With everything going on in the world today, it seems likely that state attacks on Bitcoiners will continue to increase. Furthermore, as Bitcoin puts pressure on traditional power structures, authorities will almost certainly extend or enact unscrupulous laws to restrict, tax or thwart the free flow of bitcoin capital.
Eventually, a Bitcoiner is likely to find themselves on a jury and be asked to try another Bitcoiner accused of violating one of these unfair laws. It is my contention that all Bitcoiners need to at least have heard about jury override in advance as part of their toolkit to help resist, at the last possible moment, laws and state actions that most Bitcoiners believe are unethical. .
What exactly is jury override?
Jury annulment is a consequence of a fair and impartial jury system. Simply put, it is the power of a criminal jury to return a not guilty verdict, even if the prosecution fulfills the legal burden of a guilty verdict. It often stems from changes in society’s moral compass, for example when an act is no longer considered criminal by the standards of that day. It is not, what might be called, an explicit right of a jury, but rather a necessary logical consequence of any system that purports to maintain a fair and impartial jury.
The United States Supreme Court held that “while a judge may order a verdict for the defendant if the evidence is legally insufficient to establish guilt, he cannot order a verdict for the state, no matter how overwhelming the evidence.” In other words, if the jury gives a guilty verdict that the judge finds unfair and unjustified, the judge can overturn the verdict and let the defendant go, but no matter what happens, the judge cannot overturn a not guilty verdict and declare the guilty defendant. Once a judge has the power to declare guilt in favor of the State in a criminal case, the purpose of juries ceases to exist, except as a mere showcase – a status that the Constitution does not allow. It’s true that, “[T]judge cannot render a verdict” and that “the jury has the power to render a verdict against the law and the facts…
Historically, one of the most important cases of jury override was the trial of William Penn and William Mead. Taking place in 1670s England, the two were accused of preaching in an illegal assembly. When jurors tried to find them not guilty by jury annulment, they were arrested, threatened, starved for two days and then, when they did not comply with the judge’s will, fined and imprisoned until they could pay the fines (for some of them, this meant months in prison). This example is so important in history, in fact, that it is commemorated on a plaque hanging at the Old Bailey. This case, and others like it in the 17th and 18th centuries, played a pivotal role in the jury trial rights embedded in the US Constitution.
In the United States, the annulment of the jury also left a long and important mark on our country. The framers of the Constitution were well aware of the power of the jury and the inevitability of the power of annulment when they enshrined the right to a jury trial in the Bill of Rights. In fact, Thomas Jefferson believed it was the ultimate check on the state’s unwarranted power. It was used in the pre-Civil War period by northern juries to refuse to convict abolitionists for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, and later, during Prohibition, it was used to thwart alcohol control laws. Of course, it was also used in the same way by racist juries to refuse conviction for crimes like lynchings. But in general, nullification has been used in ways that would be understandable and still considered positive today.
Today, the courts and the court system strongly discourage jury override at all times. The belief is that a jury’s ability to overturn a law by returning a not guilty verdict even in the face of indisputable facts is a decidedly negative side effect of the Constitution’s guarantee of a trial by jury. The system takes extreme measures to ensure that a jury is as in the dark as possible about this power, even falsely telling a jury, “There is no valid jury override” and that they “would violate [their] oath and the law if you deliberately brought a verdict against the law[,]when the jury explicitly asked the judge about the annulment. Defense attorneys cannot directly defend the jury annulment. Even distributing flyers about the jury annulment on the court grounds resulted in people being arrested for jury tampering.
Why Jury Nullity Matters to Bitcoiners Now
As mentioned in the introduction, this is a power of juries that not only will you not be told if you serve on a jury, but that the system will actively resist allowing you to exercise. Therefore, it is imperative that all Bitcoiners at least know that it exists and that they cannot be punished by the court for exercising it. The court and judge will likely lie to you about the jury’s power to overturn.
Also, if you want to survive selection for a jury, and do so honestly, you should give some thought to how to answer the questions that will be asked, under oath, during see straight (the technical name for the jury selection process). If you go out and say, “I believe in jury override,” you will almost certainly be excluded from the jury. Alternatively, if you lie, you would be committing perjury. However, with thoughtful consideration, many of the questions that are asked of you can be answered honestly in a way that does not make it clear that you understand that jury override is a power you would possess as a juror.
I feel that in the near future the need for jury override will once again come to the fore as our federal and state governments attempt to attack, restrict and control the transactional freedom that Bitcoin offers. It could be oppressive KYC laws, insane applications of the Travel Rule, punitive taxation, simply banning and/or confiscation like Executive Order 6102, or some new hell not yet conceived. While we do not yet know what paths they will take to try to reassert their unethical and immoral surveillance state over Bitcoin, it is imperative that all Bitcoiners understand that they are each, and individually, not only protecting the sanctity of the chain of time, but also are the last line of defense of transactional freedom.
This is a guest post from Colin Crossman. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.