Posts Tagged ‘Law’

There’s a story in today’s Guardian on a dispute in Denver over volunteers handing out informational flyers about jury nullification in front of the courthouse. The district attorney has charged two activists with felony jury tampering (!) for handing out the flyers, while the city attorney has directed the cops to stop arresting people for handing out flyers, because such arrests are an obvious violation of the right of free speech.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, jury nullification consists of juries refusing to convict defendants either because they believe that the law in question is unjust or because they believe that defendants had good justification for breaking the law in question.

Most people believe that juries are bound to follow judges’ instructions and convict defendants regardless of whether jurors consider a law unjust or that defendants are justified in breaking it. There is no such obligation. Juries can find defendants not guilty in such circumstances, and there’s not a thing judges or prosecutors can do to them because of it.

Over the years, there have been many horrendous miscarriages of justice resulting from juries being unaware of this, and prosecutors want to keep it that way.

So, what the activists handing out flyers at the Denver courthouse were and are doing is not only courageous, but important. If enough people become aware that jury nullification is possible, it would put a brake on the power of the state to steamroller political activists.

The best source of information on jury nullification is the Fully Informed Jury Association. Check ’em out, please.

“Laws are rules established by men who are in control of organized violence for the nonfulfillment of which those who do not fulfill them are subjected to personal injuries, the loss of liberty, and even capital punishment.

“In this definition is contained the answer to the question as to what gives men the power to establish laws. What gives them the power to establish laws is the same thing which secures obedience to them — organized violence.”

–Leo Tolstoy, The Slavery of Our Times

Leo Tolstoy

“The law condemns and punishes only actions within certain definite and narrow limits; it thereby justifies, in a way, all similar actions that lie outside those limits.”

–Leo Tolstoy, “What I Believe”

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Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations



“Laws! We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of the government.”

— P.J. Proudhon, quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Bierce“There is no fallacy so monstrous, no deduction so hideously unrelated to common sense, as not to receive somewhere in the myriad pages of the awful compilation a support that any judge in the land would be proud to recognize with a decision if ably persuaded. I do not say that the lawyers are altogether accountable for the existence of this mass of disastrous rubbish . . . they only create and thrust it down our throats; we are guilty of contributory negligence by not biting the spoon.”

–Ambrose Bierce, “Some Features of the Law”

LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT, n. A curiously unremarked-upon oxymoron on the level of “workers’ state,” “compassionate conservative,” or “vegetarian piranha.”

The basic premise of the “legitimate government” concept is that as long as a government–an organization using coercion, the threat of violence, and often outright violence to force those within its area of domination to bend to its will–is “democratically” elected, it is “legitimate.”

To put this in perspective, let’s consider an island with ten inhabitants. If six of the island’s residents decided to form a government and elected three of their number to make laws binding on all residents, with the new laws enforced under threat of violence or through actual violence, and if the new governing body armed itself with deadly weapons and extorted money from everyone on the island, under current concepts that island government and its “taxation” would be “legitimate.” And if it then passed laws regulating the most intimate aspects of the daily lives of everyone on the island, including those who wanted no part of the new government, and enforced those laws at the point of a gun, those laws would, in the eyes of the world, be the “legitimate” acts of a “legitimate,” democratically elected government.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


“This is a court of law … not a court of justice.”

–U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

quoted in Devil’s Advocates: The Unnatural History of Lawyers

by Andrew and Jonathan Roth