Rep. Gregory files bill on jurors’ rights
by Jon Gillooly
January 16, 2013 12:00 AM | 8364 views | 16 16 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charles Gregory sits for an interview with the Marietta Daily Journal staff on Aug. 20. <br> Photo by Todd Hull
Charles Gregory sits for an interview with the Marietta Daily Journal staff on Aug. 20.
Photo by Todd Hull
slideshow
MARIETTA — State Rep. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) has filed a bill that would ensure jurors are informed of their rights, including that of jury nullification, a procedure Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn believes is dangerous.

Gregory describes jury nullification in a criminal trial as what happens when a jury effectively nullifies the law in that specific case by acquitting the defendant, regardless of the weight of evidence against them.

“As a juror, it is your duty to protect our citizens by sending criminals to jail; however, if you believe the defendant is being prosecuted under an unjust law, you have the right, and the constitutional and moral obligation to protect the defendant from tyrannical government and acquit,” Gregory said.

The freshman lawmaker described the procedure as a powerful, under-utilized final check-and-balance measure that citizens have against the arbitrary exercise of power “from an out-of-control government.”

He traces jury nullification back to British law, citing the earliest case he’s aware of pertaining to when William Penn (1644–1718) was on trial for preaching in the streets. The jury found Penn innocent even though he was guilty. In response, the judge sentenced the jurors to jail for not following his instructions.

During the first century of the U.S., Gregory said it was common practice for judges to inform jurors of this right as part of their instructions. Prior to the Civil War and thanks to jury nullification, Gregory said, many were safeguarded and set free by juries when prosecuted for participating in the Underground Railroad in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Gregory said the practice was also exercised in defense of many during alcohol prohibition and was instrumental in its eventual repeal.

“A juror’s right to nullification, to be judge of both the facts and the application of the law, is enumerated in our own State Constitution’s Bill of Rights,” Gregory said, quoting: “Article I, Section I, Paragraph XI. Right to trial by jury; number of jurors; selection and compensation of jurors. (a) In criminal cases, the defendant shall have a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury; and the jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.”

Gregory said jurors can and often are excluded during “the voir dire process” simply for knowing their rights or informing others. Similarly, he said judges have been known to prevent defense attorneys from informing jurors of this right or making the case for nullification.

“This bill simply seeks to ensure that jurors are fully informed of their constitutional right to judge both the facts and the application of the law and not excluded from serving on a jury for the simple reason of being aware of this fundamental right,” he said.

Gregory’s bill, House Bill 25, is called the Fully Informed Jury Act of 2013.

Yet Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn says jury nullification is dangerous. Cauthorn, who has practiced law for 40 years, served in the Georgia House, as a state court judge and as a Cobb Superior Court judge, describes jury nullification as the freedom of a jury to ignore a clear provision of law.

Cauthorn said the practice is not supposed to occur.

“It’s not supposed to because a Georgia jury is told in a Georgia case that they are the judges of the law and the facts, and the facts they take from the witnesses who have testified, and they judge their credibility, and the law they take from the court,” Cauthorn said. “It’s dangerous (jury nullification) because it makes results unpredictable because there’s not a standard that’s uniform.”

Cauthorn said the common law in the U.S. has been that while a jury may be the judges of the law as well as the facts, the jury takes the law from the court.

“The jury is required to evaluate the credibility of witnesses on taking the facts, but it does not evaluate the credibility of the law that it takes from the court because the law in terms of statutory law is a product of the legislature and the executive branch of government, and the law as it relates to common law principles is a product of the highest appellate court and majority opinions under the concept of ‘Stare decisis’ and binding precedent, so juries in the United States have never been permitted to disregard the legislature’s acts or to disregard the case law, the common law in applying the facts to the law,” Cauthorn said.

Cauthorn said the reason it’s not a good idea for juries to disregard the law is that it would create a subjective standard of justice.

“The way the law would be applied would vary from jury to jury,” Cauthorn said. “It wouldn’t vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It would vary from jury to jury. And what would be a legal principle that would be binding on one set of parties and one jury matter would not be binding on another set of parties in another jury matter, so it would damage the predictability that we all want from an ordered form of justice.”

Cauthorn said it’s human nature that the facts are different for each criminal and civil case which therefore produces different outcomes when facts may be similar but not identical. But it’s an entirely different matter to have the standard in which the facts are applied differing with each case.

“And that’s the problem with jury nullification is because you’re taking an act of the General Assembly approved by the governor and you’re ignoring it,” Cauthorn said. “Or you’re taking a principle of law like ‘assumption of the risk,’ which is a common law principle, and you’re ignoring it because you don’t want to apply it to the facts of that case.”

Cauthorn said he knows what Gregory is contemplating with the proposed legislation.

“He’s contemplating applying it to people who are being sued or to defendants who are being charged with crimes, and he thinks that it will benefit defendants because it will give them more opportunity to be free and independent people, but the truth is it will damage the standards of behavior and conduct because nobody is going to be able to tell whether or not what they’ve done is a crime because the standard to be applied can be ignored by the jury as it nullifies the law,” Cauthorn said. “It undermines the predictability. That’s one of the beauties of the British and Anglo-American criminal justice system is that each of us has to be adequately informed in advance by the law as to conduct that’s prohibited. That’s the essence of due process. We’re put on notice. You and I both know what’s legal and illegal in Georgia. We know conduct that is prohibitive. If we are permitted to engage in that conduct and then to argue to the jury that they should ignore the statute that prohibits the conduct then there isn’t any standard expected of people from day to day and person to person and case to case and instance to instance. It depends on what jury is going to be in that jury box. If you look at it in the criminal context, it’s real dangerous.”

As for applying the concept of jury nullification to the civil cases, Cauthorn said it would make the conduct of business almost impossible.

“If you’re in a regulated industry, and you are devoting resources and time to strategies for conducting business over the coming year, and you can’t predict what conduct is permitted and isn’t permitted, and because you can’t predict which statute or regulation is going to be ignored and which is going to be enforced, then it makes the conduct of business chaotic,” he said.
Comments
(16)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Margarita S.
|
December 06, 2013
Ask any young Black male or pro-life activist if the laws are clear & predictable. Jury nullification is our final check & balance against tyranny - for example against the prison industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline that feeds this Marxo-fascist system masquerading as the Constitutional Republic we think we live in. God bless Rep. Charles Gregory!!
Lancebekistan
|
January 30, 2013
Awesome. without nullification you have jurors who have to follow orders. That is hardly being judged by your peers. Of course your "peers" should vary from jury to jury......
Mark from Penna.
|
February 07, 2013
We the people hope and pray this can and will happen in every "state". regarding; "Peers" We the people hope and pray this can and will happen too. A jury of your peers would help to insure true justice rather than having a group of people judge you that have no idea ,who,what,why,where and when about the facts.Most jurors are not equal to the defendant,meaning that they have no idea about the case facts in relation to the charges.
Rease Seales
|
January 21, 2013
I am thankful for any American that will stand for the basis of our unique freedom in the United States. It is high time
AbleArsonal
|
January 17, 2013
Finally a politician that understands the importance communication and the constitution, he walks the walk not talk the talk! We should expect nothing but the same from these servants of the people.
Nullify This!
|
January 17, 2013
ALL State and Federal Constitutions in this country either have the direct wording or strongly imply their authors: We the People.

The author of anything is THE determining body/people that gets to say what IS and what is NOT a part of it. Hence, the phrase: We the People...! As the AUTHORs of the founding documents, that makes the We the People THE determining body/people to determine what our laws are. This is why it is said that we govern ourselves.

When run-away judges use their opinions to make law from the bench - THAT's a grotesque abuse of power, and they should be IMMEDIATELY marched out into the town square and hanged for treason!!!

So, ANY so-called "attorney" or "judge" that's annoyed with We the People determining for themselves what IS and what is NOT the law needs to be completely disregarded and repeatedly slapped into submission. The progressive mindset of the "experts" running our country have gotten us where we are today... something that isn't exactly pretty to say the least!!

The "experts" can have THEIR version of the law however they wish, but when We the People are subject to it We the People should have a say as to whether or not its something we're going to tolerate!!! This is tantamount to the mob, the mafia, or even just the playground bully that gets to make the rules up as he goes along!

Unions, corporations (corporate law), and the government have been putting We the People in a tighter and tighter spot over the years, and frankly we've had enough! Its high time We the People start pushing back and taking this country - and its legal system - BACK to the point where we began... when We the People were free!!!
Todd C
|
January 16, 2013
Jury nullification is the last refuge against unjust laws. If corrupt, bought-off politicians sell us out, as long as we have juries, we can still refuse to convict each other.

Prosecutors, police and judges all get to exercise discretion when it comes to prosecuting, arresting, charging and convicting, why should the regular people on a jury be the only ones with their hands tied?
Just Sayin'....
|
January 16, 2013
It will quickly get to the point that no other legislator will take Mr. Gregory serious, and as such will leave his constituents basically unrepresented. For now he is a breath of fresh air....soon he will be the crazy uncle no one listens to no matter how loud he gets. It is human nature folks. What a waste of an opportunity.
gaspar123
|
January 16, 2013
Police , prosecutors and judges ignore standards all the time thinking they are being just , they just want a monopoly on justice - not trusting the people ( the jury ) which is why juries came into being - the people didn,t trust the judges the lawyers ect. To trust reasoning like Tom Cauthorn is dangerous and the crux of our serfdom.
Watcher...
|
January 16, 2013
This is a very interesting discussion. I am glad that we are having this exchange!

I believe that instances of Jury Nullification are accelerating and will continue to grow across America.

Charles Gregory and others like him will make us think!
Soverign Citizen
|
January 16, 2013
Cauthorn is speaking to more to established Policy and Procedure and NOT speaking to the LAW. There are so many outrageous and petty laws on the books that the average person breaks at least 7 statues per day.

Jury nullification is our right as citizens to judge the validity of a law or statute. If a law is ridiculous (such as having a vegetable garden in your front yard) jurors have a duty to acquit.

Cauthorn's comments are typical of a statist hell bent on repressing the rights of citizens.
orwc
|
January 16, 2013
"If the question [before justices of the peace] relate to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and

fact."

"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 its constitution."

- Thomas Jefferson
Just Wait
|
January 16, 2013
I believe we officially declare this guy "nuts." I hate to think of where he is reaching to pull these things from.
olegator
|
January 16, 2013
He is reaching to The Supreme Law of the land
orwc
|
January 16, 2013
which guy?
anonymous
|
January 16, 2013
Yeah. Anybody not talking about considering gun control measures and legitimate rape to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce these days has got to be a nut, right? Add in some talk about freedom and keeping government in check and you know you have a nutter on your hands...nutty like someone who has actually read the constitution (it's a good read Phil G.)and understands what our framers had in mind and clearly warned us about.

I am ready to vote for a few more "nuts" like Charles Gregory. Unfortunately, this is Cobb County and we are plagued with a bunch of clueless, spineless, self-interested rino jackasses.

God bless Charles Gregory and all other nuts like him! We need more of them.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides