An American Spelling Lesson: J-U-R-Y Does Not Spell “Rubber Stamp”

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...
“The Jury” by John Morgan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Break out the world’s smallest violin for prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida: They’re having problems finding citizens who’ll jail other citizens for marijuana possession. In one recent case it took hours to weed out (pun intended) prospective jurors who didn’t think marijuana should be illegal.

Cindy Swirko’s  “When opinions on pot, and the law, collide” (March 22, Gainesville Sun) is a refreshingly fair-minded piece on this “problem” and on the wider phenomenon of jury nullification.

Jury nullification occurs when a jury bases its verdict not on the facts of a case, but on the jurors’ opinion that the law is defective or morally wrong. That may sound strange but it’s an important part of American legal history.

Jury nullification was a key tool of the 19th century’s anti-slavery movement. The Fugitive Slave Act imposed criminal penalties for assisting fleeing slaves. Northern juries refused to convict Underground Railroad activists.

Jury nullification also helped end alcohol prohibition as juries frequently declined to convict bootleggers. In one (perhaps apocryphal) case, the jury allegedly “drank the evidence,” then acquitted.

In a 1969 case, United States v. Moylan — the defendants stood accused of impeding the military draft — the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held, unanimously, that “if the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.”

As more and more Americans conclude that the “war on drugs” — especially marijuana — is impractical and immoral, that force is once again making itself felt.

Prosecutors hate jury nullification. It messes up their batting averages.

The measure of prosecutorial effectiveness is the conviction rate. That’s why “plea bargains” are so popular. 92% of Americans charged with crimes plead guilty in return for lesser charges or lighter sentences. Of the 8% who go to trial, 3/4 are convicted.

Yes, that’s right — of 50 Americans accused of crimes, 49 plead guilty or are convicted. But that one acquittal drives prosecutors nuts. So, with the cooperation of judges, they’ve turned jury selection into an extended interrogation with only one acceptable answer: “Yes, I will serve unquestioningly as your rubber stamp.”

The Fully Informed Jury Association ( fights this trend, working to ensure that prospective jurors know about their right to “judge the law as well as the facts,” and to explicitly codify in our laws an obligation of judges to inform them of that right.

Are your legislators sponsoring a Fully Informed Jury Act in your state? If not, maybe you should call their offices and ask why.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


This One Weird Trick for Balancing the US Government’s Budget


Every year like clockwork, our masters in Washington cluck like hens over government spending. They lay new plans to reduce the annual budget deficit (currently hovering at around half a trillion dollars per year). They hatch new schemes to pay down their accrued debt (more than $18 trillion and increasing at a rate of more than $2 billion per day).

This year’s proposal from House Republicans would theoretically balance the budget … ten years from now. It would also theoretically reduce the debt from 74% of GDP to 18% … over the course of 25 years.

Many “moderate” Republicans and most Democrats criticize the plan as unworkable and, to use the expression favored by fraidycat clingers to the status quo, “unserious.” Why? Because they think ten years is unrealistically fast.

I agree. The plan is unworkable and “unserious.” But for the opposite reason. Ten years is far too long. Any plan relying on future politicians to stick to plans drawn up by today’s politicians is doomed to failure.

US Representatives are elected every two years, US Senators every six. While re-election rates are scandalously high, the faces do change over time. And the minds of long-term incumbents change as well. When the credit card doesn’t come with a limit, every crisis, real or manufactured, becomes an excuse to give up on fiscal discipline and treat themselves to a spending spree.

Fortunately, there’s a way out of this mess. It’s this one weird trick I learned in a high school math class. Wanna hear it? Here it is:

Congress should stop spending more money than it takes in.

Not ten years from now. Not five years from now. Not next year. NOW.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Will massive spending cuts sting? Yes, they will. Every household in America knows what it’s like to have to cut spending. We do it when we have to because we have to. Life isn’t fair.

How bad would it smart? Well, if Congress cut 2015 spending to the balance line, the federal government would still spend about half again as much this year as it spent in 2005. I’m sure you recall, as do I, that in 2005 America’s starving masses died in the ditches alongside its roads. Of course I’m just making that up. Remember? We couldn’t afford roads!

Where to cut? Well, if Congress reduced the budgeted cost of “defense” by 90%, the budget would balance and the US would still be the world’s first or second largest military spender (depending on which direction China’s military spending takes). But if the politicians want to split the cuts between various budget lines, fine.

Is it politically doable? Yes. The Republicans control Congress. If they don’t appropriate money for the executive branch to spend, the executive branch can’t spend that money. If the budget isn’t balanced, it’s because Republicans don’t want to balance it.

It’s time and past time for America’s politicians to start living within their ample means. Balance the budget. Now.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Fake Privatization: Shut Down the Red-Light Racket

Red light camera system at the Springfield, Oh...
Red light camera system at the Springfield, Ohio intersection of Limestone and Leffels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red-light cameras sound like easy money to revenue-hungry city governments. Instead of paying police officers to enforce traffic laws and ticket offenders, they outsource the job to companies like American Traffic Solutions and Redflex. Those firms install the cameras, monitor their output, and sometimes even handle the mailing of traffic tickets to motorists who run red lights, collecting a share of the fines from their government clients in return for their services.

But Americans aren’t very comfortable with receiving traffic tickets from private sector corporations on the basis of remote video monitoring.

Among other problems, they note that it’s generally impossible to establish who was driving a car when it ran a red light without actually pulling the driver over at the scene. They also question the legality of allowing private sector actors, often not even located in the same states as the alleged offenders, to issue traffic citations. And of course there’s the “creepy” factor: Most Americans read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school. We don’t like the idea of being watched everywhere we go.

The cities, and the companies, claim that the cameras are all about safety rather than revenue. They cite statistics claiming reduced fatality numbers at intersections equipped with the cameras. But a 2014 report from Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability says that traffic accidents increase by 12% — and that rear-end collisions of the type occasioned by sudden brake application to avoid running lights increase by a whopping 35% — at such intersections.

Citizen protests — and legislative and judicial responses to those protests — are beginning to cut into the red-light camera racket. On March 16, two Broward County, Florida judges threw out 24,000 red-light camera tickets, representing $6.3 million in prospective revenue. The reason? While local police departments formally issued the tickets, they did so on the assurances of American Traffic Solutions employees in Arizona, not on their own observation of offenses or even on the basis of viewing the videos themselves.

Which brings up a fourth problem. The cities with red-light cameras, and the companies which operate them, note that these systems free up police officers for other duties. They sell that as a feature. I consider it a bug.

Cops who aren’t kept busy enforcing traffic safety laws are freed up to instead enforce laws against victimless “crimes” like gambling, prostitution and drug possession. When we consider the results — a burgeoning US prison population and growing body count of Americans gunned down by police officers on our streets — it may be that red-light cameras cost more than they bring in.

Real privatization is about getting government out of various areas of our lives, not leaving it in charge of those areas while allowing it to shunt the actual work off to unaccountable, rent-seeking “private” actors. If city governments want to privatize their streets, they should put those streets up for auction. Otherwise, they should shoulder the costs and the responsibilities of providing public roadways themselves.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.