Comment: JUSTICE HUGO BLACK

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JUSTICE HUGO BLACK

JUSTICE HUGO BLACK, (Assoc. Justice U.S. Supreme Court, 1937-1971) a great believer in the Jury system, used to tell this story:

Years ago, in the foot-hills of Alabama, a tenant-farmer was charged criminally with stealing a cow from his landlord, and was brought to trial. As was frequently the case in rural America, the Jurors selected for the trial were acquainted with everyone, including the accused and his victim. Each juror knew that the farm's landlord was a nasty bastard who tormented his neighbors, while frequently treating the town's orphans and widows with derision. By the same token, the tenant-farmer was the salt of the earth, beloved by everyone. But still, the evidence of his guilt was indisputable.
After the evidence was in and the jury retired to deliberate, it quickly returned to the courtroom to announce its verdict: "If the accused returns the cow, we find him not guilty."
The judge was infuriated. His anger heightening, he commanded the jury to return to the jury room to deliberate --shrilly chastising them for their flagrantly "arrogant" and "illegal" verdict.
Not a moment passed when they re-appeared in the tense courtroom to trumpet their new verdict: "We find the accused not guilty -- and he can keep the cow."
The American Jury, Justice Black reminds his listeners, is effectively omnipotent in rendering an acquittal. What hits home in Justice Black's story is the deeply-held American notion that juries often perform an independent role in a system in which the people - not prosecutors, judges or lawyers - have the last word. In the end, if the jury wishes to let the defendant keep the cow, that is what will happen.- JUSTICE HUGO BLACK

Live in Liberty
Tom Rankin