Did you know that jurors have the right to determine the defendant not guilty if he or she breaks an unjust law? This event is known as ‘jury nullification’ and the purpose of it is to protect good people from the consequences of bad laws. In effect, the jury is not judging the defendant, but the law itself.
Although this information might be new to you, jury nullification has existed since the beginning of the trial system. The original intent of this doctrine was to establish that ordinary US citizens (rather than government officials only) should have the right to determine whether a defendant should be punished under the existing law.
In general, defense lawyers do not mention jury nullification during a trial, because judges prefer to follow typical protocols and procedures, instead of taking a less common route. Furthermore, there is no legal obligation for judges to inform juries about jury nullification.
Why is Jury Nullification a Taboo?
The ability for juries to nullify is upsetting because it can be perceived as the allowance to make the wrongs right. For example, if a jury determines a drug law to be beyond reasonable limits, the defendant could be found innocent. In a case like this, the law is the main concern, rather than the actions of the defendant that led him or her to be charged. Moreover, if a jury is aware of the high incarceration rates, and believes that the defendant did not commit a crime serious enough to be put in a correctional facility, nullification could also be used.
For that reason, some believe that jury nullification is a significant threat to the American judicial system.
Of course, there have been cases throughout American history where juries made a biased or unfair decision through nullification. Today, fear of nullification of cases involving racial or hate crimes, such as police brutality, is not baseless. However, if a jury is well-informed and aware of social and political issues, nullification continues to serve as a valuable tool in the pursuit of justice.
When Can Jury Nullification Be Used?
When dealing with unjust, unnecessary, or unconstitutional laws, jury nullification is the defendant’s right to be protected from the enforcement of such laws and prosecution. However, if jurors are not informed about their right to nullification, they end up convicting defendants who broke a senseless law. It is important to remember that even though we all must obey the law, not all of the rules deserve to be upheld.
Why Should Jury Nullification Be Used?
Choosing to nullify can benefit not only the defendant but also society as a whole. Incarceration rates in America remain at near-record levels despite the decrease in crime rates. Many defendants plead guilty in the hope to receive a lesser sentence because they are unaware of alternative routes and outcomes. Judging the unjust laws, rather than just the criminals, can have a great impact on social, economic, and political aspects of life in America.
Jury nullification protects defendants from being convicted for breaking unjust laws. It allows the jury to judge absurd rules and laws and can save people from being sent to correctional facilities. However, it is important to remember that there is no legal obligation to inform juries about the concept of jury nullification, which means that they will not always know about this option.
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