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A Closing Argument
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its Constitution." So said Thomas Jefferson. Let me repeat that. I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its Constitution." Our founding fathers understood that the reason we have trial by jury in this country is to allow the people to be the last arbiter of the law as it applies in a specific case. You, here, sitting in the jury box right now have more power than a king or a queen, more power than the president of the United States. You, here, are the law.
We have a great heritage in this regard. Our right to free speech, free assembly, and freedom of religion, and trial by jury dates back to 1670, in a case tried by jury in jolly ole England, the famous and historically pivotal case of William Penn--yes the same William Penn who eventually founded Pennsylvania.
William Penn had been preaching in public, advocating his brand of religion, that of which we commonly refer to as the Quaker religion. There was only one recognized religion in England at the time, that of the Anglican church. To promote or exercise any other religion was against the law.
William Penn was arrested for this and went to trial. The jury, headed by jury foreman Edward Bushel, found William Penn not guilty even though they recognized the fact that Penn had violated the law. The jury considered the law unjust and exercised their power to nullify the law in that particular case. The judge, not liking the verdict, fined the jurors until and unless they reversed their decision. Edward Bushel refused to pay the fine. The judge put him and the rest of the jurors in prison without meat, drink, fire, or tobacco. Two months later on a writ of habeas corpus filed in the Court of Common Pleas, the Lord Chief Justice of London ruled that jurors could not be coerced in rendering a verdict, the jurors were freed, and William Penn was acquitted.
Move forward, 65 years later, in Colonial America, this most cherished right of trial by jury was tested and strengthened once again.
John Peter Zenger was a publisher in colonial New York. Governor Cosby was known as a corrupt and oppressive ruler. Zenger decided to publish articles and parodies to demonstrate the corrupt and oppressive nature of the Governor. He went beyond what any publisher in the past had done criticizing government. He was arrested for seditious libel, a charge of bringing contempt or exciting dissatisfaction against the government--even if the statements were true.
Zengerís lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, did not dispute the facts of the case. Instead, he appealed to the juryís sense of right and wrong, referred to freedom of speech being necessary to a free people--the ability to speak out against the government. The jury ignored the law and voted not guilty.
Our founding fathers understood how important was this right and power of jurors, to be the last arbiter of the law in a specific case. And that is why they put in the Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the US Constitution, as a last nonviolent check and balance on the power of government.
We know this to be true because we know that the first Chief Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice John Jay, who was also one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, charged the jury the following way in the first jury case to go in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Georgia vs. Brailsford.
An objection is heard from the other side: Your honor, the defendant here is wasting the courtís time. What may have happened in the past is irrelevant. The only question here, is if Mr. Prazak wore a seat belt.
Excuse me, Judge, but what could be more relevant? Is it not instructive for this jury to hear a bit of history of why they are here. Are they jurors or are they rubber stamps? This is America after all. For freedom, is not that why we are waging war in the Middle East--to establish freedom. Freedom is an empty concept if one can not exercise his or her free speech when it is most important-- when a defendantís very liberty is on trial. Judge, donít make a mockery of what is the foundation of this country. Donít turn my peers, my fellow citizens, my free American jurors in to rubber stamps of an oppressive system. Let them exercise their natural, God-given right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Mr. Prazak, I am warning you . . . (Prazak turns back to the jury, ignoring the warning)
Getting back to Chief Judge John Jay, he charged the jury in the Brailsford case this way, "It may not be amiss here, gentlemen, to remind you of the good old rule, that on the question of fact, it is the province of the jury, and on the question of law, it is the province of the court to decide . . . . it is presumed , that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that the courts are the best judges of law. But, it must be observed that by the same law which recognizes this reasonable distribution of jurisdiction, you have nevertheless a right to take it upon yourselves to judge of both and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy . . . both objects are lawfully within your power of decision."
The judge interrupts: Mr. Prazak, are you trying to show your contempt for this court?
Am I trying to show my contempt for this court? No, your honor, to quote the late, great Mae West and Mickey Mouse (or was it Donald Duck?), "I am trying my best to conceal it."
Fellow free American citizens, this right and power of juries has been used judiciously over the ages, whether it be for acquitting people for harboring runaway slaves in the 1850s--the Fugitive Slave law, whether it be to acquit those who protested the draft during the Viet Nam War era, whether it be to acquit people who have been brought before the federal government courts by the oppressive, tyrannical IRS, juries have stood up and said "No" to government.
So that brings us here today. On what may seem a trivial matter to some of you--a seat belt case. The prosecution would have you believe that this is a simple matter. Did I or did I not wear my seat belt. But that issue begs a far deeper question, a far more important question to every one of us who really believes in liberty. By what right does the government have to tell us that we must wear a seat belt in our vehicles, that we can not make our own decisions about safety? Does the State have the right to rule over such a basic personal question concerning the safety of our own lives? Whose life is it anyway? Do we own ourselves, or are we a cog in the machine of government? Is not freedom meaningless if we canít make our own decision in this regard. Founding father, John Adams thought so. He said, "We hold that each man is the best judge of his own interest."
For me, to not have this choice to determine what is safe for myselfĖor if I so choose, to not be safe--as long as I donít infringe on the equal rights of others to the same--this would be a negation of life, for
Living a life in self direction,
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I choose life. And no fine or threat of imprisonment will deter me from choosing life. Life without responsible freedom is no life at all.
Freedom comes in a variety of forms--there is the freedom that comes from acquiring wealth that expands choices available to people, there is the aspect of physical freedom--to not be kidnapped--whether it be from a private person or government, and then, then, there is the most important one in my mind--the freedom of conscience--the freedom to believe and act on those beliefs--no matter what others may say or do. Whatever the state does to me--whatever you decide--I will remain free--and as long as I am physically able, I will make my own choice as to whether or not I wear a seat belt in my own vehicle determining my safety decisions for my own life.
Some say seat belts save lives, and maybe in the aggregate they do. But seat belt laws do not save lives, in fact they do the opposite. There is one state in this land of the free, that has no mandatory seat belt law,--that is the live-free-or-die state of New Hampshire. Ever since the other states have passed mandatory seat belt laws, New Hampshire has shown the highest increase in highway safety. In all the other states, the mandatory seat belt laws have had no effect.
But of course, irrespective of that being true, it really is not the main issue. Certainly not the issue for government to decide. Let insurance companies charge higher rates if they determine that the use of seat belts save lives. Then we will all be free to choose what insurance company to use, and keep our own life safety choices in tact. No, the real issue here is--who owns your life? Is it yours or is it governmentís? When you decide this issue in the jury room, I am not asking you to vote not guilty--for me--for I will remain free whether behind bars or behind the wheel. I have lived a life of freedom and I will continue to do so until my dying days. Because I understand that if government makes my choice for me, I am dead anyway. I am just the living dead--an automaton with no self direction. So I will always choose freedom, regardless of what oppression government has in store for me. No, I ask you to vote not guilty for yourselves. Free yourselves of the limitless government oppression that invades your daily lives. Free yourself from the involuntary servitude--free yourself from that tribute you pay to government, the tribute that government continually exacts from us in these petty tyrannical traffic courts. They are just modern highwayman robbers.
Say "no" to theft, say "no to tribute, say "no" to thievery. Say "no" to control. Say "no" to the nanny state. Say yes, to freedom.
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