In England historically during the 1600’s, the King gathered juries to do his bidding. Judges, who were friendly to the King, could try and force a jury to do their bidding. This is the story about one jury:
The case against William Penn and William Mead in the late seventeenth century illustrated the importance of the jury and its rise to power within the judicial system. Penn and Mead were religious dissenters who were given to preaching in public. Around this time, Brits were so suspicious of King Charles II’s Catholic leanings that they passed laws against preaching in public. Penn and Mead were arrested, and opponents of the king sought to have Penn and Mead prosecuted and imprisoned, which would have embarrassed the king. The court impaneled a jury and, after both sides presented their case, they retired to deliberate, knowing full well that they were expected to deliver verdicts of guilty. Around this time, the judge had a tremendous amount of power over jurors. A judge could keep jurors until they delivered a verdict desired by the judge, and in some cases, a judge could lock the jury in a room and deprive the jurors of food and water and other amenities until they delivered the desired verdict. Several members of the jury led by Edward Bushell, refused to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict. The jury was sent off to deliberate again and again, without food, drink, fire, or tobacco, but it still could not deliver a guilty verdict. It did absolve Mead, but the judge ruled that Mead could not be released because he was charged with conspiring with Penn. Penn, from his cage in the courtroom (Mead likewise was kept in a cage), bellowed that”[i]f not guilty be not a verdict, then you make of the jury and Magna Carta but a mere nose of wax.” The Lord Mayor of London threatened to cut Bushell’s throat and the jury was sent away for another night without food or drink. The next morning, it returned with not guilty verdicts again, and the judge imposed a fine on each juror. The jurors refused to pay the fine and were sent to jail. Eight jurors eventually relented, but four did not, and they eventually brought their own case against the court from jail. In what became known as Bushell’s Case, the Court of Common Pleas declared that the punishment of the jurors was illegal and that no jury could be punished for its verdict. Penn and Mead, both of whom were sent to jail after the fiasco, were released when Penn’s father paid their fines. The four jurors were released from jail after the decision in Bushell’s Case, and their ultimate success helped to establish the power of the jury system in England. Read more…
There are plenty of those who argue that juries don’t do the right thing in one case or another. However, the genius of the jury system is that they don’t always do what someone tells them to do. I’ve been in front of many juries. Each of them took their oath as a juror seriously. They listened to the evidence. They saw the truth revealed through witnesses on direct and in cross examination. They studied the evidence and they deliberated after learning all there was to know about a case.
After they took their oath, it didn’t matter to them how much money had been spent by the defendants to prejudice them; it didn’t matter how much money the insurance companies spent on attacking the jury system; it didn’t matter whether the judge had allowed irrelevant evidence in or excluded relevant evidence; they took the record of the case, they went to the jury room to do what they had taken an oath to do: to deliver a just and fair verdict that would not only provide a guideline to protect the community and give the plaintiff what they lost, but would also let the plaintiff be heard by 8 to 12 members of the community that won’t get paid and who are only there because it is their duty.
Each of those jurors were my heroes. Like the jury in Bushell’s Case, they did what was right for the plaintiff, for the defendant, and for the community. I am honored to be able to help the jury in the search for justice. It is important that the right of a jury to be independent remains one of our best protections against the tyranny of those who cannot accept the judgment of independent jurors.