LEGAL ETHICS: The Power of the People Over Government

EthicsbooksYou want power?  You’ve got  power: The power to overrule the judge’s verdict in a jury trial. This is power over government, and it’s yours by way of the Constitution.

Our law is ultimately enforced by the people.  That’s you.  And me.  The Constitution says so.  Have you read it?

Juries have the Constitutional right to judge both fact and law. You may believe the law to be unjust and, if you do, you (as a member of a jury) may vote to acquit, even if the accused is guilty of the crime. Or you may believe the law to have been unjustly applied.  In effect and in fact, the law is ultimately enforced by the people, not by government.  That’s you.  And me.

Juries are an effective check on the arbitrary power of government. If it believes a law to be unjust,  a jury has the legal right to refuse to enforce it and acquit, whatever the evidence. And when jurors do acquit, the government cannot retry the Accused (under the Double Jeopardy clause of the 5th Amendment) or even appeal the verdict.  Is that power of the people or what?

“It is not only [the juror’s] right, but his duty … to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”  John Adams

What’s this got to do with ethics?  Plenty.  Any judge failing to inform a jury of all its rights and duties is being unethical because he is misleading the jury by omission.  This malfeasance is widespread–the action is more often ignored than not.  Why do we tolerate unethical judges?  Why do we tolerate unethical government?  It’s all around us…

Probably because we don’t know about it.  Or care.  We tolerate unethics on a daily basis and don’t even think about it, because that’s the way it is…

It’s not the way it should be…

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