention of the legislature. The laws on narcotics and abortion come
to mind--and there must be others. The public adversary trial thus provides an important
mechanism for keeping the substantive criminal law in tune with contemporary community
values." D.C. Circuit Court Judge D. Bazelon, "The Adversary Process--Who Needs It?" 12th
Annual James Madison Lecture, New York University School of Law (April, 1971), reprinted
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