Il dovere di non rispettare le leggi

In molti concordano che esista un diritto a non rispettare le leggi ingiuste ma esiste anche un dovere etico?

Del caso si occupa con la solita acribia il filosofo Michael Huemer il quale nel saggio “The Duty to Disregard The Law”  riflette sull’istituto giuridico della “Jury Nullification”, ovvero il diritto della giuria di assolvere un imputato che ha violato una legge ritenuta ingiusta.

Anticipo la sua tesi:

… I argue that, pursuant to the general ethical duty to avoid causing unjust harms to others, jurors are often morally obligated to disregard the law…

Viene ricordato il caso Zenger, un commentatore politico che finì sotto processo per aver duramente criticato sul suo giornale un governatore. La sua colpevolezza venne riconosciuta dalla giuria che ritenne però di non punirlo:

…. The prosecutor had argued that the factual accuracy of Zenger’s allegations was irrelevant to the charge of libel; indeed, it was worse to publish accurate criticisms of public officials than false ones, because accurate criticisms were more likely to undermine public confidence in the government. The judge instructed the jury that the prosecutor was correct as to the law: British law did not recognize truth as a defense to a charge of libel. Therefore, the judge all but ordered the jury to find the defendant guilty. But the jury defied the judge and the law and returned a verdict of not guilty. Zenger was freed, and the American tradition of freedom of the press was born… jury chooses to disregard the law and vote on the basis of their conscience. Sometimes, the jury considers the law itself unjust

Per un europeo la cosa è sorprendente poiché da noi ai giudici viene chiesto di applicare le leggi vigenti e non di “fare giustizia”.

Oltretutto il caso Zenger vantava precedenti:

… Before the American Civil War, northern juries frequently voted to acquit defendants who were prosecuted for assisting runaway slaves. During the Prohibition era, juries frequently acquitted defendants for alcohol crimes. More recently, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was acquitted three times of charges of assisted suicide

Diamo allora una definizione di “Jury Nullification”:

…  The kind of jury nullification with which I am concerned occurs when a defendant is prosecuted for an act that was illegal but morally blameless. Almost everyone admits that there are such acts…

Situazioni del genere esistono, ciascuno lo ammette, basta pensare ai cittadini tedeschi che nascondevano gli ebrei, o a chi illegalmente aiutava gli schiavi in fuga o a chi stracciava le cartoline di chiamata alle armi per la guerra in Vietman.

Tuttavia, anche nel mondo anglosassone la “Jury Nullification” è oggi un istituto in discredito presso i giuristi, senonché gli argomenti avanzati non sembrano stringenti.

… Philosophers attempting to defend a general duty to obey the law have found the task extremely difficult, and the most influential traditional account of this duty, the social contract theory, is now widely recognized as untenable…

Anche chi considera doveroso obbedire alla legge sostiene che questo dovere esiste fino a prova contraria:

… even those who defend the notion of a general duty to obey the law defend only a prima facie duty, and not one that appears extremely strong. The duty to obey the law has been said, for example, to arise out of an obligation to avoid free riding, to treat other citizens as equals, or to promote just institutions in one’s society…

Huemer propone l’analogia dell’amico gay e del dovere di dire la verità:

… Imagine that you are walking down a public street with a flamboyantly-dressed friend, when you are accosted by a gang of gaybashing hoodlums. The leader of the gang asks you whether your friend is gay. You have three alternatives: you may answer yes, refuse to answer, or answer no. You are convinced that either of the first two choices will result in a beating for your friend. However, you also know that your friend is in fact gay. Therefore, how should you respond? This is hardly an ethical dilemma. Clearly, you should answer no… The case illustrates a simple and uncontroversial ethical principle: it is prima facie wrong to cause another person to suffer serious undeserved harms… The duty to avoid contributing to serious, unjust harms may perhaps be overridden in extreme cases, but it is not easily overridden…

Una sintesi dell’argomento per il dovere di non rispettare la legge ingiusta:

… there is a simple and obvious argument for jury nullification: 1. It is prima facie wrong to cause unjust harm to others. 2. To convict a defendant for a morally blameless violation of law is to cause unjust harm to that defendant, for: a. To convict a defendant is to cause the defendant to be punished. b. One does not deserve punishment for a morally blameless act. c. Undeserved punishment is an unjust harm. 3. Therefore, it is prima facie wrong to convict a defendant for a morally blameless violation of law. This argument establishes not only an entitlement but a duty of jury nullification in cases of blameless law-violations…

E se si disubbidisce dopo aver giurato di ubbidire?

Ci sono alcuni casi in cui è doveroso violare le proprie promesse:

… To begin with, it is normally permissible to break a promise when necessary to prevent serious and undeserved harms to another person… suppose you have promised to pick a friend up from the airport, but on the way, you encounter an injured accident victim in need of medical assistance. It would be permissible, if not obligatory, to assist the accident victim,

In secondo luogo:

… a promise prompted by a threat of unjust coercion is typically not ethically binding. 10 If a gunman threatens to shoot you unless you promise to pay him $ 1,000, that promise will have no moral force….

In terzo luogo:

… even when a promise is initially valid, it is permissible to break the promise if doing so is necessary to forestall a threat of unjust harm from the person to whom the promise was made… suppose I have voluntarily promised to lend you my rifle next weekend. Before the week-end arrives, you credibly inform me that you intend to use the rifle to murder several people…

Si tratta di tre casi tutti presenti nella fattispecie in oggetto.

Alcuni contestano la disubbidienza perché toglierebbe valore alle leggi in generale creando un’incertezza diffusa:

The most common charge against jury nullification is that the practice is “lawless” or violates “the rule of law.”… Jury nullification decreases the predictability of trial outcomes, and it results in some defendants being treated unequally

Non è semplice comprendere la ratio di questa contestazione:

… When a juror is faced with a defendant prosecuted for blameless lawbreaking, it is very difficult to sympathize with the idea that the juror should vote to inflict unjust harm on this individual in order to ensure uniformity… it is absurd to prefer that all members of some group suffer severe and unjust harms rather than that only some do, merely on the grounds that the uniform imposition of injustice is more predictable or egalitarian than nonuniform injustice….

Basta un’analogia ben scelta per mostrare come la contestazione non stia in piedi:

… Suppose you know from recent newspaper reports that several gay people have already been beaten by homophobic hoodlums. When you encounter the gaybashing gang, should you instruct the gang to beat your friend, so as to ensure uniformity of treatment?…

Bisogna anche accordarsi sulla reale funzione del processo:

… The function of a criminal trial is to do justice by that defendant– that is, to punish the defendant in the case at hand if and only if he has done something that deserves punishment…

Anche qui giova ricorrere ad un’analogia icastica:

… suppose you also believe that, for whatever reason, most other juries, in similar circumstances, would vote to convict the defendant. No one would argue that in such a situation, you should vote to convict the apparently innocent defendant so as to ensure greater predictability or uniformity in the criminal justice system as a whole…

Alcuni si preoccupano del fatto che disubbidire alla legge si presti ad abusi. La storia legittima questa preoccupazione:

… During America’s more racist past, southern juries, out of sympathy for the defendants, sometimes voted to acquit those guilty of hate crimes…

Basta un’analogia per risolvere il problema etico sottostante:

… Consider again the example of the gang of hoodlums. Suppose that you are just about to lie to the gang, when it occurs to you that many people have lied for bad reasons. In fact, surely there have been more cases of corrupt lying in human history than there have of morally justified lying…

Il fatto che ci siano stati abusi non ci autorizza a fare il male.

Altri temono che legittimare la “jury nullification” che assolve sdoganerebbe la “jury nullification” che condanna (magari per antipatia):

… A closely related objection to nullification holds that, if juries may nullify the law to the benefit of the defendant, they may also nullify the law to the detriment of the defendant– for instance, a jury may decide to convict a defendant because of personal antipathy

Ma questa obiezione è priva di logica:

… If one may lie to save a friend from unjust violence, then one may also lie to defraud innocent people of their savings…

Alcuni critici sostengono l’esistenza di vie alternative alla disubbidienza:

… Some critics, while acknowledging that unjust laws exist, argue that the proper remedy is to change the law

L’obiezione è debole: innanzitutto le due vie sono compatibili:

… the recommendation of attempting to change the law through political activism is a non sequitur, since political activism and jury nullification are mutually compatible

Dopodiché, l’alternativa proposta è ostica a dir poco:

… an individual jury member’s probability of successfully changing public policy is approximately zero

Per finire, il rimedio proposto è tardivo:

… even if an individual juror had the option of repealing the law, that repeal would come too late for the particular defendant…

Ci sono critici che battono sulla natura non democratica del giudice che disubbidisce alla legge. Purtroppo, non è detto che un organismo democratico rappresenti le idee di chi lo ha eletto:

… the naive assumption that legislation invariably represents shared values simply in virtue of the existence of democratic elections ignores the extensive literature in public choice theory

Inoltre, non è nemmeno detto che una rappresentanza fedele sia un bene:

… Second, even when the law reflects public opinion in general, the great mass of the public is ignorant of the specifics of any given criminal case…

E poi:

… Third, the requirement of unanimity among twelve individuals all familiar with the facts of a given case provides a far more rigorous check against unjust punishments than a simple principle of majority rule…

Infine, c’è l’argomento più importante: l’ingiusto non diventa giusto per effetto di un parere maggioritario.

… majority will does not make an unjust act just. The historical examples of grave injustices carried out with the imprimatur of the majority are too well-known to require enumeration here… The fact that juries in general may be unreliable at determining what is just, if indeed they are, is likewise irrelevant. What is relevant to the ethical duty of the individual juror is whether this defendant has done wrong for which he deserves to be punished…

Dopo aver affrontato la questione etica, due parole su quella politica:

… I have focused herein on the question of individual ethics, setting aside the political question of to what extent the state ought to encourage or discourage jury nullification. In closing, I want to briefly remark on that political question. It seems to me that, once we recognize the moral duty in certain cases to disregard the law, it is very difficult to maintain that public institutions ought to officially oppose jury nullification….

Uscendo dal caso specifico della “Jury Nullification” ci si potrebbe porre la domanda su come la disubbidienza debba essere esercitata dal cittadino qualsiasi. Conosciamo la versione di Martin Luther King: chi disubbidisce deve farlo apertamente sopportandone le conseguenze:

… One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…

La visione di King sembra deficitaria: perché mai per evitare un’ingiustizia (l’applicazione di una legge ingiusta) dovremmo consentirne un’altra (la punizione del violatore)?

… If the law is unjust, doesn’t consenting to punishment simplycompound the injustice?…

Forse King ha paura degli abusi: se sdoganiamo la violazione delle leggi verranno violate anche le leggi in realtà giuste. Chiedendo che il violatore si sottoponga a punizione avremo la garanzia di una riflessione approfondita prima di procedere.

Ma questa osservazione è lacunosa:

… it neglects a simple alternative to promoting the Noble Lie that evading or defying unjust laws is wrong.  Namely: Promoting the Noble Truth that people should painstakingly investigate the justice of a law before breaking it…


… this story neglects the very existence of moderately virtuous people who are willing to resist unjust laws if and only if the personal cost is low. If such people feel free to evade or defy unjust laws, they’ll break them, making the world more just.  However, if they don’t feel free to evade or defy unjust laws, they’ll obey them, preserving the injustice of the status quo…


Quando è lecito disobbedire alla legge? Quando è doveroso? In tema mi sembra di capire ci siano tre posizioni: 1) rispettare la legge è un dovere etico forte 2) rispettare la legge è un dovere etico debole e 3) non esiste alcun collegamento tra la legge e i nostri doveri etici. La prima posizione non si accorda con i fatti: noi tutti violiamo la legge cento volte al giorno (dai semafori ai limiti di velocità) senza sentirci eticamente in colpa. La seconda è più in linea con i fatti. La terza è la più rigorosa da un punto di vista filosofico.

P.S. Alcune leggi “violentano” i costumi sociali ma sia le leggi che i costumi sociali sono dei punti di riferimento: in questi casi disubbidire non minaccia nemmeno l’esistenza di “punti focali”.



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