Amazing Disgrace: Assault on Juries and the Bill of Rights

The erosion of our liberties has gotten so bad that I have for years had a poster on my wall, a blow-up of the original, hand-written Bill of Rights. But across the handwriting there is a huge red rubber-stamped message: “VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW”.

At this very moment, Bush is trying to have our Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury suspended in cases involving terrorism. The feds have already said that unless your criminal case can result in a fine of $5000 or more, and/or entail 6 months or more in prison, it does not warrant a trial by jury. And lately, the Supreme Court judged that it was okay to deny an accused person a trial by jury even if the potential punishment is greater than that, as long as the “usual” punishment is six months in jail or less, or $5000 in fines or less. But the Sixth Amendment says ANY criminally accused person has a right to a jury trial, and makes no mention of any qualifications.

And if you think that’s bad, take a look at the Seventh Amendment, which says that the government cannot overturn a jury verdict in a civil trial, something that is now done regularly. In civil cases, the jury’s “final word” is meaningless — civil juries are now no more than advisory bodies to the all-powerful judge, who can issue a verdict “J.N.O.V. — the initials of a Latin phrase meaning “notwithstanding the jury verdict.”

And if you think that’s also bad, take a look at the Fifth Amendment, which says that citizens shall have the right to protection by a grand jury, which shall determine if there is sufficient evidence to bring a person to trial. Most states no longer even convene grand juries, though the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that the Bill of Rights applies in all states. Instead, the government brings people to trial on the basis of “informations”, which turn out to be the whim of the local prosecutor.

And whatever became of the Fourth Amendment? Most of the drug-war legislation that has been passed in the past several years has, “by law,” entirely killed your right to privacy. Warrantless, no-knock searches are now legal, as are tapped phones and e-mails, and it’s all getting worse as anti-terrorism legislation kills what little is left of personal privacy.

Let’s have a look at the Second Amendment, while we are at it. Your right to keep and bear arms has been reduced to a series of permits so that you can still go duck hunting, when the entire purpose of that amendment was to ensure that the citizenry would never be outgunned by its own government, lest push come to shove. There are over 20,000 gun-control laws, and by and large, they have only disarmed the honest, and made them easy prey for well-armed criminals and government thugs.

And as long as we are looking for things that “don’t make sense” in our “free” country, might as well have a gander at the beleaguered First Amendment, which used to guarantee free speech (dead on arrival of “political correctness”), freedom of religion (except if your church happens to prescribe the use of peyote, as in some native American religions, or marijuana, as with the Rastafarians), freedom of assembly (unless the government decides your demonstration or organization or literature or use of the flag is “dangerous” or otherwise distasteful).

This is the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, but I am confident that my point is clear. The ideal world we’re taught in school is pure mythology, and the abuse of the jury system by the Supreme Court is just one of thousands of infringements on our rights as citizens that have been declared “legal,” either by legislatures, in response to special-interest pressure, or by judges in courts of appeal, which is to say, by “case law.”

It is for precisely that reason that the Fully Informed Jury Association exists: we figure that if juries find out they can judge the laws of the land, instead of believing they have to apply the law as written, like it or not, then control of the government will return to the people, where it started and where it belongs. And that is precisely why the government is making every effort to suppress the truth about jury nullification — the government is not the least bit interested in honoring the Bill of Rights, or in having to submit to the will of the people.

Larry Dodge is the founder of the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA). FIJA is located in Helmville, Montana. Larry can be e-mailed at [email protected].