I lied in court today. Under oath. I had no choice.
The judge asked us, potential jurors, to speak up if we had any misgivings with applying the law as the court gave it to us. I remained silent.
At issue was jury nullification: a jury’s ability to return a verdict of not guilty even if the defendant has clearly violated the law. While jury nullification has a long history and sounds honorable and good, such disregard for the law can go both ways. While a jury can acquit a defendant wrongfully charged by a vindictive state, a jury can also close ranks behind one of their own and refuse to convict (as happened when white juries refused to convict whites accused of murdering blacks). Juries should consider nullification, but only rarely and with genuine effort among all jurors to get to the bottom of a case.
From a personal point of view, would you as a jury member be willing to nullify if you believed a guilty verdict to go against your conscience. How do you define yourself? Are you above all a law-abiding citizen, who follows the law, right or wrong, because that is what you’re supposed to do? Or, when the law gets it wrong, do you believe that you owe it to yourself to follow your conscience in spite of the law?
I hope that when the situation demands, I can follow my conscience in spite of the law, and it was because of this, this that I had to lie to the court. I could have told the truth: “your honor, I believe in the right of jurors to disregard the law if it violates their conscience,” but this would have been a self-defeating speech act. The very act of uttering it would have gotten me thrown off the jury. The very act of uttering it would have meant that while I made a grand gesture to feel good and righteous, I was woefully inadequate at following my conscience. The only way to be true to myself was to lie to the court.
I was eventually selected to the jury, but the case never went to verdict. Even if it had, the issue of jury nullification would not have mattered. It was a common criminal case involving minor charges. Still, even the remote possibility forced me to take a position. Am I a loyal subject to the legal system? Or am I a person whose morality can live outside the law?
[Editorial Note: The series on gun control will be finished shortly. I just found myself needing a rest from the topic, which is surprisingly stressful to write about.]