Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jury Nullification as a Tool for Social Justice

Is jury nullification a strategy that can be used to ensure social change? I propose this strategy because our current social contract is in need of a drastic makeover. A social contract is a contract we are bound to follow since birth enforced by government, in which we give up some of our sovereignty in order to be protected by the government. As a society we have no involvement in determining the laws that we must follow, due to misrepresentation. Therefore, since we have no say in creating our own social contract, we must use the little power that we do possess to destroy the current social contract. We must dismantle the current system with its own tools. Punishing poor people for their own victimization is wrong, a wrong that is justified by telling criminals that their punishments are deserved, when in fact most poor peoples criminal conduct is often a reaction to oppression. A new paradigm of justice is desperately needed to ensure that the focus of rehabilitation returns. Jury nullification of non violent offenders is a step towards creating a new social contract which benefits all.

Paul Butler wrote an awesome article in the Yale Law Journal entitled Racially Based Jury Nullification. He suggests that Blacks must take it upon themselves to nullify non violent offenders when serving as jurors. In a sense, my proposal is similar to Mr. Butler's beliefs, but my ideas extend to all people who fall victim to white-supremacist beliefs, which punish us all. In addition, those most affected by the criminal justice system must take this theory very seriously. With the increasing amount of citizens under the supervision of the criminal justice system, we must ask ourselves as a society a question; if we were given the key to free non violent offenders, would we use it? Or would we continue to sit on juries and convict people who suffer from injustice. The power to decide is granted, but society suffers from white-supremacist beliefs that forces them to choose otherwise. Proponents to jury nullification would argue that an increase in non guilty verdicts and mistrials would lead to increases in crime. This argument fails to point out that those who are criminalized most are victims of oppression, and that our current social contract promotes disparities. If we can figure out a way to even out these disparities legally then an action must be taken. It is legal for a juror to nullify if he/she fells that the law is unjust.

I recently engaged in a discussion with one of my good friends. He seemed to be indoctrinated by conservative views. He believes that an individual has a choice to whether or not he/she will commit a crime,and that any crime committed deserves whatever sentence is attached to that crime. In criminology, rational choice theory proposes that an individual is a reasoned actor who weighs the means and ends, costs and benefits and makes a rational choice. Therefore, a person who cannot afford a meal to satisfy their hunger will weigh the risks and benefits of stealing and decide accordingly. If a person is willing to risk possible incarceration and sanctions, clearly their is a an obvious void of basic human necessity.Therefore, is it morally right to charge and convict or is it better to find actual solutions to their unique situation.

It is up to those with empathy for human suffering to change the current social contract. If non violent offenders continue to be convicted and sentenced for petty crimes then we have failed as a society. Clearly the ball has been dropped, due to the countless disparities this society has;however,there is still a chance to make amends for the apathy that exists. The power to nullify is a power that can affect policy and bring forth true change and equality to America. This idea may seem radical to some but it will take radical action to re-write our social contract.

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