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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This book, which was written in the 19th century, is as vital and significant today as the Constitution-and perhaps more important to the modern reader because of changes mad within the court system (but not the legal system) in the past century.
This is a very short book, but covers a very important and neglected part of the limitations of Government power: the trial by jury.
Jury trial rights predate the foundation of the United States, beginning with the signing of the Magna Carta in England in 1215. So the principles of jury trial were long established in the British Common Law upon which US Federal Law and most states (all but Louisiana, which is based upon Napoleonic Law.)
"FOR more than six hundred years that is, since Magna Carta, in 1215 there has been no clearer principle of English or American constitutional law, than that, in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of juries to judge what are the facts, what is the law, and what was the moral intent of the accused; but that it is also their right, and their primary and paramount duty, to judge of the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating, or resisting the execution of, such laws."
The purpose of a selected jury is to represent the population or country as a whole to judge the defendant, who represents the rights of the people. (i.e. the people as a whole, represented by the jurors, decide whether or not they desire the freedom to perform whatever actions are on trial.)
The purpose of trial by jury, is to permit a "trial by country," opposed to a "trial by Government." Thus, in the final analysis, it is up to the people to determine which laws have been set by their Government they truly wish to obey, and not the Government'swill alone.
This is not the model, which they taught you in school, and it is at variance with the statements frequently made in court by judges. (Whose purpose in a jury trial is not to judge, but to provide order safety and advice.)
With an informed jury, no law may be enforced which the jury finds reprehensible, regardless of the opinions of the judges, legislators or police. Juries have the final say in whether or not a law is just and enforceable.
Truly, if this were otherwise, Tyranny is the result. If the Government declares the law, and the Government determines whether or not the law is valid, then the Peoiple have lost their freedom, and have only those freedoms left which the Government chooses to leave to them.
The legal mechanism is thus: The Legislature creates the law, the Executive puts the law into effect, and enforces the law, the Courts (in the form of the Jury, a randomly selected subset of the People,) determine if the law is valid. In our last hundred years, increasingly the function of the Courts, represented by the Jury, has come to be represented by the Judges, who are, of course, not a random selection of the People, but a selected part of the Government.
Our current Government has gone so far as to say that it will continue to hold (at least some) defendants, even if they are found innocent!
I highly recommend that all people subject to jury duty (adult citizens) read this book. Despite being written well over 100 years ago, it is quite clearly written, and being short and important to your liberty, will pay great dividends for the little time invested in reading. If you read one book this year, let this be the one.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2009
This book gives an eye opening look at our judicial system and why the trial by jury is so important. As one of the checks and balances of our constitution, it allows "the people" to keep government from issuing oppressive laws. They are the final arbiter of a laws fairness by their decision to convict or acquit. Despite the fact that judges and lawyers and others try to make a jury work "within" the system, the fact is, juries are allowed, encouraged and expected to judge the laws for themselves as members of the community as to their fairness. This process is called jury nullification. By this act, juries keep what laws they deem as meaningful, fair and honest. The rest are simply ignored. This is true in murder vs. self-defense, taxes, anything.

Spooner basically asserts that without this time honored tradition; that if a judge, lawyer or any official of the court or government can limit a jury to work strictly within the law that the trial is no longer a trial by jury or "the people" but a trial by the state, with an outcome that can be dictated and decided by it as well. In fact, even the act of a judge not allowing evidence in for consideration voids the trial and should immediately result in dismissal. The jury is allowed to hear all evidence, despite what technicality it is not allowed in for. They are the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong, good or evil. It is felt that no great knowledge of law is necessary to decide if someone is guilty or innocent and even if a law was broken the jury has every right to find a person innocent if they feel that what transpired was the right thing to do.

I recommend this book for those interested in freedom, justice and the constitution. It also gives excellent history of the trial by jury going back to its inception under the Magna Carta.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 1998
To properly understand the reason for the system of trial by jury one can do no better than to read Spooner's essay. He covers the history of the concept and the proper role of the "judge" and the rights of the jury. The concept of Jury Nullification and the need for it become clear with a reading of his work. One reading of Spooner's essay and you will never view our judicial system in the same light.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
I'll start right off by acknowledging that this edition is riddled with typographical errors. They seem to increase in number as the page count increases. It seems as though the publisher ran a manuscript through an OCR routine, and got bored fixing its mistakes about 1/3 of the way through.

Oh well. This is still one of the most important books I've read. I've read the opening few paragraphs before I bought the book (and they make a compelling argument), but I was immediately and profoundly influenced upon reading the whole thing. The initial arguments changed my view of the value and nature of a jury trial, while the entire work profoundly affected every aspect of my outlook of government, politics, and even the (classical) liberal tradition.

The first section seems a little long-winded (and, eventually, redundant), but Spooner has a purpose in emphasizing and re-emphasizing the key points, before moving on to scholarly analysis.

Some of the legal history may be uninteresting to those who are not lawyers, scholars, or deeply interested, but it kept me engaged. In fact, while I found some of the details dry, I found the overall perspective offered on Anglo-Saxon Common Law to be immensely fascinating.

Even if legal history isn't your thing, I can't advise skipping anything. Only by reading the work in its entirety, I feel, can the scope and magnitude of Spooner's argument be fully grasped. Many of the historical trivia later show themselves to be relevant, and many of Spooner's points only have their full effect in consideration of all the others.

Spooner has convinced me that trial by jury, and only trial by jury (properly implemented), is capable of restoring and maintaining liberty in the face of the de facto power of a majority.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2012
Spooner paints a picture of how judgement and sentence by jury
can be used to protect liberty from an overreaching government!
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on August 15, 2015
The author is best known for the pamphlet No Treason. His anarchist views on the jury system come out in this book. I found his views interesting but the book is not relevant to today's use of the institution.
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on May 14, 2014
Spooner makes the case for government of, by and for the people. He shows how properly formed jury systems in the common law environment carry out justice and promote freedom.
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on March 6, 2015
Not the greatest reproduction printing but the BEST book I've ever read about the Magna Carta and the history of juries.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2013
An outstanding masterpiece that demonstrates cogently that trial by jury was anciently intended as the ultimate check and balance not only on the fair enforcement of positive law, but on the justice of the law itself. Must reading for everyone!
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2010
The content of this book is vital to our understanding of the trial by jury, both broadening and ennobling the contemporary role of juror.

The book itself, however, is saturated with typographical errors. It looks as if the publisher scanned an old copy of the book into a program that 'reads' documents, and neglected to proofread it before sending it to press. This is incredibly disappointing given the importance of the topic and the meticulous care Spooner devotes to it.

I'm sorry I can't recommend a better edition of this book. All I can say is that I will not buy anything from this publisher in the future.
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