The highest and best function of the jury is not, as many think, to dispense punishment to fellow citizens guilty of breaking the law, but rather to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical prosecutions and bad laws imposed by a power-hungry government.
Absolutely it is. In 1735 the Governor of New York jailed John Peter Zenger for daring to publicly criticize him. Seditious Libel was a crime, not a civil tort, and truth was not yet an available defense.
The defendant was slam-dunk guilty. He had printed his complaints against the Governor. And all that had to be proven for a conviction was that he had criticized the government; not even that his argument lacked merit. So the original Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton argued – in essence – jury nullification:
Men who injure and oppress the people under their administration provoke them to cry out and complain, and then make that very complaint the foundation for new oppressions and prosecutions…
The question before the court, and you, gentlemen of the jury, is not of small nor private concern; it is not the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may, in its consequence, affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main continent of America.
It is the best cause; it is the cause of liberty; and I make no doubt but your upright conduct, this day, will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizen, but every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny, and, by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict, have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right … the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.