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The criminal court of the United States of America depends on the members of the jury in order to conduct itself in a fair and impartial matter. The New York Times article, “Jurors Need to Know That They Can Say No” by Paul Butler, actively encourages members of the jury to disregard the law in order to increase their involvement with the law (pg. 1). According to Butler, “jury nullification” is the constitutional right to acquit a case regardless of the evidence presented while serving as a member of the Jury (NYT, Butler). The topic of “jury nullification” has led to a debate because people have very different views about the subject (NYT, Butler). Patricia Ewick and Susan S. Silbey, conducted a narrative research project that uses interviews to develop tools to better understand “the different ways that people use and experience” the law (pg. 1). The responses of the interviews led Ewick and Silbey to establish three categories to convey how people interact with the law as: “Before the Law,” “With the Law,” and “Against the Law” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 1). The following paper uses an interpretive approach to persuade the reader that the three topics from Ewick and Silbey’s research are present throughout Butler’s text and the responses.
Firstly, Ewick and Silbey determined that their participants whose responses were categorized as “Before the Law,” felt that the law was a “separate sphere” from society but was also “predictable,” and worthy of their “loyalty” (pg.1). I believe that a cause of feeling distanced from the law may be a result of the fact that the legal system operates behind closed doors. For instance, “if laws are unfair, our democratic process provides that legislatures will change those laws” (NYT, Brassard). I interpreted this particular response as someone who has trust that there are fair processes in place to enact change regarding the law. However, I also believe that the phrase, “democratic process” suggests the author feels that there is a disconnect between their life and the law (NYT, Brassard). I came to this conclusion because I believe that an ordinary person is unlikely to be well informed with the adaptations and modifications to the law. Thus, I would argue that a discussion to determine, “if laws are unfair,” also occurs away from society (NYT, Brassard). The phrase, “legislatures will change those laws” suggests that the everyday citizen will not be able to participate in the efforts made to change laws. The majority of people in our society are not legislatures which allows the possibility that the modifications to laws do not reflect the wills of the people. Similarly, respondents from the research study expressed that they felt the law was “fixed and impervious to individual action” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 1). In order for someone to be classified as “Before the Law” they must believe in processes of the law; however, they are not required to agree with the result of legislative change (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 1).
The second category from Ewick and Silbey’s research study is called “With the Law” (pg. 2). Interviewees who were categorized as “With the Law” expressed that their involvement with the law was similar to if they were to be “playing a game” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). Butler expresses that he is “With the Law” through his statement that “as a juror you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer” (NYT, Butler). Simply, jurors have the right to exercise “jury nullification” which can increase their involvement with the law and allow a jury to manipulate the law to achieve a common interest (NYT, Butler). In order to analyze Butler’s statement, it needs to be broken apart. Firstly, the phrase, “if you exercise it,” is important because it suggests a person can be flexible in terms of when they choose to exercise their right (NYT, Butler). The interpretation that someone has the choice of when their rights apply resembles a “With the Law” state of mind because the participants of the research study expressed that their manipulation of the laws “can be abandoned if need be” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). Someone who is “With the Law” is willing to utilize a right they are given when there is an opportunity to manipulate the law, regardless if they believe they should possess that particular right (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). Similarly, Butler emphasizes that a juror should monopolize his rights for the benefit of “making our laws fairer” (NYT, Butler). Thus, Butler focuses on the benefit that jurors can improve laws while simultaneously disregarding the possible negative effects which could prove disastrous for society. This interpretation of Butler’s statement conforms to the interpretation of Ewick and Silbey that individuals who are “With the Law” are “less concerned about the law’s power than about the power of self or others” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2).
Lastly, Ewick and Silbey categorized the remaining interviewee responses as having an “Against the Law” state of mind (pg. 3). “Against the Law” state of mind occurs when an individual believes the law to be unjust (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). Interestingly, “last year the New York City police made 50,000 arrests just for marijuana possession. Because prosecutors have discretion over whether to charge a suspect, and for what offense, they have more power than judges over the outcome of a case” (NYT, Butler). I will now explain why I believe the previous statement suggests that the author has an “Against the Law” state of mind (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). Firstly, I believe that due to the large number of arrests associated with drugs leads the author to feel as though they are unable to escape the law (NYT, Butler). Ewick and Silbey interpreted that those categorized as the “After the Law” maintained a feeling of “being up against the law, its schemas and resources overriding their own capacity” (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 2). The law is able to extend its power over many people and many types of injustice. Additionally, I interpret this statement as a negative criticism of the American legal system because it vocalizes the imbalance of power between prosecutors and defendants.
In conclusion, I interpreted both Butler and responses to his work as containing the necessary criteria outlined by Ewick and Silbey’s research study to classify what motivates an individual’s involvement with the law as “Before the Law,” “With the Law” and “Against the Law” (pg. 1) Additionally, I believe that it is crucial to note that quotes from Butler and the New York Times article, “Jurors Need to Know That They Can Say No,” were independent of Ewick and Silbey’s research study. However, the one can assume that responses resembled the interview answers that Ewick and Silbey received. I noticed the tension between the three forms of interpreting the law (Ewick and Silbey, pg. 1). I found that many responses consisted of sentences that could be interpreted as more than one of Ewick and Silbey’s categories (pg. 1). Once I was able to see the possibility for multiple interpretations for one sentence, I realized that Ewick and Silbey’s classifications are not permanent, but that, an individual’s interaction with the law should be viewed as a spectrum rather than as a single classification.

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