T Nation

Jury Nullification

I stumbled about an American legal concept today, called “jury nullification”…

Basically it is about the power of a jury to not only question the guilt of a defendant but also the law which was used to arrest and indict him.

Even if a judge instructs the members of an American jury that they can and should only judge a defendants behaviour according to the letters of the law, that is actually bullshit.

You can set someone free, if you think the law itself is morally wrong…

Don?t know why medical marijuana comes to mind or that you will never hear if the defendant grew it for medicinal purposes in the trial, because, you know, you are only his peers judging his case and federal government does not want you to use that pretty head of yours.

What is interesting is that officers of the court, and that includes the defendants lawyers (!?!), are not allowed to mention the concept of “jury nullification” during the trial.

If you are a potential member of a jury and you show knowledge of the concept of “jury nullification” you will very likely not sit in the jury.

If you mention this concept to other jurors before the verdict and imply that you might go that route, some courts will try to remove you from the jury.

“Jury nullification” has been used several times in the US history, sometimes to defend freedom of speech, sometimes to get free the murderers of equal rights activists that very clearly guilty.

Why do I post this?

Because you will never hear this if you are a juror. It is practically the only veto power to laws you think are bullshit you will ever have.

And because apparently people in power do not want you to know and as long as the internet and thoughts are free…

Frankly, this is one of the most important checks and balances in place in the American system and it is an outrage that it does not only not seem to be public knowledge, but that courts actively mislead jurors by telling them that they have to judge someone according to the law.

I thought that jury nullification was more about the power of a jury to ignore the law when rendering a verdict.

Kinda like setting a mass murderer free for some reason even though he clearly killed folks in front of witnesses, on video tape, wrote his name in blood on his victims, etc.

It’s the concept of juries being a kind of ultimate authority which supercedes everything. Which, like anything in life, can be bad or good.

[quote]orion wrote:
And because apparently people in power do not want you to know and as long as the internet and thoughts are free…
[/quote]

This very clearly demonstrates the difference in the American way of thinking about their government and the European way.

We ARE the people in power. Our representatives wrote the goddamned laws. Jury nullification is taught in junior high school government class and doesn’t work really at all like you describe. Keep trying.

[quote]ChuckyT wrote:
orion wrote:
And because apparently people in power do not want you to know and as long as the internet and thoughts are free…

This very clearly demonstrates the difference in the American way of thinking about their government and the European way.

We ARE the people in power. Our representatives wrote the goddamned laws. Jury nullification is taught in junior high school government class and doesn’t work really at all like you describe. Keep trying. [/quote]

"Judicial acceptance of nullification began to wane, however, in the late 1800s. In 1895, in United States v Sparf, the U. S. Supreme Court voted 7 to 2 to uphold the conviction in a case in which the trial judge refused the defense attorney’s request to let the jury know of their nullification power.

Courts recently have been reluctant to encourage jury nullification, and in fact have taken several steps to prevent it. In most jurisdictions, judges instruct jurors that it is their duty to apply the law as it is given to them, whether they agree with the law or not. Only in a handful of states are jurors told that they have the power to judge both the facts and the law of the case. Most judges also will prohibit attorneys from using their closing arguments to directly appeal to jurors to nullify the law.

Recently, several courts have indicated that judges also have the right, when it is brought to their attention by other jurors, to remove (prior to a verdict, of course) from juries any juror who makes clear his or her intention to vote to nullify the law."

How do you explain that then?

[quote]orion wrote:

How do you explain that then?
[/quote]

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/zenger/nullification.html

As it stands now, jurors must learn of their power to nullify from extra-legal sources such as televised legal dramas, novels, or articles about juries that they might have come across. Some juries will understand that they do have the power to nullify, while other juries may be misled by judges into thinking that they must apply the law exactly as it is given. Many commentators have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant’s fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.

Judges have worried that informing jurors of their power to nullify will lead to jury anarchy, with jurors following their own sympathies. They suggest that informing of the power to nullify will increase the number of hung juries. Some judges also have pointed out that jury nullification has had both positive and negative applications–the negative applications including some notorious cases in which all-white southern juries in the 1950s and 1960s refused to convict white supremacists for killing blacks or civil rights workers despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt. Finally, some judges have argued that informing jurors of their power to nullify places too much weight on their shoulders–that is easier on jurors to simply decide facts, not the complex issues that may be presented in decisions about the morality or appropriateness of laws.

On the other hand, jury nullification provides an important mechanism for feedback. Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about misplaced enforcement priorities or what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid–it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.

[quote]doogie wrote:
orion wrote:

How do you explain that then?

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/zenger/nullification.html

As it stands now, jurors must learn of their power to nullify from extra-legal sources such as televised legal dramas, novels, or articles about juries that they might have come across. Some juries will understand that they do have the power to nullify, while other juries may be misled by judges into thinking that they must apply the law exactly as it is given. Many commentators have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant’s fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.

Judges have worried that informing jurors of their power to nullify will lead to jury anarchy, with jurors following their own sympathies. They suggest that informing of the power to nullify will increase the number of hung juries. Some judges also have pointed out that jury nullification has had both positive and negative applications–the negative applications including some notorious cases in which all-white southern juries in the 1950s and 1960s refused to convict white supremacists for killing blacks or civil rights workers despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt. Finally, some judges have argued that informing jurors of their power to nullify places too much weight on their shoulders–that is easier on jurors to simply decide facts, not the complex issues that may be presented in decisions about the morality or appropriateness of laws.

On the other hand, jury nullification provides an important mechanism for feedback. Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about misplaced enforcement priorities or what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid–it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.[/quote]

Lol, I knew how this article continued, I just wondered how ChuckyT came to the conclusion that this was common knowledge when courts make it a point to NOT inform juries and to almost mislead them on purpose.

This is a fascinating and powerful instrument, which is probably unique to the US.

Basically, if used coordinated, it allows for undermining outrageous laws like the fugitive slave act.

Absolutely incredible and I never heard of that before!

Why is this instrument not used more often?

[quote]orion wrote:
Lol, I knew how this article continued, I just wondered how ChuckyT came to the conclusion that this was common knowledge when courts make it a point to NOT inform juries and to almost mislead them on purpose.

This is a fascinating and powerful instrument, which is probably unique to the US.

Basically, if used coordinated, it allows for undermining outrageous laws like the fugitive slave act.

Absolutely incredible and I never heard of that before!

Why is this instrument not used more often?
[/quote]

Unfortunately, it happens too goddamned often. Juries return verdicts based not on the law or the evidence but on their “feelings” or the strength of the charisma of the lawyers involved. Ask any American above the age of 10 and I bet they’d tell you about stupid jury decisions and awards that violate the letter, spirit, and character of the law.

And given that our elected representatives write the laws, it is not something that should be a “bedrock” of our self-governance. There if we need it – sure – but it’s not something that should be an outlet valve for the fact that we can’t elect competent representation to write our laws. If we have a problem with a law we change it.

This is vastly superior to national socialism, by the way. You guys ought to get with the times!

[quote]ChuckyT wrote:
orion wrote:
Lol, I knew how this article continued, I just wondered how ChuckyT came to the conclusion that this was common knowledge when courts make it a point to NOT inform juries and to almost mislead them on purpose.

This is a fascinating and powerful instrument, which is probably unique to the US.

Basically, if used coordinated, it allows for undermining outrageous laws like the fugitive slave act.

Absolutely incredible and I never heard of that before!

Why is this instrument not used more often?

[/quote]

Because we respect our system. We elect representatives to do just that. We don’t go around creating anarchy by refusing to uphold every law we don’t like. We work to get better reps elected.

[quote]doogie wrote:
ChuckyT wrote:
orion wrote:
Lol, I knew how this article continued, I just wondered how ChuckyT came to the conclusion that this was common knowledge when courts make it a point to NOT inform juries and to almost mislead them on purpose.

This is a fascinating and powerful instrument, which is probably unique to the US.

Basically, if used coordinated, it allows for undermining outrageous laws like the fugitive slave act.

Absolutely incredible and I never heard of that before!

Why is this instrument not used more often?

Because we respect our system. We elect representatives to do just that. We don’t go around creating anarchy by refusing to uphold every law we don’t like. We work to get better reps elected.

[/quote]

This interesting little device does insure though that ultimately the people have the power though, doesn`t it?

I mean even if politicians had the grazy idea of tailoring voting districts to their needs so that allmost nothing changes even if voter satisfaction approaches the lower 30`s they could make all the laws they want, you could throw them back at them…

I understand that such power should be used responsibly, do you however really think that this is the reason why even mentioning it during a trial poses a problem?

BTW, “jury nullification” IS the system…

Checks and balances, remember :-)…

[quote]orion wrote:
do you however really think that this is the reason why even mentioning it during a trial poses a problem?
[/quote]

No, the reason is that 90% of our population are morons. If they all brought their own crackpot beliefs into the jury room instead of the law, we’d have anarchy.

I’m glad it’s part of the system, and I’m glad it isn’t used any more than it is.