I have jury duty on July 2, and I can't wait. If I get put on a jury in a non-violent drug case, I'll vote "not guilty," based on my principles -- even if I think the defendant actually did it. As I report for jury duty just before July 4, I'll declare my independence from costly and ineffective punishment for non-violent offenders.
As a former federal prosecutor, I worked on scores of cases that helped keep the War on Drugs alive and drained tax dollars to finance an exploding prison population. I now know that the best way to send a loud and clear message for change in the criminal justice system is to use my constitutional power, as a juror, to "nullify."
Inner-cities across the nation, from the Bronx, NY, to Washington, D.C., are home to "million dollar" blocks -- neighborhoods where, on just one street, the government is spending that much money to lock up citizens. Now, during a time when we can least afford wasteful government spending, when President Obama has stated that locking up non-violent drug offenders is a "blind and counterproductive policy," some jurors are saying enough is enough.
Jury Nullification is perfectly legal and has a long history- indeed the framers of the Constitution intended jurors to serve as a check on bad prosecutions and ineffective laws. Northern jurors helped abolish slavery by refusing to convict people "guilty" of helping slaves escape. Nullification was also a factor in ending Prohibition, which locked up people for selling liquor, and created the same violent market and drive-by shootings (remember Al Capone?) that we now see for other illegal drugs.
The Supreme Court ruled about a century ago that jurors don't have to be told about jury nullification, so it's a secret power that all ordinary citizens possess. To this day, no juror has ever been punished for nullifying. The federal appeals court in Washington D.C. described nullification as "hard medicine," saying it was appropriate in special cases, but not for every day.
But the D.C. court made that ruling in 1973 -- long before the War on Drugs resulted in the greatest expansion of prison population in the history of the free world. There are now more Americans in prison for drug offenses alone than there were for every crime in 1973. If our criminal justice system ever needed hard medicine, it needs it now.