The Instigator
JBlake
Pro (for)
Winning
19 Points
The Contender
lordjosh
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Jury Nullification is a Constitutional Right in the United States

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 4 votes the winner is...
JBlake
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/8/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 15,654 times Debate No: 6819
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (20)
Votes (4)

 

JBlake

Pro

I affirm the resolution:
Juries have the constitutional authority to nullify laws.

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My position is simple: Jury Nullification appears in the Constitution of the United States of America and any attempt to take it away would be unconstitutional. I reserve the right to make additional arguments in the second round of debate.

To support my position I intend to cite the following portions of the constitution:
Article III Section 2 [1]
Sixth Amendment [2]
Fifth Amendment [3]

1. http://www.law.cornell.edu...
2. http://www.usconstitution.net...
3. http://www.usconstitution.net...

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Definitions:
Jury Nullification - the ability of a jury to ignore a law that it finds unjust in a specific case.

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ARTICLE III SECTION 2 and the SIXTH AMENDMENT
Article III Section 2 and the Sixth Amendment both guaruntee an trial by impartial jury:
"The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury" [1]
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed" [2]

These two guaruntees imply that the ultimate decision of guilt is to be decided by a jury. To require a trial by jury is to imply that jury's ability to come to its own conclusion regarding acquital or conviction. That means that a jury can acquit a defendant for any reason, however illogical. In other words, the court is prohibited from overturning the verdict of a jury.
This should be enough to show an implied power of jury nullification.

However, another portion of the constitution, the double jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment, prohibits the government from attempting to circumvent a jury by reprosecuting someone who has been acquitted.

If we put both of these implications together we get a jury that has the ability to acquit on any grounds (including that they find a law unjust), and a court that is powerless to overturn this acquittal.

THEREFORE,
Any attempt or any law removing the power of jury nullification is unconstitutional (such as the law requiring judges to inform juries that they must decide a case based on the law, as described by the judge).
lordjosh

Con

There is no support in law or prececedents for jury nullification of law. There are processes in our system for the people to create and change law. I cannot support this resolution.

The three sections of the US Constitution my opponent cites are restrictions on the federal government alone. Therefore, all trials within' the authority of the several states are subject to state law. As for the feds, my opponent trys to imply an intent that has never before been practiced in our history. First, the right to appeal should demonstrate that never has the jury verdict reign supreme. The remedies for judges who may direct a jury to a false interperetation of the law are many. For starters, the peoples' representitives may impeach and remove the judge from his bench. The President may pardon the accused or commute the sentence. The people also have many avenues to repeal what they consider unjust laws or unjust decisions from judges. California's marriage amendment is a good case in point.

A verdict should be based on the law as decided by the whole people, not the few who make up the jury of a particular case. One could only imagine the troubles that would be encountered. The numerous cases dismissed because one or a few people on that jury didn't like the law. The process of finding members would be a circus. Every potential juror would be asked if they support a law susequent to the case. If they affirm, one laywer will except and the other will reject, and vice-versa. It could be said that the idea would actually destroy the "trial by jury".
Debate Round No. 1
JBlake

Pro

I would like to thank Lord Josh for his quick response to my challenge. Unfortunately, he is quite misinformed on American History.

Lord Josh has rested his case almost entirely on the flimsy claim that there is no precedence in history to support Jury Nullification. Not only is this not true for the United States, it is not true for the England either, where we inherited much of our governmental structure and ideology.

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INTRODUCTION
My opponent has two major claims in his first round rebuttal:
1. Jury Nullification has no precedence in U.S. History; and
2. There are other "remedies for judges who may direct a jury to false interpretation of law".

I will address both of these issues below. I would like to note that Con did not address the constitutionality issue, and so that point (the basis for my argument) extends to the next round.

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1. Jury Nullification has a precedent in U.S. history.

Jury nullification has its basis in English law. However, since we are addressing constitutionality in the U.S. I will limit my examples to U.S. history. Jury nullification was common place in the early years of the U.S. It can be said that most of the founding generation personally supported nullification not only as a right for a jury, but as a Duty. This, as well, is irrelevent because we are discussing constitutionality. I will innumerate some of the more well known laws for which jury nullification was practiced:

a) Alien and Sedition Acts.
b) Fugitive Slave Laws.
c) Alcohol Prohibition Laws.
I contend that these are such well known examples of the regular practice of jury nullification that citations and specific examples are unnecessary, especially since we are arguing constitutionality, not historical precedent.

Additional evidence that jury nullification was the accepted norm:
A) Founding father and the first Chief Justice, John Jay, stated in the 1794 case U.S. Supreme Court Georgia v Brailsford:
"you have nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy."
(Full quotation can be found: http://www.constitution.org...)

B) Supreme Court Justice and signer of the Dec. of Independence:
"The jury has the right to determine both the law and the facts."
(Source: http://www.stormy.org...)

Both of the preceding lists show jury nullification has a precedence in practice and in principle.

2. There may be other remedies for the misconduct of judge. There may also be other remedies for the misconduct and unconstitutionality of the legislative and executive branches as well. All of that is irrelevent to the issue at hand, the constitutionality of jury nullification.

But let us pretend for a moment that it is relevent. The constitution is full of MULITPLE balances of power for each branch. The legislature is checked by the executive veto and by judicial review. The executive is checked by legislative impeachment and judicial review. The judicial branch is checked by the legislature and executive in appointments. All three are checked by regular elections by the people. Those are just some of the checks included in the constitution. Jury nullification was another. Jury nullification was intended to be a check for all three branches. If a jury finds a law passed by Representatives of the People, like was commonplace during the Fugitive Slave Laws, then they are given the power to nullify that law by acquitting despite guilt. Therefore, the fact that there are other remedies for misconduct does not mean that we should disregard one check and balance.

--------------

CONCLUSION
Con has rested his case on a misinformed reading of history. I have shown that there is, indeed, a precedent in U.S. history for Jury Nullification.
More importantly, Con did not address the resolution that Jury Nullification is a constitutional right. Therefore, all of my arguments extend.
lordjosh

Con

Your welcome jblake. I regret I may have responded too quickly. Knowledge is a desired benefit I seek through debate. Thank you for your help.

I recant my assertion that their is no precedent for jury nullification. However, after studying the evidence put forth by my opponent, it appears that his definition in the first, and statements in the second round, may be misguided.

"Jury Nullification - the ability of a jury to ignore a law that it finds unjust in a specific case"

He reiterates;

"[A] jury....has the ability to acquit on any grounds (including that they find a law unjust),..."

The idea that a jury may ignore a law that they may "find...unjust", regardless of the facts of the case seem to be unfounded by the evidence introduced. His final statement in the first round contradicts what I perceive the previous two statements meant.

"Any attempt or any law removing the power of jury nullification is unconstitutional (such as the law requiring judges to inform juries that they must decide a case based on the law, as described by the judge)."

The qualifying statement here is important; "as described by the judge"

it seems to me that the idea of jury nullification is that the jury may be the final arbitor of what the law says, not whether the law is just. It has also been said that a jury may acquit if they believe "that the law was not intended to apply to such a state of facts and that to return a guilty verdict would be unjust"[1] Although it does seem to be evident that some juries in our past have ignored law based on their disapproval of the law i.e. segregation, this is not the expected duty of a jury, however. There seems to be little recourse for this, I have to admit.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>"
a) Alien and Sedition Acts.
b) Fugitive Slave Laws.
c) Alcohol Prohibition Laws.
I contend that these are such well known examples of the regular practice of jury nullification that citations and specific examples are unnecessary, especially since we are arguing constitutionality, not historical precedent.
"<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Actually, you will have to excuse my ignorance. After over 7 years studying the US Constitution and our founding, I am embarrased to say this is the first time I've been exposed to the entire idea. So it would be helpful to me to cite some cases so I might further my education.

Moving on to what my opponent has put forth as evidence. The qoute by J. Jay in Georgia v. Brailsford. (Qoute b appears to be attributed to Jay, according to the reference cited, although it does not appear in that exact form in that case. It is simular to the qoute referenced to Samual Chase. Unfortunatly, the site does not give the reference.)
In Brailsford, Jay's statement makes it clear that, although "it is the province of the court to decide" what the law is, the jury has the final say. What is important is the distinction between determining what the law implies versus what the judge says the law is, and the ability to disregard the law in its entirety. Several statements in the same paragragh support this finding. I will focus on this sentence;

"On this, and on every other occasion, however, we have no doubt, you will pay that respect, which is due to the opinion of the court: For, as on the one hand, it is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumbable, that the court are the best judges of the law."

"the court are the best judges of the law". This is not saying that the judges are the legislator of law. Ipso facto juries seem to have a right to determine what the law says, and its intent, since this is the only authority of the court with regards to the law, and not whether the law itself is just. Of course, in the closed proceedings of a jury deliberation, whose to know except for the reason they give. Yet, I'm not sure if they are required to give reason. Further statements represented in the source cited by my opponent, "Source: http://www.stormy.org...... ", seem to prove this point.

>>>>>>>>>>
- Lysander Spooner "An Essay On the Trial by Jury" 1852

"There are five separate tribunals to veto laws: representative,senate, executive, judicial and jury. It's the right and duty of juries to hold all laws invalid that are unjust or oppressive, in their opinion. If a jury does not have this right, the government is absolute and the people are slaves. Is it absurd that twelve ignorant men should sit by and see the law decided erroneously? The justices are untrustworthy and are fond of power and authority. To allow them to dictate the law would surrender all property, liberty and rights of the people into the hands of arbitrary power."
>>>>>>>>>>>>
The first two sentences in this essay seems to support the idea that a jury could nullify law. However, the remainder of the qoute puts it in the prospective of ignoring a judges claim of what the law is, if that jury finds the judges opinion of the law erroneous.

So it does seem that jury nullification is part of the authority of the jury. And I agree that this is protected by the Constitution. Yet its historic practice, as far as I can tell, is limmited to the determination of what the law is, not whether the law itself is just. Having said that, it would seem that the jury may find a law unconstitutional, and therefore, ignore that law. That would be based on what the jury believes is the Supreme Law as agreed upon by the people over the legislation put into effect by the representatives, not on what the jury deems just in their own prejudices. further more the states have the authority to discontinue any such adherance if specificaly banned in their state constitutions. As the "trial by jury" may be disregarded by the states altogether.
notes:

[1] The Jury By Trial, A Political, Philosophical and Psychological Examination of the Jury(1993) The Oxford Guide to the Supreme Court 2nd edition, trial by jury
Debate Round No. 2
JBlake

Pro

I would like to wrap up this debate by thanking Lord Josh for taking up this debate with me. It would seem that we have a common interest in Constitutional History and I look forward to debating him in the future on this and other such topics.

I would like to begin by noting that Con has basically conceded defeat in his second round. In his concluding paragraph he stated:
"So it does seem that jury nullification is part of the authority of the jury. And I agree that this is protected by the Constitution."

He has affirmed the resolution with these two sentences, so the rest of his speech is irrelevent. In the interest of sport I will address his only other point - that, in practice, Jury Nullification is limited to determining the boundaries of a specific law.

-------------

As I stated above, Con bases the remainder of his case on the claim that Jury Nullification has no precedent in practice. To support this he takes the above quote by John Jay and focuses on the less powerful aspects that, taken alone, seem to back up his claim. I will cite the quote in its entirety:

>>>>>... on questions of fact, it is the province of the jury, on questions of law, it is the province of the court to decide. But it must be observed that by the same law, which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy. On this, and on every other occasion, however, we have no doubt, you will pay that respect, which is due to the opinion of the court: For, as on the one hand, it is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumbable, that the court are the best judges of the law. But still both objects are lawfully, within your power of decision. — Chief Justice John Jay.<<<<<

As you can see, taken out of context Con's claim could be perceived as true. However, in order to do that you must ignore the rest of the quote informing the jury that it is within their power to interpret or ignore the law if it be their choice.

Look very carefully at the wording. Justice Jay lays out the jurisdiction of the jury (determine facts) and of the court (determine laws). Again, taken alone that seems to support Con's position. However, Jay goes on to inform the jury that it is within their lawful jurisdiction to determine the laws as well. This means that if a jury finds a law to be unjust they can determine not to apply said law to the specific case. As Con points out, Jay says that he trusts and hopes that juries will "pay respect" to the court by following the court's interpretation of law rather than their own. This statement in no way binds them and can only be considered an opinion and a hope of one man. This is further evident by the following sentence reiterating that interpreting laws lawfully falls within the jurisdiction of the jury.

That takes care of setting the precedent in theory, how about it practice?

Con claims that the historic practice of Jury Nullification is "limmited [sic] to the determination of what the law is, not whether the law itself is just." As I have suggested, the well known examples during the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Fugitive Slave Laws, and Alcohol Prohibition show jury nullification in practice. In all of these examples, juries regularly refused to convict based on the justness of the law in question. Below I list a number of sources all citing precisely this practice:
http://www.friesian.com... - Para. 4, quote by Walter Williams. After the quotations on to the text: Paras. 7-9.
http://www.isil.org... - Para. 12 entitled 'The Fugitive Slave Law'
http://www.levellers.org... - Para. 26.

The list goes on and on. To research specific cases would be both a waste of time and superfluous.

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CONCLUSION
Con conceded the resolution in the second round of debate. For this reason I urge a vote in the affirmative.

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As I mentioned before, I enjoyed this debate and look forward to future debates on Constitutional History and Theory with Lord Josh. Thank you.
lordjosh

Con

I concede to my opponent.

I suggest to all, read the sites JBlake posted and pursue more knowledge on jury nullification. More importantly, tell everyone you know about this and encourage them to do the same. It is evident to me now, through my opponents sources and what I've found so far, that it is a "check and balance", maybe more valuable than any other, against the tyranny of an oppressive government. One that seems to have been ALMOST completely erased from our history and current procedure.
Hats off to JBlake.
Debate Round No. 3
20 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by statedebater 7 years ago
statedebater
i would like to point out the fact that although the evidence brought up was great you still have to way the fact that jurors take an oath saying they will agree with the law even if they think it is "unfair"
Posted by Askio 7 years ago
Askio
Anyways, to continue my last post, there are a few heads up that, if you're still in high school, should stop some pounding on your side for the new LD topic. Enjoy.

~GD Hernz~
Posted by Askio 7 years ago
Askio
I feel a few things must be cleared up.
There is a similar topic now obviously. However, as someone entering criminology in college soon, and as being involved in youth court and doing extensive work and study in my father's law firm, there are a few issues with how people are arguing jury nullification.

First, every single amendment and article cited defend and outline the right to trial by jury.

THERE IS NOT CLAUSE, AMENDMENT, ARTICLE, etc. THAT ENTITLES THE RIGHT TO JURY NULLIFICATION.

Such an interpretation is a skew of facts and will get you a beating from anyone with constitutional knowledge, as everything you cited is misquoted or misunderstood. Jury nullification is not in the constitution, only the right to trial by jury; which, by the way, is to prevent an absolutist decision being made by the government, and also preventing subjective decisions without check. Hence why you have a judge and jury. (Though the effectiveness of this is lacking by the application of jury nullification itself.) Furthermore, your argument that can never be overturned is flawed. Only in the case of Double Jeopardy in a criminal case can a jury decision not be overturned. In every civil trial, for example, the jury's decision can be completely overturned, for legal reasons that I will not go into depth for purely for the sake that it would take more than a thousand characters to explain why.

Furthermore, your definition is can be abusive in the fact that it says jury nullification makes a decision purely through one concept. This can lead to abuse (key word can) which is why it's bad. But frankly, it's also misleading. Jury nullification is by definition, "When a jury renders a verdict outside of interpreting the facts and applying them to the law." Essentially, if a jury makes a decision for any reason outside of the facts provided in the trial or case itself, jury nullification has occurred. Your definition is essentially conditionally affirming.
Posted by JBlake 7 years ago
JBlake
Cherymenthol: I agree with you that jury nullification is unconstitutional, but for different reasons than you mention. I am not quite sure where you get the "abusive" part from, though. I don't recall being abusive in this debate (which was over a year ago, by the way).
Posted by tbtaylor 7 years ago
tbtaylor
it is not overrated.
Posted by Cherymenthol 7 years ago
Cherymenthol
EDIT:

Your definition is bad, abusive bad and unfair.

and isn't it ironic that you can bring up new arguments in your 2nd speech, yet he can't refute blatant abuse....

I am just saying had I seen this my votes would be:

Grammar: tie
Conduct: tie
arguments: CON
sources: tie
Posted by Cherymenthol 7 years ago
Cherymenthol
I was reading the encyclopedia for the supreme court today (yes I do LD i don't do it for fun) and a few things that might be found interesting came up. Not all criminal trials have to be judged by jury. (I'll tag the case in a later post or message you it but the book is at school). Furthermore Jury nullification directly violates the U.S. rule of law, ergo, jury nullification violates the constitution. Also you constructive speech was funny, you proved juries are constitutional right, which is semi incorrect, and then made a leap that has no warrants, which you as the A) Pro and B) instigator has the obligation of providing, to conclude Jury nullification was constitutionally protected. Also double jeopardy not relevant unless you run a counterplan on the actual resolution.
Posted by Ore_Ele 7 years ago
Ore_Ele
LD is overrated.
Posted by JBlake 7 years ago
JBlake
No.
Posted by tbtaylor 7 years ago
tbtaylor
does no one know how to debate the LD style anymore
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by JBlake 8 years ago
JBlake
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RoyLatham
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s0m31john
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Vote Placed by lordjosh 8 years ago
lordjosh
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