“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Fayette County man is acquitted of a battery charge after spitting on a member of the controversial organization tha tcame to West Virginia to demonstrate during the days following the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion.
The jury in Charleston Municipal Court found Billy Spade of Hico not-guilty of the charge. Spade was arrested when he spit tobacco juice on a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The inflammatory organization was protesting in downtown Charleston and holding signs reading, “Thank God for Dead Miners.” Another sign, which Spade testified was particularly offensive to him, read “Thank God for Dead Marines.”
The group is gained notoriety nationally for showing up to demonstrate during the funerals of military members killed in action. The church is vehemently anti-gay, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic. Their protest April 11, 2010 –six days after UBB — was staged in downtown Charleston outside Charleston Catholic High School and a Catholic elementary school.
An officer assigned to patrol the event witnessed Spade spitting and arrested him. The officer testified he saw Spade spit on the woman’s chest. Spade told jurors he spit on her sign which she was holding above her shoulders.
Charleston Police Sgt. Nick Null testified as he was leading Spade away, the victim Shirley Phelps-Roper said, “I’m glad you pigs finally did something,”
Phelps-Roper is the daughter of the church’s controversial pastor Fred Phelps.
The jury ruled in the case that Spade committed no crime when he spit on the woman, under the highly charged circumstances. The jury returned its not-guilty verdict in less than an hour.
What this report describes is jury nullification – a decision by the jury that the law does not apply to a particular set of facts. A jury does not “rule” in a case. A jury merely returns a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty”. The prevalent thinking on the issue of juries is that juries have no power of nullification, that is, they do not decide the law. Juries are supposed to only decide whether or not the person committed the act of which they are accused. In practice, jury nullification may be more common than many legal scholars would like to believe.
However, I don’t believe that the reporter in this case has sufficient access to facts on which to base the claim that the jury ruled that the defendant committed no crime. But there are a lot of missing details here. The jury may have simply decided that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict. The law may have been written in such a way as to allow for the alleged facts to be considered provocation. There simply isn’t sufficient detail to conclude that this was, in fact, jury nullification, as the report would lead you to believe.
Why is jury nullification important? Well, a couple of reasons. Jury nullification was considered to be a defense of the people against the government, especially a distant government (because juries are drawn from the locality). In this sense, jury nullification may actually be sensible in federal cases. In local matters, though, jury nullification would arbitrarily enforce the law, with this case possibly being an example of that. In short, justice would no longer be blind because the jury would decide who deserves justice and who doesn’t. Think of how a community divided by racism would likely see juries make the law into a completely dysfunctional instrument. The administration of law should be based on what a person does, not who a person is.
Justice should not be a popularity contest: