In 1670, William Penn and William Mead were arrested and charged with violating the Coventicle Act. This act forbade religious assemblies of more than five people, unless they were assembling on behalf of the Church of England. Using jury nullification, the jury acquitted Penn and Mead. As a result the judge demanded that the jury not be dismissed until another verdict is reached. After announcing a decision of an acquittal four times the judge fined each of the juror's for their decision. One juror, Edward Bushel, refused to pay the fine and was imprisoned. Penn and Mead were imprisoned anyway for not removing their hats in court.
The custom of trial by jury grew out of common law into our current system of justice. It is an undeniable fact that the power to convict lies solely in the jury. No judge can overrule a result of a non-conviction by a jury. The jury is the ultimate check and balance on our system of justice. Each jury must consider all facts of the case and must also consider the law itself. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) has taken on the role of educating potential jurors on their duties and responsibilities as a juror. The NJ Libertarian Party has been giving out Fully Informed Jury brochures at county courthouses around the state for over twenty years.
NJLP member, Julian Heicklen, has recently been distributing FIJA flyers at courthouses around the country. Most county courthouses understand our rights to freely assemble and educate jurors; however the federal courthouses have been violating Julian's rights at each outreach event. Julian has been arrested several times at the U. S. District Courthouse in Manhattan, at the Federal Courthouse in Newark, and in Springfield, MA for distributing FIJA brochures. As a result of one his arrest in Manhattan, the U. S. Attorney's office has charged him with jury tampering. He had a hearing scheduled for January 24th which he refused to attend on account of not receiving a response from the court to his questions. Julian has pointed out that the statuary time limit for a speedy trial has been passed. As a result of the hearing Julian may have had a arrest warrant issued, this is unknown at the time of printing.
In Florida, Chief Judge Belvin Perry, has issued an administrative order barring anyone from distributing literature near or around Orange and Osceola county courthouses. The order prohibits "dissemination of all leaflets and other materials to summoned jurors containing written or pictorial information tending to influence summoned jurors, as well as approaching a summoned juror for the purpose of displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling with information tending to influence summoned jurors on any matter, question, cause, or proceeding which may be pending, or which may by law be brought, before him or her as such juror" on or around the county courthouses in both Orange and Osceola counties. Such an order is obviously unlawful, however, judges have tremendous power around courthouses and having this order overturned is not easy. FIJA is currently mulling its legal options. In the meantime they have developed a new flier that they ask to be distributed both around these courthouses and around the nation. See http://fija.org for more information.
It is our deep and settled conviction, confirmed by a re-examination of the authorities … that the jury, upon the general issue of guilty or not guilty in a criminal case, have the right, as well as the power, to decide, according to their own judgment and consciences, all questions, whether of law or of fact, involved in that issue.
- 1895 Sparf et al. v. U.S.