The recent mistrial in the case of U.S. Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham shows the lack of education of the Bell County jurors. The mistrial occurred because only one juror of the six understood his rights and responsibilities as a juror. Initially, according to jury member L.J. Cotterill, “we all agreed that the charge itself and the case itself was garbage. This entire matter should have been resolved by two grown men acting like grown men apologizing for their part in a bad situation and buying each other a beer and then going to a range together.” The problem was that the jury didn’t know their rights and power to find “not guilty” if justice demanded it. Let alone their right to ignore a judge’s instructions . . .
The ability to ignore a judge’s instructions is one of the most important parts of jury duty. It derives directly form English common law and the landmark case of Peter Zenger in 1734. If a jury is bound to follow the judge’s instructions, they become, in effect, nothing more than government employees rather than free people with a duty to hold the government as well as citizens accountable.
Jurors were commonly told of their power to nullify unjust law until 1895 when the Supreme Court ruled that a jury need not be told of their right to judge the law. Judges have become more and more hostile toward jury nullification of the law since that time, to the point that defense counsels are now forbidden from telling juries that they have the power.
To correct this imbalance in the law, some states are now considering requiring that juries be instructed about their powers. Georgia is considering such a law.
In the Grisham case, the jury was told that they had no ability to consider anything other than what the judge instructed. From examiner.com:
“If I had been allowed to factor in self-defense,” Cotterill said, “This would have probably been a two-minute deliberation and we all would have went ‘not guilty.’”
The problem is, he explained, all the jury was allowed to consider was criminal negligence using the definition that had been provided. The jury was not allowed to factor in circumstance or anything else – it was just did this thing happen? All evidence considered had to be from witness statements.
After 12 hours of arguing “not guilty,” Cotterill said he had to admit that Grisham did indeed commit the acts. The jury, he said, was not there to decide if there were mitigating circumstances.
It was only because one juror wasn’t cowed by the judge that Grisham wasn’t found guilty, even though all the jurors believed that a finding of guilty was uncalled for.
The case shows that Second Amendment supporters have a lot of education to accomplish so that those who support the right to keep and bear arms understand the full power of the jury box. It’s a way to prevent injustice without resorting to armed resistance. All of the five jurors who voted to find Grisham guilty claimed to be Second Amendment supporters. The one brave and stubborn member who held his ground against the judge and five fellow jurors was the only one who didn’t claim to be “pro gun“.
The jury composition included corrections officer Cotterill, a law enforcement officer and a Marine. He said all but one – the individual who voted “not guilty” – were pro-gun.
Everyone wants to avoid bloodshed to restore the constitutional limits on government that have been chipped away during the last hundred plus years. Using the jury box to limit government excesses will be a strong tool in our kit. Clearly, the jurors in Bell County, Texas, are desperately in need of some education.
©2013 by Dean Weingarten of the Gun Watch Blog: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.