The right and responsibility of a jury to judge both the facts and the law is a critical protection against government oppression that has been recognized in common-law countries for centuries. Over 150 years ago, Lysander Spooner wrote of the importance of jury nullification, and warned of government efforts to restrict it, in his “Essay on Trial by Jury.”
Today, having been under assault in the United States for at least 150 years, jury nullification is almost forgotten by the general public. Prosecutors don’t like it, because it reduces their ability to threaten defendants and coerce plea deals in marginal cases. Judges don’t like it, because it reduces their power in the courtroom. The police and prison industries don’t like it, because it reduces the number of criminals in their systems. Jury nullification is not only helpful for preventing misuse of the law and unjust convictions, it also reduces taxpayer burdens and spurs healthy economic activity by preventing unnecessary imprisonments.
It’s far past time to end the hostility of the California justice system to jury nullification. As chief law officer in the State, the Attorney General can have a tremendous impact on acceptance and use of jury nullification. If elected, I would do everything in my power to ensure that every jury in California is instructed concerning its right and civic responsibility to judge not only the facts of the case, but the justice of the law applied.