Here’s a cool pamphlet, read it (it’s 95% pictures and barely any writing, just click it already), it’s by the dude who wrote ‘Go The **** To Sleep’:
It’s about jury nullification – it’s a concept which sounds boring, but is actually really interesting. Jury nullification is basically if you’re on a jury and you vote someone ‘not guilty’ just because you disagree with the law they’re being convicted under. So if you’ve got a murderer being tried but you don’t think there’s anything wrong with murder, you can vote him not guilty on a matter of principle. Convince your fellow jurors that murder ain’t so bad, and the dude will get off scot-free. Obviously, trying to legalise murder is unlikely to take off, but with some more questionable laws – say, drug possession – we may have the cat by the tail.
It’s definitely creative, and apparently it works. The New York Times writes that jury nullification in the past has had an effected on ending U.S. laws against gay sex and drinking alcohol. Okay, sometimes it does go wrong – there’s reports that racist juries in the US also used jury nullification to acquit people who killed civil rights activists – but that’s much rarer, since idiot juries like that tend to be so dumb that they generally don’t know about the concept of jury nullification. As such, it’s a legal principle which effectively regulates itself, and allows informed, thoughtful people to make their verdict known on dodgy laws.
Do I think you should use jury nullification to help stop people getting criminal records as a result of their drug possession conviction? Well, yeah, of course I do. The stats speak for themselves: more than a million people have a criminal record as a result of the UK drug laws. The war on drugs is mean, unwinnable, incredibly costly, it fills up prisons, takes police resources away from more important crimes, and overall it makes about as much sense as, well, banning alcohol.
I will admit, however, that I don’t really have any issues with drug dealers being jailed. Statistics show (well, I don’t have any statistics* but I’m sure if I did, they would show) that drug dealers also tend to commit other, ‘real’ crimes quite a bit more frequently than the rest of society. I’m talking about violent crime, thieving, being a dreg of society, that sort of thing. So ensuring drug dealing itself remains a crime is crucial as it helps ensure that dealers are in prison, rather than out on the streets committing other crimes. I think that’s a fair, practical compromise for the short term: legalise possession, but keep jailing those dealers. Keep that in mind next time you’re on the jury.
*I vaguely remember the excellent book Freakanomics showing stats that the explosion in crack cocaine use in a US city resulted in a decrease in other crimes, because the sort of people who were dealing crack were also the sort of people who went around murdering – so safer streets in general were an unexpected by-product of the lengthy mandatory minimum jail sentences given to people for crack-cocaine dealing **
**I even more vaguely remember an episode of the West Wing where President Bartlett argued that ‘mandatory minimum’ jail sentences for crack-cocaine use were actually a racist law. It’s on account of crack being a drug mostly preferred by the African-American community as opposed to, say, heroin, which was just as dangerous yet carried more lenient sentences. Why, that sounds like a blog topic in itself, doesn’t it. Doesn’t it just.