Jury Nullification

Wandering around the web, I stumbled on this thread on jury nullification at Patterico’s Pontifications. The best comment on the subject I found there is this one. In part:

Jury nullification is the reason for juries in the first place. Absent that power, there is no reason whatever to involve nonspecialists in evaluating evidence and applying the law.
[…]
The reason juries exist, and are supposed to be made up of the “peers” — social equals — of the defendant, is that the jury has the power to say, “Yes, this was a violation of the law, but the law is an ass in this case. Turn ‘im loose!”
[…]
A jury that cannot nullify is not a jury. It is a panel of incompetent lawyers. Eliminate that power and you have eliminated the guarantee that the jury system offers the accused.

The important part here is “in this case.” Jury nullification in one case does not affect any other case – past, present, or (for the most part) future. It applies only to the specific case the jury is deciding. Unlike a circuit court (or higher) decision, it is not binding on any other case, anywhere – even in the same court the next day. The law remains as it was.

It can also be a great tool if the legislature is not paying attention to the people. If enough prosecutions under a bad law are victims of jury nullification, there’s a good chance the prosecutors will stop bringing charges under that particular law, because it looks bad if they lose (and that is where it can affect future cases).

Having said all that, there is another important point that needs to be made. Jury nullification is a tool that should be used both sparingly and carefully. It has been used for good (when juries would refuse to convict conductors on the underground railroad) and evil (when juries would refuse to convict klansmen for murders). It still has that potential today, and likely always will.

Note: I know this was an old thread, but I got inspired, and just couldn’t leave the subject alone.

Advertisements
Previous Post
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: