No Potted History of the Role of Juries

by Don Boudreaux on December 25, 2010

in Complexity & Emergence, History, Law

Here’s a letter to the Los Angeles Times:

Reporting on the increasing number of jurors who refuse to return guilty verdicts against defendants charged with possessing marijuana, you quote a government prosecutor who tells jurors “We’re not here to debate the laws.  We’re here to decide whether or not somebody broke the law” (“Juries are giving pot defendants a pass,” Dec. 25).

This prosecutor is mistaken to assume that the law is simply that which the state declares it to be.  A great advantage of trial by jury – an advantage applauded by the likes of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – is to enable the community’s evolved sense of law and justice to moderate, or even to nullify, government’s criminal statutes.  As Edward Gibbon observed, “Whenever the offense inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.”

Fortunately, more and more people understand that punishing a peaceful person simply for smoking pot is horrible.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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